Conversations with Mina Tilakraj
about the Taj Mahal
Mina Tilakraj is an independent tourism professional who looks at travel and life from a different dimension and perspective. She describes herself as a storyteller guide of India, and promoter of tourism for global goodwill and understanding. She is currently the only Travelism Expert in the country. Starting as a licensed tour guide over three decades ago, she graduated to become a tour manager and later an itinerary designer.
She is also an inspirational speaker, welcoming you to travel with her to discover and experience the wonders of the ‘outer’ and your ‘inner’ world at the same time – a journey that will enhance your worldview and help you meet your real inner self - the wonderful ‘Incredible & Absolute You’.
On the travel front, she welcomes you to a world of memorable experiences in the country to discover the true spirit of ‘India beyond Books’ - on road trips, story tours, spiritual tours, and pioneer tours.
For this very special feature interview, our conversations with Mina Tilakraj focus on the Taj Mahal. She has taken many of her tour groups to this breathtaking monument that figures among the Seven Wonders of the World, and has many interesting stories to share.
Here's our first question to Mina Tilakraj.
What are some of your just-can’t-forget moments associated with the Taj?
You can sit for hours, watching the Taj change its moods with every change of complexion in the skies. Interestingly, the vision of the Taj is framed differently from each window of the fort across the river Yamuna. And from what I have experienced, something magical happens when you come within sighting distance of the Taj. You see a landscape of greenery, with the river around leading you gently towards a point where the Taj rises majestically into the frame.
The magic starts even before you get there, with eager anticipation. As we are nearing it, crowds and long lines of visitors build up momentum. And when you enter the big gate, the monument stands majestically before you. The first glimpse of a demure, ivory-white dome set against the blue skies is a sight to behold. It beckons the visitor to go closer and closer, and get a view of the Taj in all its glory.
And when you get closer, you rub your eyes in disbelief and say to yourself: am I really in front of the Taj, or is this a dream?
How does the Taj become a key stop-over in your group tour itinerary?
Taj is not just a structure or a monument. It is an emotion, a desire, a longing, a hope, and a milestone in the life of a traveler. It might seem like a stop-over on your itinerary, but it’s one place that truly becomes a destination. Making you want to stay back longer than you had planned to.
On one of my visits, I remember a tourist couple wanting to renew their marriage vows in front of the Taj. And they had come prepared for the occasion – with the right attire, a beautician for special effects, and a priest to help them solemnize the ceremony. No stage was bigger than this for those precious moments, and I can still recall their fond and teary embrace - simply unforgettable.
What do some of your international visitors say after a Taj experience?
On my guided tours, I often ask tourists to describe what they feel after a Taj experience. And here is a selection from my travel diary:
I have seen tourists stop in their tracks, frozen for moments at their first sighting of the Taj. I have also seen tourists faint in front of the monument – overwhelmed by its visual splendor. I have seen couples locked in a romantic embrace, having reached the destination where hearts melt, and words become whispers.
Is there more to Agra than the Taj Mahal?
There is so much more to Agra than the Taj. Let me start with the gardens of Mehtab Baug – your view of the Taj from here is so magical, so different, and so alluring. Then you have Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra – with its ambiance reflecting a passionate story. I can also recall the Itmad-ud-Daula with its wine decanters, goblets, and perfume bottles with delicate inlay work - designed by none other than Empress Noor Jehan. (It’s also known as Little Taj, though I choose to call it a jewelry box in marble.)
Then, there's the fort with its untold stories of the life and times of royals and commoners. And ruins of the old city - a cultural and historic blend of Hindu, Islamic and British influences - each telling its own story. Yes, you also have the fort at Fatehpur Sikri nearby, and so much more!
Each time I visit the Taj, I come under a spell where no word can do justice to what I see in front of me. The choice of material, color, and visual treatment making it monumentally impressionable - yet so delicate, so soft, and so soothing to the eyes.
Over the years, thousands of writers, artists, and photographers have spent endless hours captivated by its beauty, at different times of the day, or night – and wanting to take one more glance at the monument, or take one more picture (in the hope of capturing its soul in a uniquely special way.)
All images used are courtesy of Mina Tilakraj. (Images featured here are from a collection that goes back many years.)
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