Agra - it's time for the worlds most beautiful building. Taj Mahal - here I come!
Nov 20th. Ahhhh 5:45am start today as we are heading to one of the highlights of my trip to India - visiting the Taj Mahal. But before we arrive in Agra, we are going a little out of the way to visit what is known as the ghost city of Fatephur Sikri.
Quite funny, the local bus dropped us off just outside of town, and a busy little town it was, where there were only so many rickshaws so a few of us got lucky, and a camel ride into town! How cool eh! And all the locals thought it hilarious as we bounced along!!!
Former imperial capital of the great Moghul emperor Akbar, the city was built in the late 1570's and has lain silent for almost four hundred years. The reason - some daftie didnt realise the water supply was incapable of sustaining the population of the city, so Mr. Akbar moved the court to Lahore.
Bit of a bummer for this city, but even so, now that it has been perfectly restored, it really is an amazing place; glorious sandstone that glows in the hot sun, changing colour as the evening arrives and shadows play around the ornately carved buildings. Really just a beautiful, beautiful atmosphere here, well worth the side trip!
And so on to Agra, capital of all India under the Moghuls! Part of the Golden Triangle with Delhi and Jaipur, this city is not known as being one of the prettiest but who cares, with the worlds most romantic building as part of its heritage!
Nov 21st. Described by the poet Rabindranath Tagore as a "tear on the face of eternity" the Taj Mahal is without a doubt one of the most amazing sights i have ever seen (not that ive seen so much of course, but this is just incredible). Known to be the ultimate in Moghul architecture, so much has been written about it, so many photos taken (no surprise i took tons myself!)..but when you see it you just can't help taking a deep breath and letting it out very, very slowly - the WOW factor is huge
Of course I loved these two signs right next to each other - please take off your shoes, but please keep your shoes on here too! Hmmn.. which one to follow! Always a tough choice!
Even though there are literally hundreds of people milling around, you still get this quiet, peaceful feel, all around you. The buildings are vast, the people look like ants until you get up close, but the beauty transcends everything. It's difficult to really emphasise the vastness of these buildings; the Taj itself, as well as beautiful gardens, serene mosques, even a museum if you need a break from the sun .. there is so much to see within this walled complex.
You are probably wondering why there are so many pics here. Well, we had to do things properly of course! We started out before sunrise, walking down to the back of the Taj to see it glow as the sun came up, the light was incredible, we had a perfect view on the banks of the River Yamuna..
Also beautiful in perfect sunlight and then of course at sunset; which apparantly we missed due in part to it happening so quickly and also because Helen, Liv and I were so busy chatting, by the time we turned the cameras on, the sun had set - ooops!
Of course part and parcel of visiting the Taj is to think about how it came into being - it has been labeled the most romantic building of all time, the ultimate symbol of eternal love. Built by Shah Jahan in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died shortly after giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. The Shah was devasted by her death and vowed to create a monument beyond anything ever built before, to remember her by! Over 20,000 men worked on the Taj from all over Asia and it took over 20 years to finish. The story goes that Shah Jahan spent the remainder of his life, gazing wistfully at the building, remembering his one true love.
Recent historical research however, has uncovered a slightly more cynical/sordid storyline! Not only did the Shah situate his tomb in a similar layout to that of the Sufi's belief of how God's throne was set out (hence he was a bit big-headed about himself!); unlike the romantic view above, the Moghul's most decadent emperor expired after a protracted bout of sex and drug-taking. His death in 1666, at the ripe age of 74, was brought about not by grief, but a massive overdose of opium and aphrodisiacs.. hmmn.. think i like the romantic, pining lost love fable myself! (thanks for the info, Rough Guide!) What - you lot think i just knew that stuff off the top of my head!!!
Liv, Helen and I had a fabulous day here; from our Princess Diana poses in front of the Taj (and yes, you have to get pretty tough with the official (and unofficial) photographers in this prime photo spot...) to trying to get that corny but cute arm holding, Taj inside your hands shot. OK Helen is about 6ft and I'm about 5ft so it was a bit of a struggle .. but we had a giggle trying! It was hard to leave such a beautiful place; I absolutely loved it and will remember visiting it for the rest of my life! OK OK where are we talking about again! I really need to get some help for this memory problem!
So as we trudged back to pick up our bags yet again.. and head off on the overnight train to the holy city of Varanasi, we made sure to stock up on samosas, pakoras and the like! Hey, you never know when the next chai or chicken tikka masala delivery man might - or might not, as is the fear!! - pop past your cabin!!
One last note here - the train station in Agra was GROSS!!! It was seriously like something out of a horror film. There were hundreds of rats scurrying around the tracks...and then to our terror, hanging out on the platform across from us! Then there were the birds - literally hundreds of them (I'm not exaggerating here!) screeching from the rafters and obviously they had eaten something nasty, as many of them felt the need to relieve themselves on us unsuspecting travelers hanging out down below as prime targets, as we waited on our overnight train - yuk, yuk, yuk! Not the greatest of parting gifts from Agra.. but hey, definitely worth it for the Taj Mahal!