Friday, April 05, 2013

The rarely seen magnificent view of Taj Mahal from other side of Jamuna and Mythical story of the Black Taj Mahal: The Taj Mahal Travelogue Part-5


Frankly, I had never seen this view of Taj Mahal in any photograph. No one had told me about the view from across the Jamuna. While the normal visitor goes to Taj Mahal and returns after seeing the breathtaking [but basic] view, he doesn’t often realize that there is another site from where you can see Taj in its complete glory—on a vast canvas, without any interruption or building in between.

In fact, after getting the ticket, a visitor has to first go through the gate where you are frisked, and then walk straight until you get past the main entrance gate, and only then you see the mausoleum directly. As a result, you don’t have the grand view of the expanse of the entire Taj Mahal’s structure.
On the other hand, from Mahtab Bagh, you can see the marble monument and its adjoining symmetric red stone structures, without any obstruction. It is really a breathtaking view. We may also have returned like numerous others from Agra after a normal visit.
Fortunately, when we visited Taj Mahal, we noticed movement of people on the other side of the river. We were told that some people visit there to take a photograph. Sorry, what? The guide didn’t tell us anymore.
But next day we did enquire a bit.

Ruins in Mahtab Bagh have nothing to do with foundation of 'Black Taj' 
Also, a taxi-wala sensed our extra interest in the monument.

‘Aap Mehtab Bagh nahi chalenge’ [Won’t you visit Mehtab Bagh], he asked in Urdu.

Soon we were on way to the other side of the river. We entered the old city, crossed the bridge, and in no time, reached the vast garden.

Though it was noon, still, the weather wasn’t as harsh. [Do visit early in the morning if its summer]. But once inside, we saw the most spectacular sight. This view we hadn’t seen before and it was indescribable feeling. Our Agra visit was now complete.

We felt that now we had seen the Taj. The only wish was to see it in moonlight. So what is Mehtab Bagh? Babar had come to Agra, soon after his victory in the battle of Panipat in 1526. To him, the weather in Agra was extremely hot and harsh. He recalled the greenery, the cascades and fountains.
On lines of the gardens in Samarkand, he got similar gardens [baagh] laid out on the Eastern side of Jamuna. Many such gardens came into existence here near the Agra Fort and one of them was the Bagh-i-Hasht Bihisht.
The area has a mosque from the era which has Humayun’s inscription and it survives to this day. It was here that Babar's son Humayun built his observatory, which also exists and is now known as 'Gyaarah Seedhi' or Eleven Stairs.

So the ruins of this 'baagh' existed for long. Akbar had later given the large site on both sides of Joon [now Jamuna] to Raja Man Singh. Shah Jehan had later bought the land here from Man Singh's descendant Raja Jai Singh. Four havelis were given to him and in lieu of that the land was obtained.

Almost at the same site where Bagh-i-Hasht Bihisht once existed, the Mehtab Bagh or Chandni Bagh was now built. Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) board here says that the Mahtab Bagh is laid out in perfect symmetry and alignment with the Taj Mahal.

There were barahdaris [open, arcaded pavilions] and 'banglas' [pavilions] interconnected with corridors, made of sandstone, in this vast garden. They later fell. There were 25 fountains here. The large pond here sent water to these fountains through pipes.

The waterworks were amazing but were destroyed over the years. It was built as part of the original plan of the entire mausoleum complex. Perhaps, it was named Mehtab Bagh [Mehtab in Urdu means moon] because it is the ideal place to see Taj in moonlight.

The Chini-khana had candles and flowers to create a magical environment. Over the years the structure crumbled. The flood and the sand that came with the flow of water in Jamuna [Yamuna] covered this site. People forgot this place.

Over the last couple of years, ASI has been trying really hard to restore it. The garden is looked after well. It has 8,000 trees and plants now. There are policemen keeping vigil and the view of Taj from here is simply amazing.

The story about the ‘Black Taj Mahal’
Mumtaz Mahal died in 1631, when Shah Jehan was camping in Burhanpur. She was buried in Zainabad on the banks of river Tapti in today's Burhanpur district in Madhya Pradesh.
After crushing the opponent, Shah Jahan got the body interred and it was later buried in Taj Mahal in Agra. There is a story often heard that Shah Jehan planned to build an exactly similar black Taj Mahal. There is no basis to this story.

That canards and conspiracy theories are enjoyed and believed by a large setion [because they want to believe something astounding] is well known. It's an interesting thought. In fact, imaginary photographs or models of black Taj on the other side of Yamuna river, as created by artists or through photo editing softwares, looks scary.

When the forgotten Mahtab Bagh [there will be a separate post in the next part on it], was redisovered and people began visiting it, the remnants of the structure gave people a hint that perhaps it was the foundation of the black mausoleum. The excavation at the site of Mahtab Bagh also showed no such plan or foundation.

Anyway, Shah Jahan had almost emptied his treasury in building the Taj Mahal. There was no further plan. He spent last years of his life, imprisoned in the Red Fort, after Aurangzeb acquired the throne. The story of the second Taj is a mere fantasy.

Isn't it now among the longest running travel series account that centres on Taj Mahal, at least, among online travelogues!

The earlier parts of this travelogue can be read here:

Part 1 [Travel guide, tip, suggestions for foreign and domestic visitors]
Part 2 [Mysteries & Secrets of Taj Mahal]
Part 3 [Have you seen finial of Taj, do you know its taller than Qutab Minar?]
Part 4 [Inside Taj: Seeing replicas of graves, entry to original graves now blocked]