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“A teardrop on the face of eternity…”

From Taj Mahal

It really is that beautiful, the semi-translucent marble of the elegant arches and domes overlooking the river, and that oh so tragic story of its creation: A monument built by a heart-broken emperor for his deceased wife. That same emperor imprisoned by his son, the windows from his palace-cell framing the Taj Mahal in the distance his only reprieve for the eight long years until his death.

That is the first face, the public face, but just like some of the other newly elected wonders of the world, it’s not the only one. Like the Pyramids, which border Cairo’s sprawling suburbs, the Taj Mahal only is peaceful and quiet on its own. Walk five feet out of its entrance gates and you’re in the city of Agra, a dusty conglomeration of a million and a half. Congested, crowded and prone to occasional rioting.

In a way it reminds me of the city of Rome, that was so attractive to fin de siecle travelers. That ruined city where shepherds used the Coloseum as stables and merchants plied their trade from Constantine’s Arch. Myabe a hundred years from now Agra will be modernized, the hovels of Taj Ganj torn down, replaced by a glass-encased Visitor’s Center where tourists arriving on the Delhi bullet train will be whisked through an interactive exhibition on their way to the souvenir shop.

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