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As I have mentioned a GA-zillion times in my previous posts Nokia Research Center is organizing an all India design competition-Bhasha. This is being facilitated by our team of three (Younghee Jung, Dhaval Joshi and yours truly)

So last week, we went upto Kanpur and Ahemdabad to meet the participating students at IIT Kanpur and NID respectively.

We decided to drive down from Delhi to Kanpur because BECAUSE the internet THE INTERNET, said that it would take us 6 hours. Well it took us 10 hours. We were in a car for 10 hours. Seriously, when we arrived I thought I would fall right out, loose the ability to walk and have to reach the Bhasha review room siding on my belly!

It’s seemed like a very real possibility then, very real!

On our way to Kanpur (this is when we thought we would reach in 6 hours) we thought we could easily factor in a quick stop over at Agra to see the Taj Mahal.

Which is exactly what we did with 40Celsius of sun drumming on our heads.

I have not been to the Taj Mahal for over a decade now. And as it is mostly agreed upon, the monument is timeless. The architecture is breathtaking and it is as beautiful as I remembered it to be ten years back.

What I noticed and found amusing/interesting this time around was the behavior of the people who visit the Taj. People tend to lounge about, touch the marble, take a snooze if it is too hot. However grand this monument is, its intimidating value is relatively less. I can not state this as specific to the Taj. Indians in general perhaps do have a casual attitude towards their historical monuments. I say this statement very loosely though. Of the ones that I have visited, Anjanta caves, Elephanta Caves, Qutub Minar, Humayum’s tomb-they are treated with a certain kind of causal ‘an extension of my person space or courtyard’ kind of behavior. This is also because there is no defined code of conduct by the authorities of the Taj. Considering that it is a tomb, this should have been defined quite strongly. But again, do we do well when we are told do something or to follow rules? Probably not!

Made me think of what designers can do here. To summarize really quickly:

There is an experience and then there is an experience. Can the experience of being in a Taj be made more valuable for a visitor by making his/her experience independent of hiring guides or asking around people to tell them what specific things mean? Can there be spaces considered for people to eat, sleep and lounge about in a defined space rather than inside the Taj Mahal? How can strict rules such as ‘Please don’t take photographs inside the monument’ be reinforced? This is rather important. I would like to point out that one of the major cause of damage done to the priceless paintings of Ajanta and Ellora caves was due to the flash light photography inside the caves. Despite people being told not to. How can entering the Taj Mahal be made less stressful, with the confusing police checks, street hawkers and lack of accurate information on ticket purchases? If the beginning itself is stressful, how can the rest of it be enjoyable?

This is where designers and creative thinkers can come in. Designers can enter these spaces to create more meaningful experiences for people and add value to spaces like the Taj Mahal. Anyone doing work in this area, please mail me. I would love to hear know more.

Other Taj trivia: because it is so hot in Agra and one can not enter the Taj with their shoes on, to avoid burns Visitors can now buy-shower caps to wear on their feet! This wasn’t there when I last visited. But then again, the temperatures never soared this high earlier. You can get these shower caps for Rs.10 at the counter while buying tickets (see image 2) and if you are a foreigner i.e a non Indian passport holder you get it complimentary along with a bottle of water with your ticket purchase. Foreigners pay upto Rs.750 for the ticket. Indians pay Rs.20.

Assuming that we mostly know about the Taj, I am ending this post with a bit of History.

Year of Construction: 1631
Completed In: 1653
Time Taken: 22 years
Built By: Shah Jahan
Dedicated to: Mumtaz Mahal (Arjumand Bano Begum), the wife of Shah Jahan                                  Location: Agra (Uttar Pradesh)
Building Type: Islamic tomb
Architecture: Islamic                                                                                                                                           Highlights: One of the Seven Wonders of the World

Before his accession to the throne, Mughal ruler Shah Jahan fell in love with the beautiful Arjumand Bano Begum and married her, making her his third wife. Arjumand Bano Begum christened by Shah Jahan as Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “chosen one”. Shah Jahan lost Mumtaz Mahal when she got giving birth to their 14h child. It is believed that in her last breath Mumtaz secured a promise from Shah Jahan that he would construct the most beautiful monument in the her memory. As many as 28 different varieties of semi-precious and precious stones were used to adorn the Taj with exquisite inlay work. Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653 and remains one of the most iconic architectural buildings in the world today.

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