The Yamuna, in black and white

Old?

India today still exists spread across generations and centuries: old and new, modern and traditional, renovated and decrepit, built-up and torn-down, present and past.

A simple, fuzzy black and white photo of today can seem like something from a different era. Here, the squalid but holy Yamuna river flows behind the Taj Mahal.

I tell my students that in the context of photojournalism, black and white photography is too often a artistic gimmick. Not always, but most of the time. I feel grayscale makes an image look more “stunning” by covering up poor lighting and colors and adding contrast. I argue, if an image can run in color — and if the goal of journalism to is to capture reality — it should run in color.

So a gimmick, yes. But a beautiful one, nonetheless.

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Mughal mosque

Kabutar and mosque

The mosque to the west of the Taj Mahal is a superb example of Mughal-era architecture. And it’s too often ignored by tourists who are focused on the gorgeous monument just to the east.

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You can’t stop staring

Stunning

The Taj Mahal, western elevation, from the archway of the adjacent mosque.

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The world’s most beautiful building

Classic

My fourth trip to the Taj Mahal. It’s still overwhelmingly beautiful.

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She really does steal the show

Even from a few kilometers away, the Taj Mahal is distracting

Agra Fort seems less interesting when there’s the world’s most beautiful building off in the background.

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Classic monument, different angle

Reflecting pool

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Quiet sunrise, empty mosque

Sweeping out the dust

At sunrise, as the tourists shuffle into the Taj Mahal complex, the mosque to the west is nearly quiet. Except for a few wanderers and the caretaker. Photos below.

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Solitary prayer

Worship in your own way

At about 7 a.m., we were in the crowds of people streaming into the Taj Mahal for the glory of sunrise. Most tourists make straight for the Taj itself, to admire the monument as the marble changes in the warming light.

After a quick stroll around the gardens, I made for my favorite spot in the Taj complex, the western mosque. There I sat for the better part of an hour to meditate and pray. Other than a few pilgrims (like the one above), some dying bees and a man cleaning the mosque floor, I was alone.

Peace.

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It’s all in the details

Well-worn door

The Taj Mahal is a serene monument, the apex of Mughal architecture. It stands so much in contrast to the dust and grime that is often India (though I love that in its own way). The marble dome of the Taj is, quite literally, breath-taking. Iconic may be an overused cliche, but the Taj deserves it.

Yet as striking as Shah Jahan‘s greatest accomplishment is from afar, the entire complex is also fantastic up-close, with all its details. See below.

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Old, old lines

Old man

Great face. Fantastic face. Were it not for the stitching of his shirt, this man could be from Shah Jahan‘s era. Perhaps he’d be one of the thousands of hands that built the Taj Mahal.

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