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The Taj Mahal, in dusty, chaotic Agra, India, viewed through the red sandstone gatehouse, within the press of the crowd.  Symmetry  and material tension run high between the dark sandstone and the brilliant white marble of the mausoleum.   Conceived by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to honour his beloved wife – who died giving birth to their 14th child.

IMG_8048The big onion dome hovers over the crypt, its reflection absorbed in the reflecting pool.

IMG_8074Young and old – the elder woman on the right bent nearly in half –  cram into access stairs to the elevated plinth on which the Taj is set.

  IMG_8080The entrance archway to the mausoleum: an astonishing, ‘edgy’ wrinkled and pleated treatment of white marble. This, accomplished by 1653.
IMG_8694Stone courtyard slabs leading to the Blue Mosque (1616), Istanbul.

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Remember that rule about lighting up a room with at least two light sources?  How about hundreds?

IMG_8700Sensory overload at the Blue Mosque: every tile, every inlay of marble, every dome set against another dome, intended to dazzle your senses with enlightenment and keep your mind distracted from the masonry weight of the domes.

IMG_8732Nearby, the Hagia Sophia: Holy Wisdom, designed at a monumental scale, sheathed in marble and gold and built, remarkably, in five years (532 – 37 CE).  The Roman emperor Justinian commissioned the mathematician Anthemius of Tralles and Isidore of Miletus to design the dazzling structure. What they achieved by way of supporting half-domes, quarter-domes and mammoth structural piers is mind-boggling.  Forty small windows run along the lower ring of the uber dome, creating an illusion of weightlessness.

IMG_8808Exposed structure: the bronze girding at the base and top of the massive marble columns have prevented the splaying of the pillars over the centuries.   The eye is kept constantly moving, from the milky-white river coursing through the marble floors to the green marble columns then the deep red ones, to the silver and gold of the mosaics.

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Room with a view, at sunrise. Looking out over the Hauz Khas, a 13th-century Mughal complex of higher learning, with a mosque, madresa, college…

 and domed pavilions designed to inspire philosophic gatherings.

These days, students retreat to the Mughal-era ruins to escape the intense density of New Delhi. Views give out over an expansive, historic ‘tank’ of water.

Hauz Khas is a hip, designer-rich, walkable neighbourhood – a rare find in India.  Our apartment, rented via Air bnb, allowed views to the Mughal-era complex but also, at ground floor, to men hauling wooden carts travelling along the narrow streets along with school children in uniforms who would sometimes stop to say a prayer in front of the neighbourhood Hindu shrine.   This tea salon discovered up a steep flight of stairs, next to a bakery.

City with surreal views.

Monkey with a view.

Through the dust, heat and travelling at high speeds…view from a crowded rickshaw, en route to the Taj Mahal.

Room with an unparalleled view. The Taj Mahal, a love story.  Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan’s domed mausoleum in white marble for Mumtaz Mahal, his beloved wife and mother of their 14 children.