Monday, January 11, 2010

Agra, India - Sikandra and the Taj Mahal

We left Delhi and drove to Agra. On the way we stopped to visit Sikandra - the Tomb of Akbar the Great. It was built between 1605-1612. It is massive with red sandstone and white marble.
Seeing women dressed in their brightly colored saris against this background was beautiful.
The sandstone latticework on the windows was amazing.
On the walls were carved floral patterns or geometric shapes.
Under one dome were large bee hives. We saw these bee hives a few times during our whole trip. We also saw some sort of antelope eating the grass in the gardens surrounding the area.
In Agra, we dropped our stuff at our hotel and headed down the street to see the Taj Mahal. We were literally down the street - maybe a 3 minute walk... if you were strolling. Walking anywhere invited bicycle rickshaw drivers to offer rides. They wouldn't believe that we just wanted to walk. We walked down the side of the road next to the wall around the Taj Mahal and came to a fork. A rickshaw driver told us we should take the left fork, which looked like a dirt road to nowhere, and he would take us there. After negotiating the price, and having a flutter of a feeling of where the heck is he really going to take us but not worrying too much since we could easily jump off the bike, we got on. I whispered to Carol, "You know, it is getting dark. Hopefully, he is not taking us somewhere his friends are all waiting." She responded, "He's pretty skinny. We could take 'em."

He ended up taking us to some steps that led into the Yamuna River where we could see the back of the Taj Mahal and the sun was setting. And we were nearly the only people there! We stayed and took heaps of photos as the sun set. Absolutely stunning! Thanks rickshaw man!
We returned to our hotel to wait for two other travelers to join us. Our hotel had a nice outdoor patio and a decent restaurant. I asked, "Does the butter chicken have bones?" The waiter answered, "No boneless." But I thought he had said, "No, boneless." What a difference that comma makes, eh? Our friends' train had been due in at 6pm and it was nearly 8pm. After chatting to a couple, they mentioned that there was another hotel up the road with nearly the same name - were we supposed to be meeting them at the hotel or the inn? Just as Carol got up to go look for them, they arrived.

The next morning, we woke up early to be the first in line for the Taj Mahal, but found out we had to go down the street to get the tickets, so we ended up being maybe the 20th or so.
The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during the birth of their fourteenth child. Construction began in 1632 and continued for sixteen years. The gardens and surrounding area took another five years. I think we each took multiple pictures of the Taj Mahal from various angles.
In this photo, you can get an idea of how huge this building is. I was standing in about the center of the smaller arches on the right at the front of the Taj Mahal looking toward a tower.
As always, people-watching occurred even with this magnificent building nearby. Here's a woman at the Taj Mahal with her baby:
Here's a monk taking a picture of his monk friend pretending to hold the tip top of the Taj Mahal. (Apparently I deleted the picture I had with the angle showing him touching it. Oh well, I guess I will have to go back to the Taj Mahal again.)
You take off your shoes before you walk on the Taj Mahal and the marble is smooth and cool beneath your feet. I imagine it is always cool, even in the hot Indian summers. At the time of visiting this beautiful place, I was reading the book Beneath a Marble Sky, by John Shors. It is a work of historical fiction but I wish every word to be true. It was a fantastic story and made my visit to the Taj Mahal that much better.

Of course, more photos at flickr.


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