This is my second weekend in India, and on Saturday I finally had the chance to see the famous Taj Mahal. I have wanted to see the building since the first time I saw a picture of it several years ago, but until now I haven’t had the opportunity. Hence, I was very excited Saturday morning when I was waiting for my driver to pick me up in the hotel.
My driver picked me up at 7 AM, and we started the four hour trip down to Agra. The roads from Delhi to Agra are pretty average, although they are considered good in Indian standards, and with proper roads and well organized traffic it would probably take half the time to get there. Parts of the journey were rather uncomfortable, and at the same time I was worries about the weather conditions. When we left Gurgaon it was a little bit foggy, but as we drove further south the fog seemed to get denser, and when we passed the border to Uttar Pradesh (the state where Agra is located) a couple of hours later we could hardly see ten meters ahead of us.
I had a guide waiting for me in Agra, and he called us to tell us that the fog was very dense in the city and that it was difficult to get a good view of Taj Mahal. I thought to myself that the trip could end up as a complete waste of time, but there is not much you can do about the weather. However, when we were about one hour away from Agra the fog suddenly dissolved, and the sun came out and heated up the air. In Agra it was a little bit hazy, but it was still very good conditions for viewing and taking photos of the famous white marble tomb.
Mosque next to Taj Mahal.
We picked up the guide in the city, and afterwards we headed directly to Taj Mahal. It was about 11:30 AM when we finally got there, and I was quite impatient to enter the area. My guide wanted us to sit down first so he could tell me the whole story of why Taj Mahal was built, but I told him that I was already quite familiar with the story and I just wanted to see it as soon as possible. I have seen several photos of the building, and I knew it was beautiful, but as we walked through the gates and Taj Mahal appeared in front of me I was completely stunned by its beauty and I almost had tears in my eyes. It was much larger than I expected, and it was something very special about the building, something magical that you can’t experience by just looking at a photo.
The construction of Taj Mahal was started in 1634 and continued for almost 22 years. Situated on the banks of the river Yamuna, the Taj is enclosed in a garden amongst fountains and ornamental trees, and the walled complex includes two mosques and an imposing gateway. The tomb is encased in white marble which is decorated with sculptures and inlaid design of flowers and calligraphy cut from precious gems. It rests on a platform of red sandstone, and at each corner of the platform stands a slender 40 meters high minaret. In total the Taj Mahal is 50009 square meters, and the highest point of the outer dome is 55 meters high.
I am not going to tell you much about the history behind Taj Mahal, since you can read all about it on the Internet, but for those of you who are not familiar with the story I just want to mention that Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his beloved wife Arjumand Banu Begum (also called Mumtaz Mahal, meaning the “Jewel of the Palace”) who died in 1631 while giving birth to the couple’s 14th child. Apparently he was planning to build a tomb in black marble for himself next to Taj Mahal, but it was never completed, however, the foundation of the tomb is still there. The emperor himself ended his life tragically as his third son, Aurangzeb, got rid of all his brothers and led a rebellion to take over the throne. Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son in the Red Fort of Agra, and after his death in 1666 he was buried in Taj Mahal next to his beloved wife.
The story of Taj Mahal is truly romantic, but it also has a dark side. According to the historians, Shah Jahan cut off the hands of the workers after the completion of the Taj Mahal so that no one would ever be able to build such a marvelous monument again. In Agra there is a government founded workshop where they make marble art using the same ancient techniques that were used during the building of Taj Mahal. Apparently, the workers in the store are direct descendents from the artists who decorated the famous marble tomb. They make marble tables, plates and different Indian status such as elephants and Hindu statues, and I ended up buying a statue of my favorite Hindu God, Ganesha, in black marble with decorations in mother of pearl, blue lapis and turquoise. I am so happy to finally have found my Ganesha statue.
Tomb of Akbar
On the way back to Delhi we had a short stop at the tomb of Akbar. Of course, after seeing Taj Mahal nothing really amazes you anymore, but it was still interesting to see another one of the famous buildings in Agra. The building I located in Sikandra, a suburb of Agra, and the guide didn’t come with me since it was relatively far from the city centre. I didn’t have time to go inside, because it was getting late in the afternoon and we had a very long and tiring journey back to Delhi, so I just took a few photos from the outside.
Luckily, the traffic wasn’t too bad and we arrived in Gurgaon around 8 PM. I was pretty exhausted when the driver dropped me off at the hotel, and I was so hungry since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast at 6:30 AM. The driver asked me several times if I wanted to stop for lunch on the way, but I was too worried about my stomach, so I decided to starve rather than taking the chance of getting sick.
Today I don’t have any plans, and tomorrow I am back at work here in Gurgaon. I have two more days to complete before I can fly back home to lovely Singapore. After over two weeks in India I am actually looking very much forward to coming home to a place where it is clean and safe. Singapore may be small, and there may not be so many stunning sights there (although Raffles is still my favorite building), but it is most definitely a comfortable place to live, and I love it there. 🙂
You can find the latest photos here: http://monicaaj71.vndv.com/20100213/index.html