India’s City of Love

A title that has been claimed by Paris for decades, and probably for good reason. We love everything about Paris, and long walks by the river Seine with days spent idling in cafe’s whispering sonnets of love and similar activities have undoubtedly made the city romantic. Comparatively, Agra, with its slow moving traffic, extreme heat in the summer time and the polluted river Yamuna do nothing to conjure up romantic images in one’s mind. Yet Agra is home to the famed Taj Mahal, it is a city where a grieving husband chooses his place of imprisonment such that he may always gaze upon his beloved wife, and it is also a city where the famed Mughal gardens are being reconstructed to offer a cool green space filled with flowers for all.

The view of the Taj from Khas Mahal in the Agra fort where Shah Jahan spent the last years of his life imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb after he seized power in a coup in 1658. It is said that Shah Jahan requested to be imprisoned in this part of the fort so that he could gaze everyday at the mausoleum of his beloved wife.

Agra is also a city where you can see the Taj from many angles, reinforcing one man’s deep love and devotion to his favourite wife of 3 decades. Whether you sit in the famous Mehtab garden across the river, or take a boat ride and view the mausoleum in the soft orange light of the setting sun, the monument of love glows, commanding your complete attention. Seeing that perfect white structure, with the tall, proud minarets, adorned with the colourful inlay work the Mughals were famous for, you think of the love between two people and the grief the Emperor must have endured when his wife die while he was at battle. The same grief any spouse would feel. But he was an Emperor, at the height of his power, with untold wealth and resources, and he poured that grief into ensuring that the memory of his beautiful wife lived long after he and his empire perished. No matter where you stand to view the Taj or how many times you might have already seen it before, this stunning monument of love and devotion, the final resting place of a Queen whose name meant ‘the chosen one’, will give you goosebumps.

The first view of the Taj Mahal as you enter through the red sandstone and marble gate is staggering, and despite the fact that you have seen this very view a million times in photos, you still feel the impact of the moment.

Even at the risk of sounding a little clichéd, we must admit that we felt the goosebumps, the flutter in our stomach when we went to see the Taj together for the first time as husband and wife. We saw it from all possible angles, from the garden across the river, from the fort where the Emperor was imprisoned, from the little round coracles that float along the monument, at sunrise and sunset, and also obviously from the inside, up close and personal. For the first time in our years together, we felt moved enough to engage a “professional” photographer to take the usual touristy pictures, standing at various positions in front of the Taj, sitting on the bench together, holding hands and what-not. For two people who barely take photographs together (we have about 3 from our honeymoon), this was rather an achievement. Though true to us, about 7 photographs later we were quite fed up and told the guy to give us whatever he had done. He looked terribly disappointed and rather appalled that we didn’t want ourselves photographed at that other 53 spots he reeled off.

We may not be Will & Kate, but hey we got our own ‘professionally’ taken Taj photo too! 😉

Being around the Taj and the other beautiful monuments in Agra, and exploring them together brought us a little closer to each other. The fatigue that had set in a little, after weeks of being on the road, the little irritations that tend to creep up on such journeys seemed to evaporate as we spent our days in Agra happily exhausted. We even decided to splurge a little on a romantic dinner at a lovely rooftop restaurant, the thought of which is usually killed by budget constraints.

Some of the most beautiful views of the Taj can be had down by the Yamuna on the East side of the Taj Mahal. For an even more magical experience you can get a boatman who sits by the river to take you for a short ride down the Yamuna as the sun sets over the Taj

What brought it all together was seeing the Taj by moonlight. Either by good luck or serendipity, it so happened that we were in Agra before the full moon, when the monument is opened to visitors at night and we managed to get ticket for the last night we were there. At Rs. 500, it is not cheap, but worth every rupee, and the irritation one feels dealing with Indian offices trying to acquire those tickets! Standing there together, in silence, seeing the Taj shimmer in the moonlight, was a sight to behold. Simply put, it’s breathtaking. The whole monument seemed to float and that ethereal sight is something we will never forget.

If you really want to see the Taj as it was meant to be; beautiful, serene and devoid of noise makers and selfie takers, make sure you visit it by moonlight. Every month for two days before and after the full moon, the ASI allows small batches of tourists upto the main gate of the monument with a special ticket that can be acquired a day in advance from the ASI office. If you are there in Agra around the full moon dates we whole heartedly recommend this experience.

Paris might be the city of love, but standing in front of the Taj surrounded by the palpable connection of two people from centuries ago, you feel the kind of love that is lasting.


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