Monday, November 26, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Monuments To Love And Ghost Cities

Day Twenty-Seven

We packed our bags and went down to meet our driver.  This became a running joke on this trip.  In Nepal, Bhutan, and India we would race to get out of the car before the driver could get out and open the door for us.  In India this went a step farther when we kept getting down to the lobby before our driver got there - we've always liked to get to places early.  He caught on very quickly and each day he would get there a little bit earlier to try to get there before us.

We checked out of the hotel and hit the road driving to Agra.  The drive was about four hours long and took us through the countryside.  This part of India is flat farmland.  It should have been wet farmland but the monsoon was coming late this year - good for us travelers but bad for the farmers who depended on the monsoon rains.  When it wasn't farmland it was small, dirty, poor looking towns that most people think of when they think of India.

We arrived in Agra at lunch time.  We met our new guide at the hotel where we agreed on a time after freshening up and eating lunch to resume our touring.

The Wife and I went to lunch in the hotel restaurant.  We were ordering our drinks.  The Wife had ordered a local beer and the waiter approached, removed the bottle cap, and asked:  "Would the madam like head?"  I  tried to control the smirk as I peered carefully over my menu at the Wife as she asked him to repeat the question ... which he did.  She had her beer without head.  Heh.  Some things are lost in translation.

The south entrance to the Taj Mahal.
The guide and driver picked us up early afternoon and we went to the highlight of our India portion of our trip and the main reason people travel to Agra: The Taj Majal.  People have warned us that it's not as big as you think and that it never meets expectations.  I have no idea what they are talking about.  The Taj Mahal met my expectations completely.  It wasn't smaller than I'd expected.  It was as magnificent as I thought it would be.

The first view of the Taj Mahal.
We entered through the south gate that frames the Taj Mahal beautifully.  We got our picture taken before getting closer.  The next big picture taking opportunity was the bench where Princess Diana had her, rather forlorn, picture taken.  We had to stand in a short line to get our opportunity.  As we waited we watched others sit on the bench to get their pictures taken.  The odd thing was, Indian couples who would sit there were always so dour.  The did not sit close to each other and they rarely broke even a tiny little smile.  I would notice this a lot - Indians rarely smiled when they got their pictures taken.

The Taj Mahal.
We got closer to the monument to a Mughal Emperor's love.  The whole place is a tribute to love, beauty, and symmetry.  The Taj Mahal itself is symmetric.  The four towers surrounding the main structure are symmetric and slant outward slightly so they would fall outward in the event of an earthquake toppling them.  A mosque is located on the west side.  An identical building was built on the east side to maintain the symmetry.  We entered the main structure (No photography inside) and walked around admiring the semi-precious stone in-lay and the white marble.  It was beautiful inside and out.

Intricate semi-precious in-lay work of the Taj Mahal.
Our next stop was a shopping one.  We stopped at a shop that made marble table tops.  The family who ran the business was the same family who did the original Taj Mahal.  The secret to the intricate in-lay was passed from father to son (daughters did not learn it as they would marry and take the secret outside the family).  While some of the inlay work is being taught outside the family due to increased demand, the secret composition of the glue used to secure the semi-precious stones in the in-lay is still a close family secret.  We bought a small in-laid octagonal end table which was shipped home.  The table had been made fifteen years ago so we consider it our anniversary table.

The Red Fort of Agra.
The last stop of the day was the Red Fort of Agra (There are other Red Forts, including one in Delhi, but the  one in Agra is more impressive).  The fort was controlled by both Hindu and Mughal forces at different times of its history.  The latest incarnation of the fort, over 400 years old, is mostly red sandstone.  Some of the interior spaces are white marble and were erected by the same Mughal king who built the Taj Mahal.

The Glass Palace at the Red Fort of Agra.
The fort was going to be a good but ordinary experience until we reached the glass palace.  The glass palace is an incredible place and it is closed to the public.  Our guide, though, knew someone who worked at the fort.  We were told to stand behind a column out of view of other visitors.  As soon as the coast was clear he opened a locked gate and ushered us in.  The caretaker took us into a dark chamber.  He pointed out what had once been a pool in the center of the room  and some decoration in the room.  He then told us to stand to one side and he went over to the opposite side of the room, took out two small candles which he lit, and began slowly waving the lit candles over his head.  The room lit up.  The walls and the ceiling were covered in little mirrors and pieces of glass.  As he moved the candles it was like you were standing under a twinkling star lit sky.  He moved around the room slowly waving the candles and changing the patterns of light thrown off by the walls.  I had to stop and put the camera down and just enjoy the experience.  It was one of those special moments.

The Glass Palace sparkles.
Day twenty-seven was a special day on our travels.  The Taj Mahal and the unexpected Glass Palace made for an awesome day.

Day Twenty-Eight

This morning we left Agra and headed for the ghost city of Fatehpur Sikri.  The city was built by Mughal Emperor Akbar as his capital for twelve years before deciding to move to Lahore due to political and water issues.  This left a virtually pristine example of Mughal architecture.

The Ghost City.
The buildings are beautiful and intricately decorated.  Like many of the Mughal complexes we saw in India a large section was devoted to the wives/harems of the emperors.

A pool at the Ghost City.
After exploring the complex we said goodbye to our guide and headed for our next destination, Jaipur.  The drive to Jaipur took us into a different landscape of hills and plateaus.  The flat spaces we did pass were dotted with tall, solitary chimneys which turned out to be brick kilns.  We stopped for lunch at a roadside restaurant where we had some delicious butter chicken, rice, and garlic naan.

The day ended with us arriving in Jaipur and checking into our hotel.  Tomorrow we would meet another guide and explore the wonders of Jaipur.

Pictures from days twenty-seven and twenty-eight (07/18- 07/19/2012) can be found in my 2012-07 India Google Photos album.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

4 comments:

  1. Wowee Kazowee that's beautiful! I can't believe how beautiful these building are!

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  2. The Taj Mahal not meeting expectations? What are they talking about? It looks absolutely huge and impressive to me. The pictures as well, by the way.

    And the running joke was funny to read:)

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    1. Gany, Thanks! I know you're not fond of my travelogue posts - just a few more to go.

      It made us smile everyday to step out to see him waiting ... no matter how early we got there.

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