We are on the morning train out of Agra and after a night's rest I no longer am on sensory overload. We were not expecting to be so overwhelmed by the beauty of the Taj Mahal.
Our bus dropped us off quite close to the entrance and we then took tongas, a horse-drawn carriage for four people to get to the area of the queues. The security at the Taj is extremely tight after the Mumbai terrorist attack. The gate now does not open until after sunrise and only a camera is allowed in - no videos. We all were frisked by security, men in one line and women in the other so the lines were quite lengthy even at 6:30 in the morning. The first glimpse was literally breath-taking. The sun was low and this most beautiful building in the world glowed white in the sun. As we walked along the reflecting pool towards the Taj Mahal, the power of its beauty increased. This tomb was the result of a great love story. Mumtaz Mahal, the wife of Shah Jahan was a gorgeous Persian woman who first attracted Jahan when he was still a prince. This is then that they fell in love. She was a servant in the palace and so beneath the prince but when he became Shah he made her his wife. She died after birth to their fourteenth child in nineteen years of marriage. Six of their children survived, two daughters and four sons. On her death bed Mumtaz had two wishes. One was that Jahan not marry again to assure that their eldest son would be the ruler someday. Her second wish was to have an incomparable monument built over her grave as a token of their love.
Shah Jahan, after two years of intense grieving, announced a memorial was to be built. Famous architects from all over the world submitted plans and the design of Ustad Isa Afandi of Turkey was selected. The best artisans available were then hired and work began. 20'000 people took 22 years to complete the magnificent Taj Mahal. The construction was completed in 1648. The main building material is Makrana, a white non-porous marble, the best in the world. This marble is still mined in the Nagaur District of Rajasthan. The delicate inlay work is done with various semi-precious stones such as lapis, jade, carnelian and shell. Black onyx which is black marble was used for the inscriptions from the Koran about love. With light on the designs the colors are beautiful. A mosque stands on the west side of the Taj and is still used for worship on Fridays when the Taj is open only to Muslims. Mecca is west from Agra. On the east side an identical building was built to balance the Taj Mahal complex. This is its only purpose.
We wandered on our own for about an hour. David had a Minnesota t-shirt on and was stopped several times by other Minnesotans. This happens each time he wears that t-shirt. Have all the Minnesotans taken to travelling in India? We reluctantly left the Taj Mahal and returned to the hotel for breakfast.
After breakfast we went to a factory where Makrana marble is still used. We witnessed the process of putting the semi-precious stones in the marble. Then we were off to a tea and spice store. Chai is the Hindi word for tea. Next was a tour of the Red Fort of Agra. The circumference is 1.6 miles. Once more, the Mughal architecture which is a combination of Hindu and Persian influences is lovely. The fort is built of sandstone from the area of Fatehpur Sikri. When we were leaving the fort a Buddhist procession to the river passed by on the street in front of us. The body to be burned was wrapped and held high on a wooden stretcher. The chant was a Buddhist one so Vikas knew it was not a Hindu burial. Only men were allowed in the procession and when I questioned this, I was told that women were (too weak). Vikas then explained to me that women have strongest connections to people so their grief makes it more difficult for their soul to depart. I chose to believe this makes women too strong.
After another tasty lunch at an Indian restaurant we were off again. I am loving the Indian bread called naan which is in baskets on the table and helps cool down the spicy food. As we were leaving the restaurant there was another snake charmer with not only a cobra but also a boa constrictor around his neck. David was not amused.
We then went on tuk-tuks to the Mother Teresa home in Agra. There are 40 of these homes in India. We had been asked to bring vitamins, latex gloves, sterile gauze and masks. These abandoned babies and children and compromised adults were cared for by the nine sisters as best as they could with the resources available. We were also able to give some money to the nun which sometimes is refused.
We then headed for the river bank across from the Taj Mahal to see the monument at sunset. The traffic was light so with 30 minutes of extra time we stopped to see the mini Taj. It was built about 25 years earlier then the Taj with more of a Hindu influence where everything is more balanced. This tomb was the first example of inlay that was later used extensively in the Taj. There were lovely frescoes of the interior walls that were in nice condition. Then we were off to the final stop of the day...but not quite. We turned a corner and boom! We had blown a tire on the bus. A crowd of sight-seers quickly gathered. Vikas rounded up tuk-tuks and three-wheelers and off we all went leaving the driver and his assistant to cope with the tire change. We arrived at the river before sunset - yea! On the river bank across from us there were four funeral pyres burning. It takes about two hours for a corpse to burn. The body is doused with clarified butter so the fire is very hot. The color of the sunset was not very different on this evening but the tire was replaced and the bus was ready to take us to the hotel so all ended well. Back to the hotel and bed - Namaste!