Friday, May 27, 2011

Tues, May 24th-Taj Mahal in AGRA India

Have you ever imagined what it was like for those adventurers/entreupeneurs who crossed the desert? What about the great caravans, carrying princesses on elephants in a shaded carriage?It sounds almost grand, right? Well, really imagine it… Because after being in the back of the van for 4 plus hours each way, with no air conditioner and the fan barely whispering out some air….I have a whole new appreciation. Those people were absolutely crazy.

Luckily, most of the traveling was in the early morning or in the there was only a few hours during each part of the drive that I was good and sticky gross with sweat.

Luke, Joel and I signed up for a tour group. Met at the Hyatt hotel, Jumped into the large van they had waiting, with four other people inside. an older French couple was there, and they were really nice, walking some with us then conversing in rapid French to one another. A girl from Chicago, who was visiting friends she had made while studying abroad here. She was pretty cool. Friendly and smart… a rare combination. And a man from Isreal, who did not speak a lot of English, but was very pleasant as well, and would occasionally join the French couple in their quick French dialect. It was a good tour group J

Along the way, we saw all kinds of things from the window. Mostly fields or crowds. But a lot of cows roaming around (they are rather sacred to the Hindus here).

Little Pepsi oasis planted every 500 yards for part of the road….giving shade and hydration.

Most clusters of buildings were either right next to the main road, or along a dirt road that branched from the main one. Or out of sight on the horizon.

A few people would be crouched down, or bent over, working in the fields. Goats tied up and clustered by houses, or being shepherded across a field.

Houses were constructed by anything from a wall and a half of something solid and the rest with tarps. Bricks stacked up to make walls. Or all grass huts it seemed, not sure if they were for living in.

In the city, cow patties lined the divider; drying out in the sun, with hand prints still there where they had been flattened after the manure and dirt were mixed.

The river that runs right next to the taj, but continues for awhile next to Agra is low this time of year. It’s extended, muddy banks are cluttered with all kinds of junk and we watched both people and animals picking their way through to get to the water. At least that water is moving and not stagnant…

I napped when I could, to escape the bumpy, jerky ride. Due to traffic or bad roads, it wasn’t fast, just constant jostling.

We met with our tour guide, and we bought the tickets and piled onto an elongated gulf cart to drive us the rest of the way to the Taj Mahal. In he few yards from the cart to the security for entry….we were surrounded and harassed by vendors. Good thing for the tour guide, because if every time we made that crossing from “out of bounds” to transportation…if the cart or van wasn’t waiting I probably would have decked one of those pushy sellers. When ignored, they just shout and repeat more and continue shove their wares in front of you. *grumble mutter growl snarl*

Through security and metal detectors, detached me from my granola bar… and we gathered under the shade of a tree. The guide explained the history of the Taj…built by the Mughal emperor Shah jahan as a mausoleum for his wife, who he was head over heels for. They were married at like 19 and 23. She died at 38 (ish) (disclaimer: all years are estimates here. I didn’t remember. The important parts: she died young. He loved her.)

(this pic is of the gate that you go through post entrance security and before you can see the taj)

It took something like 15ish years to build, and he died upon it’s completion. Then his body was put at rest next to hers inside the tomb.

The Taj Mahal is considered a building that stands for eternal love. The guide then explained that if you come to the taj single, you will one day be married. Fantastic news, really. That is such a relief to have predicted by this age old tradition. PFt.

Cool parts:

To the one side there is a Mosque. The other side has another building with similar structure, but it is just a decorative guest house put there for symmetry.

>something like 100 elephants brought the marble there.

The architect was Turkish

The Taj is an Islamic structured building

The Script (carved in and inlayed in black stone, not paint) that decorates every archway and doorway, is Arabic from the Qur’an.

The inside is decorated with semi-precious stones into the walls (the jewels and gold was taken by plunderers…dirty scoundrals!) the tombs containing the real bodies are out of sight beneath the area where we walked, with two replicas in their place.

We walked through the first, brick archway. Aaand wvhom! There was the Taj! The fountains were spouting water ( now by power instead of with gravity and pressure.)I took all the cheesy awesome pictures in front of it. (I mean really, why not?!)I also had a cluster of kids randomly sidle in with me, and it took Joel pointing out that they wanted to get a picture with me to figure out what was going on. This only happened a few times…but I suppose the sun may have washed me out even more so than usual to highlight white me.

We took a side path that was partially shaded, thank goodness! It was hot hot there. The sun heating up the air surrounding you and the ground at your toes, your skin, your hair, and anything you came in contact with.

Once at the base of the Taj, we put our shoe covers on. (yay scrub up!) The other option is to go barefoot…and with the heat toasting the marble constantly; going barefoot would not be alright in any way except at a high stepping sprint.

Walked into a surprisingly small, extremely quiet interior. The tombs were fenced off in the center, and we moved in a circle around them, admiring the decorated walls.

Few more notes:

The reason it was so small inside and not the way it appears is because there are two domes. The outer larger and the inside smaller to support the weight of the dome.

The marble had the designs carved out, and the semi-precious stones from various countries were cut out in the desired shape and then placed into the marble. The Lotus flowers had 68 pieces to it!

The guide took a small bright pen light and ran it over the stone: showing that the marble and the orange stone illuminated under the light. While the other stones were opaque to the light and let none through. It was extremely awesome to see.

Oh, and it was built on wood. So if there is an earthquake…it would be okay.

The four pillars around it? Very slightly tilted outward. (so, in case of earthquake…they would topple away and not damage the tomb!)

it was incredible to see! and somewhat impossible to describe. not really sure how it made it on some of the lists as one of the 7wonders of the ancient world. but it really is like a piece of art in real life form.


Not changing religions in this picture. we stopped at a place where they decorate marble with the stones similar to the way the Taj is. We watched the 5 assembly line men work with the stones, and one of them gestured to me and placed the small, dark blue, tear drop shaped stone between my eyebrows. it was pretty :)

Lunch at an (AIR CONDITIONED) 5 star (safe) hotel. The food was hardly spicy…probably catered to touristy taste. (anyone care enough to argue this? It was great to try Indian food and still be able to taste afterwards).

Last stop, Agra Red Fort!!! It was certainly more interesting than the one here. Though it was cool recognizing previously seen structures, and identifying the bath house by visual resemblance!.

Also seen in the fort…

>where the emperor help public assembly daily to address his people. (with separate screened off area for the women of the quart

>Servants quarters.

>The grassy middle that used to the pool of water for the king guy to fish in….and was later turned into tennis quarts for the british occupying it!

>the area where the market was brought in for the royal ladies to shop

>royal living spaces, bed chambers etc. including the place where the king had a mirror placed, so even though he had an eye infection, he could see the reflection of the Taj Mahal.

> a shaft that led to the secret tunnel that could be followed all the way to the taj (although caved in)

> the way the building structure changed, because the emperor had Muslim and Hindu wives. So the architecture changed a little in style to have other influence as well. (besides the obvious d├ęcor differences, Hinduism has images of living animals..something not found in anything Muslim). in the pic below: Hindu type building, but Islamic in the domes, see?

Okay, sorry for the short blurb or boring history. I figured I’d put it in there though. After all, I knew nothing waltzing into the day, so I figured I would jot a few lines here. The Tour guide was a good choice. Though, every now and then he would ramble off a paragraph that I would completely not be able to translate…and Luke or Joel would graciously fill me in.

The fort was very interesting, because it was actually built to be a defensive place, and was also where the emperor actually lived!

We left, piled comfortably into the still hot van and drove back to Delhi. Should have slept more. Towns blended into the horizon with the dusk, unless a few lights were set up to distinguish the buildings. Anywhere where there was a light, people lounged around.

When we got to the city, besides the movement of people, all that changed was the rhythm of the van from bouncing to stop and go. (There is no escape) Luckily the last couple hours of the trip were not miserably hot since the sun finally slipped behind the horizon.

Dinner, some moving, cool, air and lack of movement was fantastic when we finally got home!

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