What can I say about the Taj Mahal that hasn’t already been expressed in a million different ways in prose, poetry, lyric and dialogue. One of the seven wonders of the world, this much-photographed monument has been known to inspire many a love story. I do not intend to write about love or the love angle of the Taj Mahal as I have never been in awe of this monument for it’s contribution to LOVE. My definition of love differs from Shah Jahan’s and the countless hapless souls who have come after him, but that’s a topic for another post.
I have seen many photographs of this remarkable structure, and the sheer magnitude of its imposing edifice has always intrigued the engineer in me, often leaving me awed. The gigantic proportions of this marble monolith are thrown into stark relief against the milling tourists who look like tiny ants in comparison.
I had been to the Taj Mahal once before, but that was before photography became an extension of my being. I was scheduled to be in Agra for a conference last week, and you got it, I JUST HAD TO PLAN A SHOOT.
I decided that would shoot from a distance of more than 500 metres and make full use of the hazy Agra sky. I needed local assistance to determine the vantage locations from where I could undertake this mission. I stumbled upon Rinku Sharma, a local photographer, during my exhaustive research on local expertise on the Taj Mahal. Rinku very kindly agreed to accompany me on one of my sessions and show me all the best locations to shoot from a distance. Luck it would seem is still my bestie as I would not have been able to take the photographs I did without his advice.
Rinku suggested I work from three different vantage points – Gyarah Seedi (Eleven steps) near Mehtab Bagh at the break of dawn, Mehtab Bagh after sunrise and Haathi Ghat as the sun set.
I checked the weather update and since the sun was due to rise at 6:54 am, Rinku and I agreed to meet Gyarah Seedi at 6 am. Rinku rode up on his majestic Royal Enfield looking quite the man from North India.
We walked down a path with some local lads warming up for a jog. A little way ahead we ducked down and crawled through a barbed wired fence to the sand banks of the Yamuna. Visibility was poor, and as I tried to soak in the marble monolith in the early morning haze, I realised to my absolute horror that we were in the midst of some local folk squatting around us for their morning ablutions. Make those toilets happen faster, Mr. Prime Minister.
My reaction utterly amused Rinku. He led me a few yards ahead where we waited patiently for the ‘golden light’ as I composed the visual story I wanted to illustrate. I cursed myself for not carrying a tripod – the cheapest and the most vital component of photography gear.
At dawn, the early rays of the sun broke through the haze on the left of the Taj Mahal, almost as if bursting from the earth. I took a few steps back to ensure I could include its glory in my shots. The newly resurrected rising sun against the stark backdrop of the Taj Mahal is a sight to behold. The first light, the haze and the fact that I was shooting into the sun all conspired to make a stunning silhouette. Here, let my viewfinder and lens do the talking.
As glad as I was to have experienced the majesty of the Taj Mahal against the dawn sky, I couldn’t wait to leave all those people squatting in the shadows. After I had taken all the shots I wanted, we went off to Mehtab Bagh, Rinku and I. This centuries-old garden across the river from the monument is another vantage point to shoot the Taj Mahal. It’s one of those hidden-from-tourists treasures in Agra, and you can spend a leisurely hour or two away from the jostling crowds at the Taj Mahal.
Later in the day, I did make the customary visit to the monument just like every other tourist. Harsh daylight is not the best time of day to shoot photographs, but the monument complex came to my rescue, and I was able to shoot some really good ones.
After lunch, I went off to Haathi Ghaat on the Yamuna river. This river of our heritage and history has all but dried up here, and young people use it as their playground or to fly kites. The Taj Mahal is to the east, and you can see it rise into the sky in the far distance.
I am glad the reluctant engineer held sway over the photographer on this shoot. And, whatever Shah Jahan may or may not have known about love, he sure did know how to leave an impression for the ages.