The Taj Mahal – Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

The World’s Greatest Monument to Love

Nothing can adequately prepare the visitor for his or her first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It may be a visual cliché, the Niagara Falls of architecture, but it’s also the embodiment of grace and romance, of balance and symmetry, an architectural icon revered for three and a half centuries as the most beautiful building in the world.

The great Moghul emperor Shah Jahan built the white marble Taj as a tomb to honor his beloved queen, Mumtaz Mahal, who died while giving birth to their fourteenth child in nineteen years. One of their progeny would eventually dispose of the emperor, imprisoning him in the nearby Agra Fort. From his chambers he could gaze across at the Taj Mahal, mourning the loss of his wife and his empire.

Today visitors stream in from early morning to dusk, but perhaps the best time to visit is on Fridays, when admission is free and local families come to pay their respects, illuminating the grounds with the flowerlike colors of their saris and turbans.

Thanks to the opening of the Amarvilās (Sanskrit for “eternal haven”), there’s finally another reason to linger overnight in this other­wise unlovely city. The classic terraced gardens, bubbling fountains, marble pool, elegant tea lounge, excellent Mughlai and Indian restaurant, and Ayurvedic spa-with-a-Taj-view would make a fitting 21st-century home for any Mughal emperor. Every one of its 100-plus rooms has an unobstructed view of India’s most beloved national monument, a mere 650 yards away.

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