Happy Birthday to me!
Trip Start Aug 26, 2012
122Trip End Ongoing
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Once into the main courtyard and walking towards the gate there was no anticipation for what I was about to see, but when I walked through the gate and the Taj was laid out before me, it was really an "awe" moment. Being there in the moment is really overwhelming and words and pictures really don’t do it justice. We spent about two hours here and it was neat to see the marble surfaces change colours by the sun and shadows as the sun rose, from soft grey and yellow to pearly cream and dazzling white
The layout of the Taj is Islamic themed representing paradise and is a monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan the last Mughal king of Agra, built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal (the third of three wives) who died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child in 1631. It was built from 1632 -1653 by some 20,000 men from all over Asia. The Taj is all about architectural symmetry. It’s essentially square in shape with pointed arches cut into the sides and topped with a huge central dome which rises over 55m with a 7m brass spire on top. To the west of the tomb is a mosque and to the east a replica jawab was built to keep the symmetry but it can’t be used as a mosque as it faces away from mecca. It was built with marble and semi-precious stones such as onyx, amethyst, lapis lazuli, turquoise, jade, crystal coral and mother of pearl from as far away as Persia, Russia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and the Indian Ocean. The stones were used for the inlay decoration and script (Arabic verses praising the glory of paradise). Some of the petals and leaves are made of up to sixty separate pieces of stone fragments. I think from now on when someone says they love me, I’m going to ask “Love me enough to build me a Taj Mahal?”
Unfortunately Shah Jahan’s son seized power from his father and interned him in the Agra Fort where legend has it he gazed wistfully back at the Taj
After pulling ourselves away from the Taj we hopped back on the tuk tuks and went to Ali’s (owner of the tuk tuks we used for the day) home for a traditional Indian breakfast on his rooftop patio. His wife did all the cooking and he and his brother served us. It was a great meal and a nice change from eating in a restaurant or having samosa’s on the side of the road.
Next was a visit to a Marble Factory to see how they do the inlay work of semi-precious stones (called pietra dura) into the marble like we had seen at the Taj. These skills are passed down through Muslim families and are a very sacred trade. We watched both the artist who designs the pieces and the artists who patiently grind down the semi-precious stones to almost nothing using a wheel, water and their fingers. I thought doing stained glass work was tedious and hard on the fingers; not anymore. They may spend all day working and get maybe 8-12 petals completed.
We then were taken to the show room where we saw 26 pieces of art that were one of a kinds and essentially museum pieces
Next stop was the Agra Fort which was built between 1565 and 1573 as the seat and stronghold of the Mughal Empire for successive generations. The fort is in the shape of a half moon and is quite intricate with many different hallways and passages. We wandered through the spacious courtyard that surrounds the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience) which is open on three sides and looks like pillared hall. Inside the Royal Pavillions is the Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of private audience) erected in 1653 where the emperor would have received kings, dignitaries and ambassadors and would have been the most finely decorated buildings in the fort.
In the afternoon after a small break for lunch we went to a Jewellery shop that sells silver and the star of India stones (sapphires). Since it was my birthday I was on the hunt to buy myself a little birthday present. I played the “It’s my birthday card” with the shop owner hoping I’d get a better discount then the standard 10% but instead I got a chocolate bar
Leaving the jewellery behind we went to visit Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb, often referred to as the Baby Taj, as it is regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal. The tomb, built between 1622 and 1628 represents a transition between the first phase of monumental Mughal architecture which was primarily built from red sandstone with marble decorations to its second phase, based on white marble and the pietra dura inlay, seen in the Tāj Mahal.
The final stop of the day was to go to a popular spot on the river across from the Taj Mahal and watch the sunset. What a memorable birthday to see the Taj at sunrise and sunset. But my celebration didn’t end there. After a quick freshen up at the hotel, we all went for dinner at a well-known Lonely Planet recommended restaurant called Indiana restaurant; lots of westerns were there. Leaving the hotel in the tuk-tuk’s, my driver (Ali’s brother) for the day was insistent that I ride in his tuk –tuk
Spending the day in Agra is now my most memorable birthday and one not easily to be topped for at least a year!