India Morning of Day 3
The phone rings at 6:30 with our wake up call. I take a quick shower (India likes to cling!) and pack my things before heading down to dinner with Brittany. They have some very scrumptious omelets and I partake happily. We head to the bus for a 10 minute drive to the Taj Mahal!
My head is aflutter as I look out the window. The rest of the group seems just as excited as the bus pulls off to the side of the street at the gate (a long way away from the Taj itself). As we exit the bus we are engulfed in vendors once more. Plastic snow globes, elephant bracelets abound as I wonder about the supplier that seems to send all these hawkers (ranging in age from 5-80!) out on the street. It strikes me that these hawkers are probably highly organized and even seem to have turf as realized when I motion for a man to show me some hand stamps (to make little colorful designs on kids hands-for 100 rupees, I was sold!) and he proceeds to get into a fight with another. Hurrying away from the mess Brittany and I tread on, passing cows (!), monkeys and camels (Im serious, its weird but oh so true!), snapping pictures as we go.
We reach the entrance and are herded into two lines for men and women to go through security. Despite being patted down and putting my goods through a medal detector (but not an X-ray), I feel that the security is relatively light considering the Mumbai Attack.
Some of the girls had brought their Saris and some local women were nice enough to help them tie them up. I decided against bringing mine due in large part to the fact that I was afraid it would get dirty (judging by theirs I was right).
The first building we see is not the Taj, but a huge gateway made of what I think is red sandstone. We snap more pictures and as we walk closer we get our first view of the Taj, mirrored in the archways of the gateway which frames its main dome. My eyes start to tear as the gravity of what I am seeing hits me. I am so lucky to be seeing such a wonderful and famous sight at such a young age.
The Taj Mahal is a large mausoleum which was constructed by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. It combines Persian, Ottoman, Islamic and Indian artistic styles and is widely thought to be the best example of Mughal architecture. The emperor wrote a poem which describes the Taj:
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 outside of the Taj was decorated by utilizing stucco, stone inlays and carvings. It is also adorned with thuluth calligraphy which is made by jasper inlay. The interior is less ornate and is actually kept fairly dark to ward off the damaging rays of light. Due to muslim rules against gaudy graves, Mumtaz and the Shah Jahans graves are pretty basic. The outlying gardens are also gorgeous with the long shallow reflective pool dominating the landscape.
Brittany, Annie, Julia and I roam around for about an hour snapping hundreds of pictures. I absolutely loved seeing the taj. It is really unreal looking (as some of our pictures denote!). The feeling one gets is almost like butterflies in your stomach, amazement that you are really seeing such a famous sight (2 to 4 million visitors each year). It is one of the seven wonders of the modern world! From the reflective pool we head into the actual structure and I ask some local women if I can take my picture with them. They get quite excited by the question and pose with me for quite a few snapshots. We continue to walk around the inside (which is not nearly as impressive as the outside) and as we head out our local picture friends ask us for some more pictures, it seems that they liked taking the pictures more than us! Their husbands join us and we take quite a few pictures against a much polluted river which graces the backend of the Taj.
Saying goodbye to the Taj after only an hour was pretty hard. It is such an amazing structure and the nature of it seems to transcend design and culture. I am so thankful (thanks mom and dad!) that I got to see it. The graceful (although polluted) reflective pool in front of the Taj dazzled me. The slopes of the domes glistened in the sun. The gardens which surround the mausoleum are wonderful accessories to balance out the white structure. In sum, I loved it!!
Our walk back to the bus saw even more hawkers and as we took our seats the window shopping commenced. I sort of like a small Lord Ganesh (the elephant headed god in Hindu), but decide against it (dad, youd be proud) as I figured it would just gather dust on my shelf.
We drive what seems like only a few feet to the Agra Fort, another World Heritage Site (the Taj is too). It was the heart of the Mughal Empire for hundreds of years and the whole country was literally governed from it. It is laid out in a semi-circle and some walls are as high as seventy feet. We enter through the Lahore Gate and are quickly brought into a very red world (red sandstone for the most part). The structures within Agra Fort are all gorgeous in very different ways. They cover a spectrum of styles as many were constructed for the wives of different emperors who were different religions. Interestingly the Shah Jahan (the commissioner of the Taj Mahal) was imprisoned there (it was actually quite luxurious but still not so great for an emperor) by his son Aurangzeb. However, from the Muasamman Burj (where he was rumored to have died) you can see the Taj beautiful (we took a ton more pictures, lol). Finally, the fort was also the site for one of the battles of the Indian Rebellion in 1857 which led to direct rule of India by Britain rather than by the British East India Company.
Enough of the history lesson and back to the reflective blog part. Brittany and I spent most of our time exploring the different structures and of course taking pictures. We spent more time taking jumping pictures with a quick shutter (we did the same at the Taj) and basically just tried to immerse ourselves in the different buildings. The fort is also home to a garden and we spent some reflective time taking in all that we had seen that morning still amazed that we had just seen the Taj
Heading back to the hotel was a little anti-climatic as I had been so psyched to see the Taj, little did I know what the afternoon would bring
Thursday, March 12, 2009
India Morning Of Day 3
India Morning of Day 3