The architectural magnificence of the Taj Mahal has been glorified, exalted, and celebrated for three and a half centuries, and rightfully so. The monument’s ornate complex of minarets and pishtaqs (vaulted archways), topped by an opalescent white-marble dome and mirrored in a vast reflecting pool, is both colossal and ethereal; it’s been declared both a Wonder of the Ancient World and, more poetically, “an eternal teardrop on the cheek of time.”
What’s even more wondrous about the Taj, though, is the love story behind it. Commissioned by the grief-stricken Moghul emperor Shah Jahan after the death of his favorite wife in 1631, the splendid palatial shrine is both a towering testament to lost love and a sanctuary in which it might be recovered (both the emperor and his wife made their final resting place inside the Taj’s walls).
Is it possible to visit such a place—or even to gaze at it from a hotel-room window—and not feel deeply moved?
The truth is, although it’s easily India’s most famous, the Taj is just one of the exceptionally romantic destinations in this vibrant, colorful, culturally rich country.
India’s long history means it’s brimming with spectacular ancient temples and cities—some of which are much older (by hundreds of years) than the Taj. It’s hard not to feel humbled, for instance, in the Rajasthani desert mecca of Jaisalmer, whose beautifully preserved sandstone buildings are shadowed by a fort built in the 1100s.
Nature has its romance in India, too. Few animals have inspired more vivid stories (or more wild imaginings) than the Bengal tiger—and this creature makes its home, along with other animals like antelope and sloth bears, in the north-central jungle preserves of Kanha and Ranthambhore national parks. (Lucky guests who stay at wilderness camps there can try for tiger-encounter stories of their own.)
And for those who find romance in good old-fashioned opulence—the kind Indian maharajahs enjoyed, with sprawling palaces overlooking glittering lakes, gardens redolent with frangipani blossoms, and squadrons of personal attendants to fluff one’s cushions or freshen one’s martini—India’s royal residences–turned–hotels make it easy to get a taste of (and a taste for) old-school excess.
It could almost be said that India is immoderately romantic—a place where the sights, sounds, tastes, and even words inspire indulgent flights of fancy. Could any description, for instance, read more passionately than Shah Jahan’s account of his masterpiece, the Taj?
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
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