The Garden Guide

Book: C.M Villiers Stuart Gardens of the Great Mughals
Chapter: Chapter 3 The Gardens of the Taj Mahal

Jumna river ferry

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To realise even faintly Shah Jahan's dream, it is necessary to go over to the other side of the Jumna. [See Moonlight Garden] A crazy ferry-boat plies between the sand-banks, winding slowly in and out with the current, carrying from time to time little groups of country people across the stream. Few other craft are seen on the river. But day by day, as I made up my mind to attempt the expedition and looked over the low parapet of the Taj platform for the ferry-boat, it always seemed hopelessly stranded on some far-off bank. At last, one afternoon, just as the boatman was leisurely pushing off, I caught it, and, much to the astonishment of the other passengers, demanded to be taken across. The boat was a wretched old affair, leaking everywhere, and the three dry planks on which we all crouched seemed little protection between us and an ominous dark snout and trailing oily streak, that showed where the ever hungry Mugger of the ford haunted these waters. On the far side a red sandstone tower and long ruined wall marked the site of what once had been a garden-perhaps originally one of the regular and elegant gardens built by Yunis Ali or some other faithful friend of Babar, those cheery friends of his Memoirs, lightly sketched with such seemingly artless skill. Hassein Beg, the good-humoured man, 'of plain simple manners,' who 'excelled in singing at drinking parties.' Kamber Ali Mughal, who could not stand prosperity, but 'after he had gained a certain elevation he became negligent and perverse. He talked a good deal and very idly; indeed, there can be no doubt that a great talker must often talk foolishly. He was a man of narrow capacity and muddy brain.' Of uncertain date, this building by the banks of the Jumna had long since fallen into decay. Thorn bushes stopped my passage along the wall which had once been the rampart of the now vanished garden; and the level cultivated land stretched away to the horizon, broken only where the clumps of trees marked the villages. Looking back, the sight of the great pile of buildings on the far side of the river was worth all the trouble of crossing it. For the first time I had a full view of the whole group, and realised the great scale on which it had been conceived; the vast walls and platforms rising sheer above the water, the two great rose-red mosques, the corner towers, with their elaborate arcades, and, raised on the central platform high above all, the pale lilac minarets, walls, and dome of the Taj worked in shadow, and outlined with the gold thread of the western sun, while below, reflected in the slow-flowing tranquil Jumna, shone another Taj-the second Taj of Shah Jahan's unrealised ideal.