Tuesday, October 1, 2013

To Agra

We woke Monday in cooler conditions under cloudy skies but none of the rain we experienced the day before. By a little after 9.00am we were on our way to Agra, 170 klms or so from Delhi, but a good 4-5 hour drive negotiating the traffic.

Our drive went well today, giving us plenty of time to take in the passing landscape-which was predominantly flat, rural and sparsely settled most of the way, supporting sugar cane farms, scattered fields of barley (?) and lots of small brickworks with their characteristic kiln chimneys.

Arriving in Agra we settled into the rather opulent Taj Gateway Hotel then fairly quickly headed out for another great lunch at the nearby Kesar (saffron) Restaurant.

Our first tourist stop for the day, after crossing back over the Yamuna River was to visit the so called “Baby Taj Mahal” the tomb of I'timad–ud–Daulah. 

Ali, our Agra guide, provided the context for appreciating this building by outlining a brief history of the 350 year Mughul empire. Agra was the capital of the Mughul empire for a 100 years or so, from the time of Akbar until Emperor Shah Jahan moved the capital back to Delhi some time after the death of his adored wife Mumtaz.

The I'timad-ud-Daulah tomb was constructed by the wife (Nur Jahan) of Akbar’s great grandson Jehangir (the father of Shah Jehan). Nur Jahan had appointed her own father as Prime Minister of Jehangir’s empire, and upon her father’s death she had this beautiful tomb complex constructed (1622 – 1628). Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal  for his adored wife Mumtaz just a few years after this.

Like the Taj Mahal this finely proportioned, beautifully balanced building is constructed of white marble with intricate inlay work, fine stone carving and in its day would have been encrusted with precious and semi precious gems.

Nur Jahan must have been a remarkable woman. As well as holding Jehangir in her thrall she also personally supervised every aspect of the building’s construction and designed all the interior decorative paintings, many of which have stories to tell. The artists painted with pigments, ground stone and special glues and the works still look fresh and vibrant to this day.

The biggest thrill of the day was our first view, near sunset, of the exquisite Taj Mahal, looking south from the banks of the River Yamuna. It was a beautiful clear afternoon as the sun was getting low in the sky and this gorgeous building just looked luminous in the pearly late afternoon light!

Words cannot describe the superlative, breathtaking beauty of the Taj ….. so I’ll let the pictures tell the story.

Surrounding these exquisite pieces of architecture is the dusty, decrepit, traffic choked city of Agra, a city of two million people and lots of cows which are left to roam freely in amongst the traffic and ramshackle roadside shops and businesses. The Hindu God Krishna (represented as a cow) is said to live in this part of India so cows (only the female ones) are very sacred here. One of the reasons cows are considered sacred is that Hindus believe the whole world is balanced on the horns of the cow.

As well as the roaming cows there are tribes of monkeys everywhere and skin and bone street dogs out of the corner of your eye, wherever you go. There was a very disoriented dog acting strangely (rabies?) on the road to the river this afternoon that freaked us out a bit.

We have to rise very early in the morning to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. When I asked Ali if we were likely to have fine weather he said Insha'Allah (God willing!) Unlike our previous guides Ali is Muslim.

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