Sheesh Mahal

Across town and down the river from the Taj Mahal is the fort.

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The story goes that the emperor Shah Jahan loved his third wife, Mumtaz Majal, so much that when she died, he built her the Taj Mahal to honor her memory. His other two wives were buried at the two corners of the Taj campus. Supposedly Shah planned to build a matching symmetrical mausoleum for himself directly across the river from the Taj. He planned to build it out of expensive black marble in contrast to the Taj’s white marble. According to rumor, Shah’s son, Aurangzeb, took charge of the kingdom and imprisoned his father in the Agra Fort.

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The Shah’s son built his father the ultimate prison. His rooms looked out over this:

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Like salt in the wound.

Moving on from the fort, oh, wait. There’s my tour guide!

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Mumtaz’ bedroom:

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A swing hung from the roof, so she could rock her 19 — yes, you read that right — nineteen babies to sleep. Now you see why her husband loved her the most?

And now for your entree.

The Sheesh Mahal.

So our tour guide came over to us as I was taking photos of the monkeys in Shah Jahan’s prison bedroom.

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He asked us if we wanted to see something no one else was going to get to see. I said yes, of course. He said he had a friend who worked at the fort who could get us in a closed off area. He said, “Give me 500 rupees [around $10] and wait here for a minute.”

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He came back and led us to this locked door, where two guards and a man in a white shalwar sat. They waited until the courtyard was cleared, then sprang into action. The man in the white shalwar opened the lock and led us inside.

As we followed him into the dark rooms, I wondered if it was entirely wise to follow a strange man into a hidden room while two men waited outside.

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As it turned out, this was Mumtaz’ bathroom.

Our friend in white lit two candles he carried, and the room began to glitter.

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All the walls were inlaid with bits of glass that reflected the light.

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The center of the room had a deep bath with the same hydraulic technology in the fountain in front of her bedroom used for air-conditioning. While this favored wife bathed, the candles providing light made the room sparkle.

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Scented candles and a jacuzzi tub for modern relaxation? I might take the Mumtaz version over that. I imagine as a mother of 19, the woman needed a place to get away.

Then our friend leaned over and beat on the wall.

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Drums were built into the walls, so Mumtaz could enjoy music and probably dancing while she bathed.

The effect was incredible. And it was that much more special because we knew none of the other tourists milling around the grounds would get to see what we had just experienced.

So there you have it: a private tour into the bathroom of this much-cherished queen of India.

The ceramic tile in my own bath is looking downright shoddy at the moment. Perhaps I’ll try candlelight.

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