Dawn at the Taj | AspenTimes.com

Dawn at the Taj

The Taj Mahal before dawn.

It’s 5:30 Sunday morning in Agra and pitch black outside. Our little taxi crosses a rickety bridge amidst a stream of bicycles and pedestrians, cuts through a dark village full of wandering dogs and then stops at the end of a sandy road.Across the slow, winding Yamuna River, we can just make out the enormous, familiar shape of the Taj Mahal. With a volley of stones, our guide, Vishal, chases off a pack of dogs. Black birds whirl overhead.

We had toured the Taj the evening before along with hundreds of other visitors. But this morning my brother-in-law and I are alone except for Vishal, shivering with a scarf around his face, and a man leading a camel.Shah Jahan built the Taj as a monument to his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to his 14th child. He started construction in 1632 and used 20,000 workmen. It wasn’t completed until 1653.

Then his son seized power and had him locked up at nearby Agra Fort, where he spent the rest of his days gazing out on his monument, as well as overdosing himself on drugs and aphrodisiacs.

Booming music comes from a low blue building that Vishal says is a temple of some sort. A boy selling postcards approaches. Then a young man who says he’s the boatman for river crossings.

Slowly the Taj emerges from the darkness, light creeping up its marble walls.Morgan Smith is a former Aspenite and part-time Barcelona resident. He can he reached at msmith@abaforum.es.

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