Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Uluwatu Temple - Bali

The Pura Luhur (literally ‘high temples’ or ‘ascension temples’) Uluwatu is famous not only for its unique position, also boasts one of the oldest temples in Bali. This Uluwatu temple is a Bali's most spectacular temple located high on a cliff top at the edge of a plateau 70 metres  above the waves of the Indian Ocean. Dedicated to the spirits of the sea, the famous Uluwatu temple is an architectural wonder in black coral rock, beautifully designed with spectacular views. There are more steep headlands on either side and sunsets over Uluwatu are a sight to behold.
Pura Luhur is a Balinese Sea Temple at Uluwatu on Bali. It is located in Pecatu village, Kuta South District of Badung Regency of Bali. Uluwatu Temple (Pura Uluwatu) is one of Bali's nine key directional temples and it guards Bali from evil spirits from the southwest, God of the elements and of cosmic force majeures, Bhatara Rudra. Empu Kuturan, a Javanese Hindu priest who built the tiered meru, founded the temple in the 10th century and a shrine here as well as at other key locations longs the Balinese coast.

In the 15th Century the great pilgrim priest Dang Hyang Dwijendra, who established the present form of Hindu-Dharma religion, chose Pura Uluwatu as his last earthly abode. According to local records, Dwijendra achieved ‘moksha’ while meditating at Uluwatu. The temple is regarded, by Brahman's island wide, as his holy tomb. Legend also tells us that Dwijendra was the architect of the beautiful temple, as well as many other major temples on Bali, Lombok and Sumbawa. In the 17th century, another sage from East Java, Dang Hyang Nirartha is credited for constructing the padmasana shrines and is claimed to have attained Moksha here.
The entrance fee is Rp 6,000 and you need to be properly dressed to enter. Sarongs and sashes can be rented at the entrance. Guides, once famously mercenary, hassle visitors less than they used to, although they will offer to "protect" you from the monkeys, for a tip of course. Note that while you are free to walk around the temple grounds, the central courtyards can only be entered during special rituals.
The temple is inhabited by large number of monkeys, who are extremely adept at snatching visitors' belonging, including bags, cameras and eyeglasses. Keep a very close grip on all your belongings and stow away your eyeglasses if at all possible. If you do have something taken, the monkeys can usually be induced to exchange it for some fruit.
Uluwatu temple is located on the cliff top close to the famous surf break on the southwest of the Bukit peninsula. So Uluwatu beach is also known for its surf. Being a popular surfing spot for the very experienced, Uluwatu offers a wonderful vantage point to view a spectacular sunset. Small restaurants perched on the cliff offer a comfortable spot to survey the vast Indian Ocean beyond and below the 100-meter-high cliffs with panorama on three sides. There is also a very scenic cave underneath with rock formations leading onto a beach close to the temple.

Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pura_Luhur,
Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Pura_Luhur

Tanah Lot Temple - Bali

Tanah Lot is a rock formation off the Indonesian island of Bali. It is home of a pilgrimage temple, the Pura Tanah Lot (literally "Tanah Lot temple") and a popular tourist and cultural icon for photography and general exoticism.
Tanah Lot means "Land [sic: in the] Sea" in Balinese language Located in Tabanan, about 20 km from Denpasar, the temple sits on a large offshore rock which has been shaped continuously over the years by the ocean tide.
Tanah Lot is claimed to be the work of the 15th century priest Nirartha. During his travels along the south coast he saw the rock-island's beautiful setting and rested there. Some fishermen saw him, and bought him gifts. Nirartha then spent the night on the little island. Later he spoke to the fishermen and told them to build a shrine on the rock for he felt it to be a holy place to worship the Balinese sea gods.
The Tanah Lot temple was built and has been a part of Balinese mythology for centuries. The temple is one of seven sea temples around the Balinese coast. Each of the sea temples were established within eyesight of the next to form a chain along the south-western coast.
At the base of the rocky island, poisonous sea snakes are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders. A giant snake purportedly protects the temple, which was created from Nirata’s scarf when he established the island.
In 1980 the temple’s rock face was starting to crumble and the area around and inside the temple started to become dangerous. The Japanese government then provided a loan to the Indonesia government of Rp 800 billion (approximately USD $130 million) to conserve the historic temple and other significant locations around Bali. As a result, over one third of Tanah Lot's "rock" is actually cleverly disguised artificial rock created during the Japanese-funded and supervised renovation and stabilization program.
The area leading to Tanah Lot is highly commercialized and people are required to pay to enter the area. To reach the temple, visitors must walk through a carefully planned set of Balinese market-format souvenir shops which cover each side of the path down to the sea. On the mainland cliff tops, restaurants have also been provided for tourists.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanah_Lot
Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Tanah_Lot

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Mother Temple of Besakih - Bali

The Mother Temple of Besakih, or Pura Besakih, in the village of Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung in eastern Bali, is the most important, the largest and holiest temple of Agama Hindu Dharma in Bali, Indonesia and one of a series of Balinese temples.
The temple probably dates to the fourteenth century. It was built on the south slopes of Mount Agung, the principal volcano of Bali. The temple is actually a complex made up of twenty-two temples that sit on parallel ridges. It has stepped terraces and flights of stairs which ascend to a number of courtyards and brick gateways that lead up to the main spire Meru structure, which is called Pura Penataran Agung. All this is aligned along a single axis and designed to lead the spiritual upward and closer to the mountain which is considered sacred.
The symbolic center or main sanctuary of the complex is the Pura Penataran Agung and and the lotus throne or padmasana is the symbolic center of the main sanctuary and ritual focus of the entire complex. It dates to around the seventeenth century.
A series of eruptions of Mount Agung in 1963, which killed approximately 1,700 people also threatened Puru Besakih. The lava flows missed the temple complex by mere meters. The saving of the temple is regarded by the Balinese people as miraculous, and a signal from the gods that they wished to demonstrate their power but not destroy the monument the Balinese faithful had erected.
Annually there are at least seventy festivals held at the complex each year since there is a yearly anniversary celebrating almost every shrine. This yearly cycle is based on the 210-day Balinese calendar system. It had been nominated as a World Heritage Site as early as 1995, but remains unvested.
The temple complex consists of at least 18 separate temples and numerous other shrines. Each temple has a specific purpose, whether it is for the worship of a particular god, for the use of the people of a particular region of Bali, or for the use of a particular caste. The only way to move around the temples of Besakih is on foot. The complex gradually rises up the slopes of Gunung Agung and there are countless flights of steps. Be prepared with a pair of comfortable shoes.
The most important and most impressive temple in the compex is Pura Penetaran Agung, which is built on six different stepped levels. The entrance, approached up a flight of steps, is an impressive split gateway (candi bentar) behind which is the kori agung, or gateway to the middle courtyard (jaba tengah). This is the area where during ceremonies hundreds of worshippers gather in pristine white dress, and create a quite wonderful spiritual sight. Non-Hindu visitors will never be allowed beyond this point into the inner courtyard (jeroan), and access will be restricted even here during special ceremonies. Indeed, many temple areas at Besakih may be off-limits when religious events are being held. There is though always something of interest to see.
Other temples at Besakih include the remaining two equivalents of the three normal local village temples. Here though, these perform those functions for the whole of the Bali. The other two are called Pura Basukian and Pura Dalem.
A visit to Besakih is a must-do for any traveler to Bali. It is though not always the easiest experience due to the very pushy souvenir vendors and guide touts. Those visitors who are not used to this type of attention should prepare themselves for a unique and sometimes very irritating trip.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mother_Temple_of_Besakih
Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Mother_Temple_of_Besakih

Friday, November 26, 2010

Balinese Temple - Bali, Indonesia

The Hindu Balinese temple offering
Bali's best-known attractions are its countless Hindu temples. Each village is required by adat (customary law) to construct and maintain at least three temples: the pura puseh (temple of origin) located at the kaja (pure) side of the village, the pura desa (village temple) at the centre for everyday community activities and the pura dalem (temple of the dead) at the kelod (unclean) end. Wealthy villages may well have more than these three obligatory temples, and additionally all family compounds have a temple of some nature.  
The nine directional temples (kayangan jagat) are the largest and most prominent. These are located at strategic points across Bali and are designed to protect the island and its inhabitants from dark forces. Pura Luhur Uluwatu (Uluwatu temple), at the southern tip of Bali, is easily accessed and hence very popular, as is Tanah Lot. For the Balinese, the "mother temple" of  Besakih on the slopes of Mount Agung is the most important of all and sits above the nine. The other seven directional temples are Pura Ulun Danu Bratan, Pura Ulun Danu Batur, Pura Pasar Agung, Pura Lempuyang Luhur, Goa Lawah, Pura Masceti and Pura Luhur Batukaru. All of these are located on either rugged high ground or at the water's edge, and this is a clear indication of the likely source of dark forces as far as the Balinese are concerned.
Photo: Richly adorned Kori Agung gate and pavilions within Pura Dalem Agung Padantegal compounds in Bali
Balinese temple design is an involved subject and one which baffles many visitors. Local geography has a fundamental effect on design, and two temples are rarely the same. Everything you see, be it decorative or structural, has a specific, well-considered function which may be of an earthly or spiritual nature. There are, though, general elements which are common to the vast majority of temples, which are always split into three courtyards: jaba (outer courtyard) , jaba tengah (middle courtyard) and jeroan (inner courtyard). Each of these courtyards contains various structures and/or shrines of differing levels of importance.
The tiered, black-thatched roofs that you see on temples are made from a palm fibre, and this material is not permitted to be used for any roof other than those on temples. The elegant, pagoda-like tiered structure is itself called a meru (named after sacred Mount Meru (Mahameru), the home of the gods), and the most dramatic of them can consist of as many as 11 tiers. The number of tiers, though, is always an odd number.
Bali Temple Gate
The temple entrance is always on the kelod axis point (facing away from Mount Agung) of the compound and is usually a gateway of some nature. This leads into the jaba which is the domain of humans and all things earthly. The jaba contains only minor shrines, is where some celebratory dance performances take place, and during special ceremonies is where the foods stalls are set up. Non-Hindu tourists are nearly always allowed to visit this part of a temple.
A gateway called a candi bentar leads into the central courtyard which is called the jaba tengah. This is the intermediary point between our earthly domain and the realm of the Gods, and this is where daily offerings are prepared in an open pavilion called a paon. The jaba tengah also usually contains a large pavilion called a wantilan, which is used for special dance performances.
The kori agung gate leads into the jeroan—the inner sacred area. This houses the most important shrines to different Hindu gods and deities and is where serious rituals and prayers take place. Shrines are many and varied but usually include a padmasana, the throne of the supreme deity Sanghyang Widi Wasa. The large pavilion in this section is called a gedong pariman, which is always left completely empty to allow the gods to visit during ceremonies. Sometimes properly dressed visitors will be allowed into the jeroan and at others times not; it depends on the individual temple and the ceremonies that have been, or are about to be, performed.
The most common and practical architectural features to be found in virtually all temples are gazebo pavilions called bales. Each has a raised seating section and either an alang-alang (grass-thatched) or tali duk (black palm fibre-thatched) roof and has a myriad of social functions. Bales can serve as a place for the gamelan orchestra to sit, as a village meeting point, host dance performances or simply be a place of rest for worshipers. This part of traditional Balinese temple architecture has been copied by hotels all over the island and in the wider world. The open grass-roofed pavilions you see everywhere in Bali are all derived from this original piece of temple design.
To enter any temple you must be appropriately dressed with a sarong and sash. These are always available for rental at the large temples which attract a lot of tourists (usually included if you're paying to enter, else a few thousand rupiah per set), but it's better to buy one of each when you arrive and use them throughout your visit.
A prayer ceremony at Besakih Temple
A Pura is a Balinese Hindu temple and the place of worship for the adherents of Balinese Hinduism in Indonesia. Most of the puras are found on the island of Bali, as Hinduism is the predominant religion in the island; however many puras exist in other parts of Indonesia where there are significant numbers of Balinese people. Mother Temple of Besakih is the most important, the largest and holiest temple in Bali. A large number of puras have been built in Bali, leading it to gain the nickname "the Island of a Thousand Puras".
Unlike the common towering indoor Indian Hindu temple, puras are designed as an open air place of worship within enclosed walls, connected with a series of intricately decorated gates between its compounds. This walled compounds contains several shrines, meru (towers), and bale (pavilions). The design, plan and layout of the pura follows the trimandala concept of Balinese space allocation.
Bali has a number of important sea temples which were founded in the 16th century by a Majapahit monk from Java named Nirartha to honour the gods of the sea. Each of the temples is traditionally said to be visible from the next, forming a 'chain' around the coast of Bali. Many of the most important sea temples are along the south west coast of the island.
Listed counterclockwise from Nirartha's legendary point of arrival in Bali, some of the most prominent Balinese sea temples include:
  • Pura Gede Perancak to the south of Negara
  • Pura Rambut Siwi to the east of Negara
At this site Niratha is said to have made a gift of a lock of his hair, which was worshipped. Rambut Siwi translates as 'worship of the hair' and the tale is reminiscent of the Buddhist story of Gautama giving eight hairs to Tapussa and Bhallika, which are now enshrined at Shwedagon.
  • Pura Tanah Lot west of Canggu and south of Tabanan
  • Pura Luhur Uluwatu at the southwestern extremity of the Bukit Peninsula
  • Pura Mas Suka at the southern tip of the Bukit Peninsula
  • Pura Sakenan at Pulau Serengan, an island between Benoa and Sanur
  • Pura Pulaki at Pulaki, northeast of Gilimanuk
Pura Luhur Uluwatu is the only Balinese sea temple that is also one of the nine Balinese directional temples.

Sources, Images: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bali, http://wikitravel.org/en/Bali,

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Bali - Indonesia

Mother Temple of Besakih
Bali is an Indonesian island located in the westernmost end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, lying between Java to the west and Lombok to the east. It is one of the country's 33 provinces with the provincial capital at Denpasar towards the south of the island.

With a population recorded as 3,551,000 in 2009, the island is home to the vast majority of Indonesia's small Hindu minority. About 93.2% of Bali's population adheres to Balinese Hinduism, while most of the remainder follow Islam. It is also the largest tourist destination in the country and is renowned for its highly developed arts, including dance, sculpture, painting, leather, metalworking and music.
Bali was inhabited by about 2000 BC by Austronesian peoples who migrated originally from Taiwan through Maritime Southeast Asia. Culturally and linguistically, the Balinese are thus closely related to the peoples of the Indonesian archipelago, the Philippines, and Oceania. Stone tools dating from this time have been found near the village of Cekik in the island's west. The island of Bali lies 3.2 km (2 mi) east of Java, and is approximately 8 degrees south of the equator. Bali and Java are separated by Bali Strait. East to west, the island is approximately 153 km (95 mi) wide and spans approximately 112 km (69 mi) north to south; its land area is 5,632 km².
Bali's central mountains include several peaks over 2,000 metres. The highest is Mount Agung (3,142 m), known as the "mother mountain" which is an active volcano. Mountains range from centre to the eastern side, with Mount Agung the easternmost peak. Bali's volcanic nature has contributed to its exceptional fertility and its tall mountain ranges provide the high rainfall that supports the highly productive agriculture sector. South of the mountains is a broad steadily descending area where most of Bali's large rice crop is grown. The northern side of the mountains slopes more steeply to the sea and is the main coffee producing area of the island, along with rice, vegetables and cattle. The longest river, Ayung River, flows approximately 75 km.

Tanah Lot Temple
The island is surrounded by coral reefs. Beaches in the south tend to have white sand while those in the north and west have black sand. Bali has no major waterways, although the Ho River is navigable by small sampan boats. Black sand beaches between Pasut and Klatingdukuh are being developed for tourism, but apart from the seaside temple of Tanah Lot, they are not yet used for significant tourism.
Pura Ulun Danu Bratan water Temple
The largest city is the provincial capital, Denpasar, near the southern coast. Its population is around 491,500(2002). Bali's second-largest city is the old colonial capital, Singaraja, which is located on the north coast and is home to around 100,000 people. Other important cities include the beach resort, Kuta, which is practically part of Denpasar's urban area; and Ubud, which is north of Denpasar, and is known as the island's cultural centre. Three small islands lie to the immediate south east and all are administratively part of the Klungkung regency of Bali: Nusa Penida, Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Ceningan. These islands are separated from Bali by the Badung Strait.
To the east, the Lombok Strait separates Bali from Lombok and marks the biogeographical division between the fauna of the Indomalayan ecozone and the distinctly different fauna of Australasia. The transition is known as the Wallace Line, named after Alfred Russel Wallace, who first proposed a transition zone between these two major biomes. When sea levels dropped during the Pleistocene ice age, Bali was connected to Java and Sumatra and to the mainland of Asia and shared the Asian fauna, but the deep water of the Lombok Strait continued to keep Lombok and the Lesser Sunda archipelago isolated.

Bali Starling
Bali lies just to the west of the Wallace Line, and thus has a fauna which is Asian in character, with very little Australasian influence, and has more in common with Java than with Lombok. An exception is the Yellow-crested Cockatoo, a member of a primarily Australasian family. There are around 280 species of birds, including the critically endangered Bali Starling, which is endemic. Others Include Barn Swallow, Black-naped Oriole, Black Racket-tailed Treepie, Crested Serpent-eagle, Crested Treeswift, Dollarbird, Java Sparrow, Lesser Adjutant, Long-tailed Shrike, Milky Stork, Pacific Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Sacred Kingfisher, Sea Eagle, Woodswallow, Savanna Nightjar, Stork-billed Kingfisher, Yellow-vented Bulbul, White Heron, Great Egret.
The rich coral reefs around the coast, particularly around popular diving spots such as Tulamben, Amed, Menjangan or neighboring Nusa Penida, host a wide range of marine life, for instance Hawksbill Turtle, Giant Sunfish, Giant Manta Ray, Giant Moray Eel, Bumphead Parrotfish, Hammerhead Shark, Reef Shark, barracuda, and sea snakes. Dolphins are commonly encountered on the north coast near Singaraja and Lovina.
Many plants have been introduced by humans within the last centuries, particularly since the 20th century, making it sometimes hard to distinguish what plants are really native. Among the larger trees the most common are: Banyan trees, Jackfruit, coconuts, bamboo species, acacia trees and also endless rows of coconuts and banana species. Numerous flowers can be seen: hibiscus, frangipani, bougainvillea, poinsettia, oleander, jasmine, water lily, lotus, roses, begonias, orchids and hydrangeas exist. On higher grounds that receive more moisture, for instance around Kintamani, certain species of fern trees, mushrooms and even pine trees thrive well. Rice comes in many varieties. Other plants with agricultural value include: salak, mangosteen, corn, Kintamani orange, coffee and water spinach.
The population of Bali is 3,151,000 (as of 2005). There are an estimated 30,000 expatriates living in Bali. Unlike most of Muslim-majority Indonesia, about 93.18% of Bali's population adheres to Balinese Hinduism, formed as a combination of existing local beliefs and Hindu influences from mainland Southeast Asia and South Asia. Minority religions include Islam (4.79%), Christianity (1.38%), and Buddhism (0.64%). These figures do not include immigrants from other parts of Indonesia.
Balinese and Indonesian are the most widely spoken languages in Bali, and the vast majority of Balinese people are bilingual or trilingual. There are several indigenous Balinese languages, but most Balinese can also use the most widely spoken option: modern common Balinese. The usage of different Balinese languages was traditionally determined by the Balinese caste system and by clan membership, but this tradition is diminishing. English is a common third language (and the primary foreign language) of many Balinese, owing to the requirements of the tourism industry.
Bali is renowned for its diverse and sophisticated art forms, such as painting, sculpture, woodcarving, handcrafts, and performing arts. Balinese percussion orchestra music, known as gamelan, is highly developed and varied. Balinese performing arts often portray stories from Hindu epics such as the Ramayana but with heavy Balinese influence. Famous Balinese dances include pendet, legong, baris, topeng, barong, gong keybar, and kecak (the monkey dance). Bali boasts one of the most diverse and innovative performing arts cultures in the world, with paid performances at thousands of temple festivals, private ceremonies, or public shows.
Tourism, Bali’s chief industry, has provided the island with a foreign audience that is eager to pay for entertainment, thus creating new performance opportunities and more demand for performers. The impact of tourism is controversial since before it became integrated into the economy, the Balinese performing arts did not exist as a capitalist venture, and were not performed for entertainment outside of their respective ritual context. Since the 1930s sacred rituals such as the barong dance have been performed both in their original contexts, as well as exclusively for paying tourists. This has led to new versions of many of these performances which have developed according to the preferences of foreign audiences; some villages have a barong mask specifically for non-ritual performances as well as an older mask which is only used for sacred performances.
The tourism industry is overwhelmingly focused in the south, while significant in the other parts of the island as well. The main tourist locations are the town of Kuta (with its beach), and its outer suburbs (which were once independent townships) of Legian and Seminyak; the east coast town of Sanur (once the only tourist hub); in the center of the island Ubud; to the south of the airport is Jimbaran and the newer development of Nusa Dua.
One of Bali's main tourist incomes is from the Scuba Diving Industry. It is an industry that has thrived over the past decade or so with the influx of new tourism and the great array of dive sites available. The seasonal Mola Mola (oceanic Sunfish) bring in large numbers of guests during the months of July - October, with Nusa Penida being the most frequented dive location. Bali diving is also on up in the Professional Development market where training happens for recreational divers who want try a new challenge can step up to the level of PADI Divemaster and Instructor. In fact recently one particular dive outfit in Sanur Bali has offered to the world a chance to train in Bali completely free for 7 months up to PADI Instructor level.
Bali, received the Best Island award from Travel and Leisure 2010. The award was presented in the show "World's Best Awards 2010" in New York, on 21 July. Hotel Four Seasons Resort Bali at Jimbaran also received an award in the category of "World Best Hotel Spas in Asia 2010". The award was based upon survey results of travel magazine Travel + Leisure readers, during the period December 15, 2009 through March 31, 2010, and was based upon several criteria. The island of Bali won because its natural state is uniformly attractive (both mountain and coastal areas), tourist attractions are diverse and widely distributed, the excellent availability of restaurants food (international and local), and the friendliness of the local people to visitors.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bali
Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Bali

Monday, November 22, 2010

Taj Mahal - India

The Taj Mahal ("crown of buildings"; also "the Taj") is a mausoleum located in Agra, India. It is one of the most recognizable structures in the world. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. It is widely considered as one of the most beautiful buildings in the world and stands as a symbol of eternal love. Taj Mahal is the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian, Islamic and Indian architectural styles.
In 1983, the Taj Mahal became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar component of the Taj Mahal, it is actually an integrated complex of structures. The construction began around 1632 and was completed around 1653, employing thousands of artisans and craftsmen. The construction of the Taj Mahal was entrusted to a board of architects under imperial supervision, including Abd ul-Karim Ma'mur Khan, Makramat Khan, and Ustad Ahmad Lahauri. Lahauri is generally considered to be the principal designer.
Origin and inspiration
In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their fourteenth child, Gauhara Begum. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death. The court chronicles of Shah Jahan's grief illustrate the love story traditionally held as an inspiration for Taj Mahal. The principal mausoleum was completed in 1648 and the surrounding buildings and garden were finished five years later. Emperor Shah Jahan himself described the Taj in these words:
Should guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free from sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creates sorrowing sighs;
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made;
To display thereby the creator's glory.
The Taj Mahal incorporates and expands on design traditions of Persian architecture and earlier Mughal architecture. Specific inspiration came from successful Timurid and Mughal buildings including; the Gur-e Amir (the tomb of Timur, progenitor of the Mughal dynasty, in Samarkand), Humayun's Tomb, Itmad-Ud-Daulah's Tomb (sometimes called the Baby Taj), and Shah Jahan's own Jama Masjid in Delhi. While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone, Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones, and buildings under his patronage reached new levels of refinement.

The central focus of the complex is the tomb. This large, white marble structure stands on a square plinth and consists of a symmetrical building with an iwan (an arch-shaped doorway) topped by a large dome and finial. Like most Mughal tombs, the basic elements are Persian in origin.
The base structure is essentially a large, multi-chambered cube with chamfered corners, forming an unequal octagon that is approximately 55 metres (180 ft) on each of the four long sides. On each of these sides, a huge pishtaq, or vaulted archway, frames the iwan with two similarly shaped, arched balconies stacked on either side. This motif of stacked pishtaqs is replicated on the chamfered corner areas, making the design completely symmetrical on all sides of the building. Four minarets frame the tomb, one at each corner of the plinth facing the chamfered corners. The main chamber houses the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.
The marble dome that surmounts the tomb is the most spectacular feature. Its height of around 35 metres (115 ft) is about the same as the length of the base, and is accentuated as it sits on a cylindrical "drum" which is roughly 7 metres (23 ft) high. Because of its shape, the dome is often called an onion dome or amrud (guava dome). The top is decorated with a lotus design, which also serves to accentuate its height. The shape of the dome is emphasised by four smaller domed chattris (kiosks) placed at its corners, which replicate the onion shape of the main dome. Their columned bases open through the roof of the tomb and provide light to the interior. Tall decorative spires (guldastas) extend from edges of base walls, and provide visual emphasis to the height of the dome. The lotus motif is repeated on both the chattris and guldastas. The dome and chattris are topped by a gilded finial, which mixes traditional Persian and Hindustani decorative elements.
The main finial was originally made of gold but was replaced by a copy made of gilded bronze in the early 19th century. This feature provides a clear example of integration of traditional Persian and Hindu decorative elements. The finial is topped by a moon, a typical Islamic motif whose horns point heavenward. Because of its placement on the main spire, the horns of the moon and the finial point combine to create a trident shape, reminiscent of traditional Hindu symbols of Shiva.
The minarets, which are each more than 40 metres (130 ft) tall, display the designer's penchant for symmetry. They were designed as working minarets — a traditional element of mosques, used by the muezzin to call the Islamic faithful to prayer. Each minaret is effectively divided into three equal parts by two working balconies that ring the tower. At the top of the tower is a final balcony surmounted by a chattri that mirrors the design of those on the tomb. The chattris all share the same decorative elements of a lotus design topped by a gilded finial. The minarets were constructed slightly outside of the plinth so that, in the event of collapse, (a typical occurrence with many tall constructions of the period) the material from the towers would tend to fall away from the tomb.
Soon after the Taj Mahal's completion, Shah Jahan was deposed by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. Upon Shah Jahan's death, Aurangzeb buried him in the mausoleum next to his wife.
By the late 19th century, parts of the buildings had fallen badly into disrepair. During the time of the Indian rebellion of 1857, the Taj Mahal was defaced by British soldiers and government officials, who chiseled out precious stones and lapis lazuli from its walls. At the end of the 19th century, British viceroy Lord Curzon ordered a sweeping restoration project, which was completed in 1908. He also commissioned the large lamp in the interior chamber, modeled after one in a Cairo mosque. During this time the garden was remodeled with British-style lawns that are still in place today.
The Taj Mahal attracts between 2 and 4 million visitors annually, including more than 200,000 from overseas. A dual pricing system is in place, with a significantly lower entrance fee for Indian citizens than for foreigners. Most tourists visit in the cooler months of October, November and February. Polluting traffic is not allowed near the complex and tourists must either walk from parking lots or catch an electric bus. The Khawasspuras (northern courtyards) are currently being restored for use as a new visitor center.

The small town to the south of the Taj, known as Taj Ganji or Mumtazabad, was originally constructed with caravanserais, bazaars and markets to serve the needs of visitors and workmen. Lists of recommended travel destinations often feature the Taj Mahal, which also appears in several listings of seven wonders of the modern world, including the recently announced New Seven Wonders of the World, a recent poll with 100 million votes.
The grounds are open from 6 am to 7 pm weekdays, except for Friday when the complex is open for prayers at the mosque between 12 pm and 2 pm. The complex is open for night viewing on the day of the full moon and two days before and after, excluding Fridays and the month of Ramzan. For security reasons only five items—water in transparent bottles, small video cameras, still cameras, mobile phones and small ladies' purses—are allowed inside the Taj Mahal.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal
Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Taj_Mahal