Installment #4 - October 27, 2000
Agra and the Taj Mahal
It was still dark when we left the Ajanta Hotel in Delhi for the short taxi ride to the train station. The 6AM-to-8AM journey to Agra was to be the first on our Indrail pass. Our train was waiting at the platform with a computer-printed passenger list taped on the outside of each car. We easily found our seats in an air-conditioned chair car that had airplane-style seats, three on one side of the aisle, two on the other.
But getting our baggage onto the train and stowing it was another matter. Before leaving home, we had purchased a large, green, hardsided, rolling suitcase that we now discovered would not fit through the door of the train car until it was turned sideways. After manhandling it down the narrow aisle, we found that it would not fit into the overhead luggage rack, even if I were strong enough to lift it that high. We put it on the floor in front of our seats, leaving almost no room for our feet. Luckily, the two seats in front of us were empty, so Rita moved there, and I shoved the green monster over a little. The train ride was otherwise uneventful, with the train staff serving us breakfast complete with juice, tea, and water. [Looks like Allen's way of complaining to Rita about the amount of luggage she brought is to get her to read this web site.]
In Agra, we moved into a hotel and then visited the Red Fort, from which we caught our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, second wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. She died in 1631 while giving birth to her 14th child, and her death left Shah Jehan heartbroken. Over the next 22 years, 20,000 people were employed building the Taj. On its completion, Shah Jehan set out to build a similar mausoleum for himself out of black marble. He was deposed by his son soon after construction began and imprisoned in the Red Fort, from which he could see the Taj during the remaining years of his life. I understand that the son acted because he realized that construction of Shah Jehans mausoleum on the scale he proposed would bankrupt the Mughal treasury. When he died, his tomb was placed beside that of Mumtaz in the central chamber of the Taj, and is the only feature which is not symmetricalit was never intended that he be buried there, and Mumtazs tomb is centered, so his had to be placed off-center.
At 6:30 the next morning, we paid our first visit to the Taj Mahal itself in time to watch the sunrise paint a series of pale colors on its white marble. I dont have sufficient writing skill to adequately describe the Taj and the feelings it evokes. It is at the same time larger than life, yet ethereal. The building itself and the four minarets surrounding it are of white marble and stand out sharply against the red sandstone platform. But I wont try to describe it furthercheck out the pictures. We spent three hours there and still wanted more. We returned to watch the sun set on the Taj, and I returned at dawn the next day, Friday. After checking out of the hotel, we made our final visit at sunset, leaving after the Taj had disappeared in the fading light.
Admission to the Taj is 500 rupees (about $11.10) for foreigners but we lucked out. Thursday was the first day of the five-day festival of Diwali, and admission was free. Fridays are always free and always crowded.
Diwali is celebrated with lots of fireworks and with the lighting of candles and oil lamps. Many buildings are draped with lightsit looks like Christmas here!
The town of Agra seems to be concentrated into a few busy business districts with mostly open space between. There are large numbers of cows and lesser numbers of pigs and goats roaming around town, scavenging food from gutters and trash bins. The air was hazy with smog throughout our visit. In my mind, in Agra, the Taj is it. Nothing else compares.
(Written at Umaid Bhawan Hotel, Jaipur)
Click on the thumbnails below for a larger view, then use your browser's Back button
Looking north over the
reflecting pool toward
the Taj Mahal at sunrise
Sunlight colors the southeast
corner of the Taj
A view of the eastern side of
Taj - all four sides are
Rita and Allen sit on the
Taj Mahal grounds admiring
Tourists lined up to enter the
Taj Mahal grounds on Friday
(free day) afternoon
This sign on the Taj lawn is an
example of ambiguous Indian
English. Photography is allowed,
but walking on the lawn is not -
not even for picture taking
A digital picture of a glossy print
taken by a professional photographer