Maharashtra state, India: The Taj Mahal that isn't

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Sulamangalam Sisters: Oru Magumai Nindru
Maharashtra state, India: The Taj Mahal that isn't
Among the many thousands of photos taken of the late Princess Diana a few stand out, mostly for the weight of emotional meaning imposed on them.

One of the most notable – taken on her 1992 trip to India with her husband Charles while their marriage was in tatters – shows her seated alone and pensive at the Taj Mahal.

Here, at the great monument of the passion a man had for his wife, the lovelorn woman who wanted to become the queen of people’s hearts sits squinting uncomfortably, a solitary and vulnerable figure.

Of course the whole thing was calculated for effect and an obvious set-up – where were all the other tourists? – and a compliant media could hardly fail to milk the emotional resonances.

These days – when people get themselves photographed crossing Abbey Road in imitation of the Beatles or pose presidentially outside the White House – it’s fun to replicate iconic images.

But to do the Di pose at the Taj Mahal is impossible. A couple of million people traipse through every year and the chances of getting a photo with no one else in it might mean a very long wait.

There's another option however. In Maharashtra state at the town of Aurangabad is the Bibi-Ka-Maqbara, a 17th century mausoleum bearing more than a passing resemblance to its more famous predecessor near Agra.

According to a sign outside – contradicted by on-line references – the “mini-Taj”, as it is widely known, was built by a Mogul emperor in memory of his mother. It's a rather lovely building, although it's the similarity to the Taj Mahal that draws most comment.

It’s not the same: the pillars leading to it are octagonal not round, it's much smaller (and more intimate) and there are fewer domes. But because it is considerably less busy you can amuse yourself by adopting the Di pose on the similarly placed seat and carry home a snapshot of silliness.

This mini-Taj however is worth a visit in its own right. Inside it is cool, the light through the latticework of windows casts interesting patterns on the walls, and the decorative designs on the marble are suitably understated.

taj1People come and throw money on the grave of its sole inhabitant -- the daughter-in-law of Mumtaz Mahal for whom the original Taj was built I was told – and make wishes or say prayers. It was also designed by the son of the man who drew up the actual Taj, so it's a multi-layered homage however you wish to read it.

Which is all very interesting, but really you just want to get your photo taken striking the Di pose, as I did to the bewilderment of locals.

Then, something happened as unexpected as it was interesting.

taj2A young girl, perhaps no more than 20, sat awkwardly on the bench with the mini-Taj behind her and self-consciously waited for her father’s camera to click.

She radiated youth and embarrassment at the family cajoling her into having her picture taken.

It was an unscripted moment of honest innocence, her life was all before her and who could know what it might hold.

In her simple spontaneity and the lack of any greater or imposed resonances – unlike its more famous counterpart -- her family's photo rendered my cynical one redundant and slightly shameful. 

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