This is a photo of the Taj Mahal located in Agra, India.

Taj Mahal

Arriving in Agra after a long journey by car, we realized that we could see the Taj Mahal from our room.  Even better was the view from the rooftop terrace.  The weather had cleared of haze, and we sat in a swing and enjoyed its beauty from afar.  We had always dreamed of seeing this beautiful building, and now we were here!

The Taj itself was closed on Friday, so we toured the imposing Red Fort, a World Heritage site.  Its fortress walls extend for more than 1.5 miles, and were built in the 16th and 17th centuries.  Our guide was the impish Gurudehal, a PhD in History of Northern India.  He showed us the beautiful gardens, mosques, and palaces overlooking the river.  Across the river was a complete view of the Taj Mahal.  The Red Fort is largely intact, constructed of red sandstone, with delicate inlays of jasper and cornelian stones into the crystalline marble that the region is famous for.

Every tour ends in a shopping expedition, as the Indians believe that no opportunity to sell and receive commissions should go unanswered.  We were taken to a marble cutting and inlay shop, and, we admit, when the room was darkened, the sight of intricate gemstone inlays shining through the white marble took our breath away.

The next morning, we stormed the breakfast room to pound down our first meal of the day in time to be ready to greet the Taj Mahal at sunrise.  Men and women waited in separate (long) lines, and there was elaborate searching of everyone’s bags.  No food, drink, or gum were allowed to pass.

The outer protective walls of the Taj are actually red sandstone, but once one crosses through the gate, a perfect view of the symmetrical mausoleum shimmers into view.  The tomb was built in the mid 1600’s by the Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz Mahal.  Nearly 22,000 workmen were required to build it, and it took 20 years.  He is also buried with her.  At the outer edges of the raised platform containing the Taj Mahal stand 4 tall white minarets.  Carved naturalistic screens of solid slabs of whole marble frame the tomb area itself, and the building has many details of geometric patterns.  Seen in the early morning light, the side of the structure sparkles and also glows.  There is a mosque flanking it on one side, and a “guest house” on the other.  The reflecting pools, unfortunately, had been drained for whitewashing.  But the “paradise” gardens were beautiful too.

We checked out of our hotel after the morning visit, and proceeded to the mysterious “Royal Ghost City”, built by Emperor Akbar as a new capital to replace his palaces in Agra, which were considered too dangerous.    It is a vast complex of red sandstone in perfect condition after 500 years.  Palaces of the Winds, schools for the emperor’s girls, houses for his Christian wife, his Hindu wife, pleasure palaces, administrative buildings, all were absolutely perfectly placed and very beautifully decorated with carvings and inlays.

It is said that after 12 years the complex was abandoned, perhaps due to lack of a water supply (it’s located on the top of a big hill and required a ride in a motorized “tuk-tuk” to reach it.

In this photo, an Indian man sits outside Fatehpur Sikri's red sandstone wall.

Fatehpur Sikri Outer Wall

We said goodbye at Fatehpur Sikri to “Del” our guide and drove on through countryside fertile and green.  The farmers are growing potatoes, mustard, wheat, millet and vegetables for everyday use.  Monkeys begged for bananas and peanuts by the side of the road, and the usual panoply of water buffalo, camels, dogs, sheep, goats, cows, pigs and other animals intruded regularly into the road.  We finally reached Jaipur, only to be brought to the main shopping bazaar.  Our driver wanted his commission, too.  But he actually wanted to buy some bedspreads for his 3 kids, and we enjoyed this well-lit, clean and organized opportunity to buy silk scarves, shop for men’s pajamas, and Indian fennel candies.

Tomorrow we’ll tour Jaipur.  But today was a special day – the day we saw the Taj Mahal.

Claudia and Gail

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