As the sky glistened in the gold of the dying sun, we found a cheerful young man, Manoj, who was the only boatman at the river. In the boat, Karan and I sat in silence as we watched the Taj Mahal getting drenched in dramatic colours of the sky. The only sounds that enveloped us were the slight whispers of the boat cutting through the waters, a song that Manoj Bhaiya hummed, and the faint murmur of tourists in the distance. It was a moment so sublime, we couldn’t help but smile at the heavenly sight in front of us.
The Taj Mahal looked extraordinary, and at that moment, I understood why it was hailed as a wonder of the world. I am a hopeless romantic at heart, and I was sure that the sudden connection I felt between Karan and I was just a figment of my overactive imagination. It was only later when we were walking towards goStops that Karan handed out a scrap of paper to me where he’d written me a poem. I was moved and we promised to visit the monument late at night since a full moon graced the night skies.
Along with the rest of the gang, we headed out to lose ourselves to the Mughlai and Awadhi cuisine that Agra is famous for. But Karan and I wanted to talk more – about our shared love for art, culture, travel and architecture. I wanted to learn about the poems he had written and share the verses that I so dearly loved. So we got our food packed, and headed back to the tranquility of goStops. Since the hostel was centrally located, it was easy for us to steal a piece of Agra and savour it amidst peace and quiet of the hostel's rooftop restaurant. Luckily for us, their rooftop restaurant was deserted since our friends were out for a food tour, while the others were on a village walk organised by the hostel.
Under the gleam of the moonlight, we relished Awadhi biryani that was packed with aromatic rice and tender, flavourful meat that was infused with distinctive flavours of spices like cinnamon and star anise. We also gorged on delicious pasanda kebabs and talked about the cultures we had experienced through food. From the Urdu poetry of Amir Khusrao, Ghalib and Kaifi Azmi, to that of modern Indian poets like Jeet Thayil and Vikram Seth, we traversed through time and emotions. In an age governed by practicality, it was beautiful to lose myself in conversations about the philosophical and metaphysical.
Falling in love under the moonlit Taj Mahal
As the clock struck 11, we walked out, hand in hand to witness the Taj Mahal sparkling under moonshine. To our surprise, the crowd was less than half of what we saw during the day. We leisurely entered the compound and walked through The Great Gate or Darwaza-i-Rauza, an imposing structure that showed-off how Mughal architecture could be grand and yet, intricate. Within this gate, the marble mausoleum stood perfectly framed, shimmering under the silver moonlight.
Walking through the gate, into the sprawling Paradise Gardens was like stepping into the regal past. Dotted with waterfalls and a water body that housed the mausoleum's reflection, the true grandeur of the Taj Mahal was in full glory that full-moon night. The tall minarets, the monument's geometric planning, acoustics and symmetry were awe-inspiring. It was amazing to see the lengths to which the Emperor went to honour his wife – it took 20 years, over 20,000 workers and approximately 32 million rupees to build this architectural marvel back in the 17th century! If this isn't the ultimate testimony of love, I don't know what could be.