The Taj Mahal might be the cover girl of India and one of the 8 wonders of the world but there is a second Taj in India, it’s in Aurangabad. Bibi ka Maqbara is widely known as ‘the poor man’s Taj’, another beautiful Mughal monument and, just like the Taj Mahal, was built because a man loved a woman.
I haven’t had the chance to visit the Taj Mahal itself yet, but I have recently been to ‘the other one’. The less magnificent Bibi ka Maqbara unfortunately will never be the 9th wonder of the world but it’s still well worth a visit. If you have already been to Agra, you may come away from Bibi ka Maqbara unimpressed. To find an extra spark of charm in Bibi ka Maqbara I think it is important to know that the reason the quality is inferior to the Taj Mahal is not because there was less love involved in its creation. Mughal Prince Azam Shah constructed this mausoleum for his mother, he desperately wanted it to rival the Taj Mahal (built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife) but unfortunately his father, the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, had different ideas. Aurangzeb didn’t share his sons passion for architecture (and maybe didn’t love his wife as much as his son loved his mother) so only gave him a small budget to work with.
The Taj Mahal (constructed 1632-1653) was still two years from completion when Prince Azam Shah started the construction of Bibi ka Maqbara (constructed 1651-1661). Shah Jahin spent over 32,000,000 rupees building the Taj Mahal , whereas Aurangazeb allocated only 700,000 rupees to his son to create his tribute to his mother. That is 2% of the cost!
Nevertheless, Prince Azam Shah did his best with what he had, although bearing a striking resemblance, Bibi Ka Maqbara is much smaller than the Taj Mahal and whilst some features are made of marble, much of the structure is lime mortar. I wonder, if Prince Azam Shah was the emperor and was not constrained by the budget imposed by his father, could Bibi ka Maqbara have been even more spectacular than the Taj Mahal? I will leave the comparisons there.
Surrounded by beautiful gardens, with a wonderful view of the mountains along the horizon, I recommend visiting just before sunset. The weather was cool, the atmosphere quite romantic and we were not bothered by teenage boys with camera phones (probably because there were signposts stating that it was a prosecutable offense to take photos of people without their consent). I could have spend hours walking around those gardens. Unfortunately the fountains were dry, I would have loved to have seen them flowing.
As we left, a large group of girls on a school trip (aged around 7 to 8) all wanted to shake my hand and say ‘hello, how are you?’. They were absolutely adorable, wearing little pure white hijabs and wide smiles. A lovely end to a lovely visit. To enjoy Bibi ka Maqbara it cost 5 rupees for my husband and 100 rupees for me (foreigners!), cannot really complain about having to pay extra because 100 rupees is approximately £1 (or $1.60). They need the money for maintainance of these expression of love from a son to his mother.