The Garden Guide

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

Taj Mahal garden - dawn tour

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An early visit to the Taj stands out vividly in my mind: the bitter cold of the drive in the half-light of an Indian November morning; a stray jackal flitting across the wide road, like the embodiment of some 'devil-spirit' escaping before the grey disillusioning dawn; the chill of the rising mists mingling with the acrid smoke of the little fires of twigs and fallen leaves over which the road sweepers crouched. The shops in the alcoves beside the great doorway of the caravansarai were securely boarded up; no shrill voices greeted me in noisy rivalry, demanding attention to the charms of picture post-cards or their owners' wasted skill in carving toy marble tombs. The great square within at this early hour lay peaceful and empty. Presently at the entrance to the gardens appeared the aged door-keeper, unmistakably cross at being roused at such an hour. All day long the restless white-faced tourists came; on moonlight nights the gardens were often full of sightseers; but a man must have his rest, and it was clear he did not hold with foolish folk who might wish to see the gardens at sunrise. The light increased rapidly as I hurried up the flights of steps and under the splendid arch, over which, inlaid in black marble, the flowing Arabic letters invite the pure of heart to enter the Gardens of Paradise. Seen from within the entrance portal, rising above the mists which wrapped the cypress trees and blurred the reflections in the wide canal, the Taj itself loomed white and ghostly-cheerless against a pale grey sky. Then, as I reached the water's edge, with a flash the topmost golden iris of the spire took the sun. Softly and rapidly the rosy light stole round the exquisite curve of the dome, flushing the smooth, pearly surface of the marble, till, striking the sides of the building, the sunshine at length reached the great white platform, lighting up each arched recess in a marvel of mauve shade and amber reflection; a fairy beauty, a spirit building, 'whose gates were as of pearl,' hovering for a moment over earth. With the warmth of the sunrise the garden mists rose high, drifting away in turquoise wreaths between the deep green of the guardian cypress trees; whose slender shapes and curving topmost crests were now clearly mirrored in the still water, while between their dark reflections shone the Taj, a miracle revealed. The magic lasted but a moment, but in that moment I had seen the vision as its builders saw and planned it long ago-the vision which Mr. Havell with so much insight describes when he says: 'Those critics who have objected to the effeminacy of the architecture unconsciously pay the highest tribute to the genius of the builders. The Taj was meant to be feminine. The whole conception, and every line and detail of it express the intention of the designers. It is Mumtaz Mahal herself, radiant in her youthful beauty, who still lingers on the banks of the shining Jumna, at early morn, in the glowing midday sun, or in the silver moonlight. Or rather, we should say, it conveys a more abstract thought; it is India's noble tribute to the grace of Indian womanhood-the Venus de Milo of the East.'