Our time at Agra was short, but definitely eventful.
In terms of the drive over, you can start seeing a change of landscape. Where I’m presently writing, we’re into full on desert, so the variations in this country are pretty impressive:
We got in mid-afternoon but I was pretty tired from our travelling so far, so I spent a few hours working on photos and just relaxing in our room. All the more so since the room, in stark contrast to our previous hotel room, was very comfortable. I did manage to go out to dinner with Ben at a great restaurant called Pinch of Spice which is supposed to be one of the best in the city. It was indeed very good, but everything was killer spicy. If you end up there, I’d recommend ordering white-person spiciness level given that it kicked my Mexican ass.
The next morning we woke up bright and early so that we could be at the Taj Mahal as it opened in the morning. I won’t deny that it was a royal pain to start the day that early, but once we were inside it was definitely worth it to be there when the crowds had not yet arrived.
The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tribute to his third wife who died during child birth. It is regarded as a testament to love, which is kind of rich for a fellow with two other wives, but I was told that his first two wives were the product of arranged marriages. There is no doubt that there was also a pretty large element of personal vanity involved here. The building took 20,000 labourers two decades to complete, and Jahan had a penchant for building huge structures. In fact, he planned the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his third wife and he intended to build a mirroring structure across the river in black marble for his own tomb. You can actually still see remnants of the foundation for that planned building. These structures were built by taxing his subjects, and at one point his more sensible son put a stop to the expenditures by having his father imprisoned in Fort Agra for the last 8 years of his life (in a pretty fancy palace jail by any measure). Jahal’s tomb is in the Taj Mahal.
This is the entrance gate to the Taj Mahal:
Note the intricate geometrical structures and patterns on the roof of the arches:
On to the main course, the Taj Mahal:
These are some of the buildings surrounding the Taj Mahal that are far lesser known. This one is a mosque that was purportedly built for the labourers who built the Taj:
The surrounding structures by the gate to the Taj Mahal:
I will say this, once the impressive dome is obscured when you get really close to the Taj Mahal, it really does lose a lot of its aesthetic impact:
However, once you get close to the building, you get to see the amazingly intricate carvings and in-laid stone work. Note the detailed flowers and plants over the archway. Those are not painted, but are rather in-laid stone work that is meticulously cut and put together into the various shapes. Here’s a close-up of some of the stone work by the sides:
The marble carvings all around the structure are also really impressive:
You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside the tomb area but it is similarly intricate; well, the tomb that is open for display is intricate. The funny thing is that as per Muslim tradition, it is not proper to decorate the actual tomb, which is left as a tomb of plain marble. So they then made a decoy tomb which they placed on the floor above, which IS intricately decorated to side-step that prohibition.
After the Taj Mahal, we stopped over at the home of our Agra guide, Ali, for an Indianish breakfast, i.e. mostly Indian but he also offered us bread, jam and cereal. His house is right where the two people from my group are going:
After breakfast, our busy day continued. We went to a marble workshop where they craft the in-laid stone work by hand. The process is ridiculously time-consuming. The first step is for a set of craftsmen, to chip off and grind down these precious stones into tiny slivers of stones that they can use to make their designs:
The grinding down is done without any electric tools, they use the same methods that were used at the time that the Taj Mahal was built. The grinding stone is spun by using the rod that is attached to a cord. I was told that they do not use electrical assistance because the grinding is so precise that it’s just easier to control by hand:
They use the bowl of water that you see better in the next shot to wet the stone so that it is less likely to splinter off:
Once the stones are cut into the pieces that will form a design, a second type of craftsman is then responsible for cutting out the marble slab where the rocks will be placed. He starts by tracing the form of the various pieces and then just works on the marble slab by hand to create the recesses where the stones can be fitted perfectly:
They have a sample slab that shows the various steps of the in-laying process:
Our next visit for the day was Fort Agra, where Shah Jahan spent his final days:
As far as prison cells go, you cannot get much fancier that this. The first shot is a close up of his prison palace, followed by shots that show the full thing from further away:
And some pictures of Tim and Flo from my Dragoman group at the fort:
After the fort we headed off to what is colloquialy known as the “Baby Taj” that is across the river from the Taj Mahal. It was frankly the highlight of my day. It’s not as impressive in terms of size, but I really liked the design and it’s a lot quieter than the Taj. It is a mausoleum that was completed in 1628 and is the tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah:
We finished up the day’s sight-seeing by trying to catch the sunset from across the river to the Taj Mahal. On the way over to the river bank, I walked within 30 centimeters of this:
Locals would not get within 10 metres of the thing, so I imagine that was a bit on the perilous side. Thankfully I always wear pants and boots that go above the ankle so I would have hopefully been fine had the cobra gone in for a bite.
By the river, we saw about 40 goats in an hour getting herded along which is quite a remarkable sight in a city of 1.7 million people. India is really like an awesome street-zoo:
Some random pictures of people along the way:
Some pictures of my dinner with Ben at Dasapraksh that night:
I’ll end with a picture of what can only be described as some pretty blunt advertising for a fertility clinic: