I passed through the elaborate gate at the main entrance – a beautiful construction unto itself – and gasped as I looked through the rounded frame. There it was… the elaborate, dazzling white marble castle-like structure that inspires so many dreams.

Commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, the purpose for the Taj Mahal was to be the mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child. The Taj Mahal is set on 42-acres of beautifully manicured grounds with abundant flowers and a reflecting pool leading to the ornate tomb. There’s also a mosque and a guest house.

I had to stop just after entering the gate to reflect on and admire the beauty of India’s most famous monument. The 115 ft. onion dome dominates the skyline, not only because of its size, but also the design elements. Surrounding the tomb are four slender minaret towers that lean slightly outward, so as not to damage the tomb in case of an earthquake.

Perhaps the best and most iconic viewpoint is standing at the end of the reflecting pool, with a walkway on either side.

Up close, the exterior decorative features are exquisite. The marble is intricately carved in bas-relief, some areas with delicate inlay of yellow marble, jasper and jade, and carvings of passages from the Qur’an.

I was surprised that the octagon interior of the tomb is actually quite small. The inlay work is stunning, using precious and semiprecious gemstones. However, the ornate inlay monuments honoring Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are just for show… their actual sarcophagi are contained below.

Surrounding the tomb is a large balcony with panoramic views of Agra and the Yamuna River.

The Taj Mahal was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983, and in 2007, it was declared a winner of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It’s been called “the jewel of Muslim art in India.”

Call me sappy, but for me, the real attraction is the sentiment of eternal love.

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