Women in bright saris, half-naked holy men, and camel trains... the setting of this splendid mausoleum has changed little down through the centuries, and the Taj Mahal is surrounded by a timeless aura of magic. The monument was built by the Muslim Emperor Shah Jahan, of the Mughal dynasty, in memory of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who gave him fourteen children, but died in the last childbirth. Disconsolate at her death, the shah ordered construction of the Taj Mahal as a posthumous gift and lasting monument to his love. Begun in 1631, it is set on the banks of the Yamuna, in the city of Agra, and the complex of buildings and surrounding gardens were not finished until 1654. The architectural style is a combination of Persian, Islamic and Indian; the white marble walls are decorated with calligraphy and carvings and set with jewels. It is said that 20,000 workers toiled for over 20 years on this monument to love, to fulfil the promise of a bereaved husband and the obsession of a powerful ruler. As the sun sinks and twilight clothes the unmistakable silhouette of columns and domes, no better phrase comes to mind than that of Rabindranath Tagore, who described the Taj Mahal as: "A teardrop on the cheek of time."
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