Day 5&6 - Agra, India - the "Taj"
Shot of the Day - The Taj Mahal in all it's Glory
It’s catch up time. I’ve not posted for a few days, but now that we have found a few moments to take a breath and with a fully charged computer it is time to share our Day 5 & 6 – the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort.
Upon arrival at the airport in Varanasi, we were greeted with the news that our baggage overage on our Indigo flight, would cost $100USD, that’s more than the actual ticket price. After much great gnashing of teeth and complaining to managers, nothing could change policy so we accepted our fate. Arriving into Delhi Airport, Madan our driver (yeah! We love our driver) met us again and we began our 5 hour car ride to Agra. Crossing the bridge from Delhi over the Yamuna River, which is the same river that eventually flows behind the Taj Mahal, we began to see a different India. We drove into the new city of Nadia, into which flows tons of government money for new and huge apartments, company buildings and foreign representation. This was confirmed when we saw a huge tower with PWC on the top.
Mustard seed with its beautiful yellow flower, covered most of the country fields along the highway towards Agra. Interspersed were smoke stacks belonging to the many “brick” manufacturing facilities. The “super highway” leading to Agra is just that - “super”. It is a 3 lane (each way) beauty that because they do not have snow plows, the lines between the lanes are lined with glittering reflectors, thus night driving visibility is a breeze. Of course a few cattle and people walking on the super highway, were just par for the course.
The town of Agra shares most of the traits of the towns we have seen to date: animals everywhere, traffic chaos, and people selling everything they can from their small shops beside the road. However, the mad world around us all changed when we checked into our Hotel. Entering our room and opening the balcony doors revealed that the Taj Mahal was nearby in the distance. Through the fog and fading sun, the Taj’s silhouette can be seen, so mystical and exotic – it was breathtaking.
Over dinner that night, we befriended the chef of the hotel. He then invited to see his operations in the kitchen and to see his staff in action. The staff at this hotel are so stellar, we had so much fun with them.
The next morning, after taking a few more morning shots from our balcony, the biggest challenge to me (as a photographer), was knowing that since the area is still suffering under severe morning fog, do we go to see the Taj in the morning with less people, or in the afternoon? I decided the afternoon would be best so that I could catch the Taj in clear afternoon and early evening light, so with that decision made, off we went to the famous Red Fort of Agra. Walking over the external moat and though the second gates revealed how huge and imposing the fort is. The Fort was almost empty, great for us as we walked, talked and took photos with almost no one else in the picture (very rare). It was huge and made entirely of red sandstone, the structure and carvings were magnificent. Sadly, the morning fog prevented us from seeing the Taj from one of the most famous vantage points.
We then had short tour of an ivory and semi-precious stone artisan. Watching how the artisans works (including the tools they used), we found tremendously interesting. They would grind the raw materials on grind wheels to achieve their artist vision. With their finger tips warn away, the resulting detailed shapes were unimaginable – tiny, perfect and repeatable. Hard to believe that they could actually build the Taj in this manner.
Okay, and now for the main event, and one of my life-long dreams fulfilled – our Taj Mahal visit. My heart began to race the closer we got to the entrance gates. The carnival like atmosphere was exciting. We entered through the east gate into a garden area where could now clearly see the main gate that would lead us though the entry way to the Taj Mahal proper. This is when I realized I was really here. As we walked through the enormous gate and got closer to the small entrance doorway in the distance you could see the Taj reveal itself. We began to feverishly shoot videos and photos, knowing this first time through the gate is critical to the appreciation of the Taj Mahal – you don’t want to miss this. Every two steps forward revealed more of the Taj building, it was surreal. Once in, the throngs of people did not seem significant any longer because the Taj was not only beautiful, it was all encompassing and so huge, the people did not really matter. As most people before us, the Taj really exceeded expectations. Upon knowing how it was built, what materials were used and the reason it was built, you question no longer why this is one of the wonders of the world – or rightfully maybe the universe. Perfectly designed, symmetrical from all sides, the worlds best Makrana marble with the finest inlays of semi-precious and precious stones, and the result must be seen live. No photos or purchased video can ever replace being there - seeing it, touching it, feeling it – and having your heart race – you can’t take your eyes off it – it’s mesmerizing.
The true and deep love that the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had for the love of his life, his third wife Mumtaz Mahal, oozes out of every marble stone, every precious stone inlay, and just the sheer scale. The love story between them is so wonderful and moving. The Shah met Mumtaz when she was a young humble girl 14 years old, and she was working at a stand in a market. He fell instantly in love with her but she was too young and the timing was not right. He ran into her again later in life, and from that day forward the romance was cemented. He loved her deeply and spent all his time with her - they had a wonderful relationship. She meant everything to the Shah and he could not live without her. He was devastated when she died in childbirth with their 14th child. She had him make two promises, 1) he would never marry again, and 2)he would build her as mausoleum. Wow! Did he ever build her a mausoleum.
We toured and explored, and with the sun beginning to set, we headed out. Taking our last few shots, we were approached by a local Indian elderly man who insisted on taking us to all the best spots to take photos. He really new his stuff, and without him I would not have gotten some of my favourite shots – lucky me. We returned to our room, to further gaze at the Taj from our balcony.
Tomorrow, we leave for Ranthambore the home the Indian Bengal Tiger. Also visited: the Itmad Ud Duala tomb.