The Taj Mahal sure looks marvellous even from just its grand entry, but did you know that Shah Jahan built the best view of this mausoleum from a crescent-shaped plain across the Yamuna River? During the 17th century, when the Mughal rulers spared no expense to indulge their whims, the 25-acre land was spectacularly transformed into a moonlight garden known as Mehtab Bagh, teeming with breezy pavilions, white pathways, fountains, and pools.
Over the centuries, floods plus locals scouring for building materials almost wiped out the existence of this medieval retreat until in 1994, when excavation started. This revealed a stunning four-quartered garden that perfectly blended with the soulful complex of Taj.
During the process, a handful of folklores were brought to light. Mehtab Bagh was believed to be the prospective site for another Taj that Shah Jahan wanted as his tomb. Its origins are also in question, as some thought that it existed before the Taj Mahal was built and was only refashioned to suit the tomb’s symmetry. A reference letter from Aurangzeb to Shah Jahan was also discovered where the prince has cautioned him that during the monsoon period, rainwater had submerged the charbagh.
In 1994, an archaeological unit decided to pick their shovels and reveal the truth behind the mythical black marble, Taj. However, there is no evidence of Shah Jahan having proposed another model. What they discovered, after 90,000 cubic meters of dirt, was a typical garden that featured an intrinsic element of the Taj Mahal, with the Taj complex exactly positioned halfway between its entrance and the last part of Mehtab Bagh. There are also ruins of an octagonal pond, a boundary wall, a baradari, and a fascinating circuit of water channels that criss-crosses the land.
Such concept was basically a Mughal idea, perhaps taken from Central Asia. Mehtab Bagh was recognized as the eleventh and the last among the series of moonlit gardens developed by the Mughals along the Yamuna riverbank, opposite the Taj and Agra Fort. In fact, the first and only perfect charbagh was Ram Bagh. Others include the gardens in Baby Taj, Chini ka Roza, and Johra. The Mehtab is, without a doubt, the most significant among them.
The interest in this Mughal garden has resurfaced recently due to the growing concern for the Taj. It is now facing a great threat caused by the huge volume of tourists. Air pollution is causing decay to the marble exterior of the complex. With this 25-acre floodplain being reclaimed, geographers and historians from across the world are coming to study this magnificent garden.
The lush garden may give new life to the idea of protection from any threat of further degradations. Environmentalists think that the creation of a buffer zone of greenery could help spare the place from noise, air, and water pollution. A greater portion for greenbelt has been acquired to establish a 340-acre eco-park around the Taj complex.
Mehtab Bagh is open from sunrise to sunset and the admission fee for locals, tourists of BIMSTEC nations (Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Myanmar), and tourists of SAARC nations (Afghanistan , Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka) is 5 Rupees per head, while other tourists is 100 rupees per head ($2).