Tag Archives: Taj Mahal

My Dream Round-the-World Itinerary

Exterior of the Lincoln Tomb, postcard postmarked 1909

Exterior of the Lincoln Tomb, postcard postmarked 1909

Usually when I travel, it’s a case of finding a graveyard wherever I’ll be. When my parents decided they wanted to show my daughter Niagara Falls this summer, I did some research to find out what cemeteries I could visit in the area. I did the same last summer when they took us to Stratford, Canada’s Shakespeare Festival. When my family visited Wm. and Leslie up in Seattle, I knew I wanted to see Jimi Hendrix’s grave in Renton. When the World Horror Convention was scheduled for New Orleans this year, I had a wealth of cemeteries from which to choose. Unfortunately, the weather limited me to only two.

There are so many graves and graveyards in the world that I’m never going to run out of places I want to go. In fact, my must-see list grows twice as fast as it shrinks.

Sometimes I play a little game with myself: what if I won a round-the-world trip? If I only had 10 stops, what would I see?

The list fluctuates. Some things are constants, but there are so many choices that something always has to be knocked off to make room. As of today, this moment, these are the 10 graves and graveyards on my Bucket List:

"Where the Famous Scout Rests Forever"

“Where the Famous Scout Rests Forever”

Stop 1 – Lookout Mountain, Colorado
One of the first postcards I added to my collection was the grave of Buffalo Bill in the moonlight. The card reads, “Buffalo Bill sleeps forever on the utmost point of Lookout Mountain. Overlooking the plains where he fought the Indians and killed the buffalo, his eternal watch goes on undisturbed by Summer’s throng or Winter’s solitude.” Col. Williamm F. Cody is buried near his wife and foster son Johnny Baker. Apparently, the gravesite is a short drive from Denver.

Stop 2 – Springfield, Illinois
I’ve been to the graves of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Ulysses S. Grant, and William Garfield, but I’ve never been to Lincoln’s tomb. His monument dominates Oak Ridge Cemetery, but I’m sure the garden cemetery – founded in 1856 – is lovely in a lush, Midwestern way. The cemetery offers an audio tour, which I would love to check out.

A vintage postcard of Martin Luther King Jr.'s grave

A vintage postcard of Martin Luther King Jr.’s grave

Stop 3 – Atlanta, Georgia
I haven’t done nearly enough travel around the American South. It’s a gap in my cemetery education. Sometimes, when I’ve not daydreaming about traveling around the world, I think about renting a car and driving around this unfamiliar part of the country. My first stop would be The Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, where I could pay my respects at the graves of Martin Luther Jr. and Coretta Scott King.

Stop 4 – Moscow
From Atlanta, my trip would really take off. I’ve never been to Russia, so I don’t really know what I’m in for, but I have always wanted to see Lenin’s tomb in Red Square. I read Lenin’s Embalmers for Morbid Curiosity and that cemented my desire to see the man – or what’s left of him – for myself. (I’ll review the book on Cemetery Travel tomorrow.)

Giza pyramids001Stop 5 – Cairo
Another gaping hole in my cemetery education is that I’ve never seen the pyramids at Giza. I started to research a trip in 2011, right before the protests. All my life, I’ve wanted to see the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World, among the largest tombs in the world (although, strangely enough, the largest tomb is in Japan – that will have to be another trip). My worry is that religious extremists of one flavor or another will decide that these enormous “heathen” tombs must be destroyed and I will miss my change. Of everything on this list, the pyramids of Giza are my tomb priority.

Stop 6 – Jerusalem
In terms of my education, I must also make a stop in Jerusalem to visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The holiest Christian site in the world, it is believed to include the place of the crucifixion and the tomb of Joseph of Aramathea, which Jesus was temporarily buried, as well as the burial place of Adam the first man, and the cave Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found the True Cross. It will be worth standing in a long, long line to see all of that.

TWA Taj001Stop 7 – Agra, India
I guess it goes without saying that I need to see the “world’s most famous burial building,” according to Tom Weil’s The Cemetery Book. The Taj Mahal, an immense white marble mausoleum, was built by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife. I’ve read that there are other Mughal tombs in the area, just as lovely if not as world-famous. I look forward to comparing them.

Stop 8 – Xian, China
Twice now I’ve seen some of the Terracotta Warriors on tour in San Francisco. I would love to explore the burial place of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. UNESCO calls the site “one of the most fabulous archaeological reserves in the world.” Along with the Taj Mahal, the excavation of the Terracotta Warriors makes modern lists of the Eight Wonders of the World. It also makes my list for grandest tombs in the world.

Yokohama001Stop 9 – Yokohama, Japan
Switching gears to something more modest, I’d like to visit the Foreign Cemetery in Yokohama. Like the Protestant Cemetery in Rome and the English Cemetery in Florence, the Foreign Cemetery was the only burial ground set aside for non-Japanese in the days when the country was barely opened – and still openly hostile – to foreigners. Many of the oldest gravestones were destroyed by the Kanto Earthquake in 1923, but an estimated 3000 gravestones still remain. I’d like to compare the Foreign Cemetery with the Japanese cemeteries I’ve visited in Tokyo.

Photo of Father Damien's grave taken from Kalaupapa and the Legacy of Father Damien

Photo of Father Damien’s grave taken from Kalaupapa and the Legacy of Father Damien

Stop 10 – Kalaupapa National Historical Park, Molokai
The final stop of my world tour would be to pay my respects at the grave of Father Damien, a Belgian priest who served the internees at the leper colony on Molokai. Father Damien eventually contracted leprosy himself and died among his charges. His body was eventually returned to Belgium, but his right hand was returned to Hawaii and buried in his original grave. Damien became as saint in 2009.

So there you have it. Of course, this version of my imaginary itinerary doesn’t visit the D-Day graveyards of France or Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires. It lacks a stop at Elvis’s grave at Graceland and an exploration of the Museo des Momias in Guanajuato. Oh, there are just so many places I want to see!

Cemetery of the Week #86: the Taj Mahal

TWA Taj crop002The Taj Mahal
Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001 India
Telephone: +91 562 222 6431
Built: between 1631 and 1648
Size: 17 hectares
Number of interments: 2 in the Taj Mahal itself, several others in the other buildings on the site
Open: Sunrise to sunset, but closed on Fridays.
Admission: Foreign tourist: 750 rupees. Children under 15 are free.

The world’s most famous burial building, according to Tom Weil’s The Cemetery Book, is the Taj Mahal. The immense white marble mausoleum was built by order of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, his third.

Weil goes on to report that when she lay on her deathbed in 1630, the Empress Mumtaz Mahal requested that her husband never remarry and he “build for her the most magnificent tomb the world had ever known.” The Empress had been considered so beautiful the moon hid its face from her. She died in childbirth.

TWA Taj001It took nearly 20 years for the mausoleum to be completed. The Taj Mahal, which means Crown Palace, continues to be considered one of the 8 Wonders of the World. Built by 20,000 workers at a cost of 32 million rupees, the building employed craftsmen from Delhi, Qannauj, Lahore, and Multan, in addition to Muslim artisans from Baghdad, Shiraz, and Bukhara. The white marble walls are inlaid with agate and jasper and adorned with scrolling calligraphic verses from the Koran.

In 1676, Frenchman Jean Baptiste Tavernier, one of the first Europeans to see the Taj, reported in his book Travels in India that the scaffolding erected around the mausoleum cost more than the entire work, “because, from want of wood, they had all to be made of brick.”

The Taj stands on a raised platform 186 feet square. Its 58-foot-diameter dome rises to a height of 216 feet. Four minarets flank it. The vast burial complex also contains a main gateway, an elaborate garden, a mosque, a guesthouse, and several other palatial buildings. The Taj Mahal itself is surrounded by four reflecting pools. The river Jamuna passes behind it. Inside the building, the graves of Mumtaz Majal and Shah Jahan stand on one side of the tomb, throwing off its otherwise perfect symmetry.

Shah Jahan001Shah Jahan died in 1666. He had been deposed eight years earlier by his son, who imprisoned him in the Agra Fort across the river, where he could look out on his wife’s tomb.

As Europeans flocked to India in the 18th century, they were inspired by the Taj Mahal to start a fashion for building mausoleums back home. In Douglas Keister’s Going Out in Style, Xavier A. Cronin reports that, “Many architects regarded India’s Taj Mahal palace-garden mausoleum…as the world most spectacular building.”

Three centuries later, that belief has not changed. “The Taj Mahal is the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage,” according to UNESCO. Three million people visit the Taj Mahal each year.

Useful links:

The UNESCO listing

The official tourist site

Tour information

Full moon viewing of the Taj Mahal

The National Geographic travel listing

The Smithsonian report on the restoration done on the Taj Mahal

A closeup view of the Taj Mahal