The Taj Mahal
Trip Start Apr 10, 2007
11Trip End Apr 21, 2007
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Once we arrived in Agra, we parked the car in a nearby lot. Due to an initiative to keep pollution near the Taj Mahal at a minimum, motor vehicles are not permitted within a pre-determined radius of the monument. Only certain buses that shuttle patrons to and from the gates are allowed within this range. At this point, a group of "official tour guides" converged upon us, offering to show us around the grounds for a small fee. We had been forewarned about this and firmly told them we were not interested. Jaramogi had asked Girdesh to accompany us around the Taj to ward off such unwanted advances. His presence, however, did little to solve the problem. A little side note, the word NO means nothing in most touristy areas of India. Anyone selling ANYTHING will constantly bombard you with requests, despite your futile attempts to inform them that you aren't interested. Stay firm and don't allow yourself to be persuaded to buy or do anything you don't want.
We boarded the bus and headed up the path to the Taj. As soon as we stepped off of the bus outside of the gates, we were again approached by over zealous merchants, wanting us to browse in their shops. Some even had business cards so that we wouldn't forget who they were. After paying the whopping 750 rupee entrance fee, we proceeded into the outer gates of the Taj Mahal.
Upon entering the outside walls, there is a courtyard type area that you walk through before heading into the South Gate -- the main entryway onto the Taj grounds. Here there were men offering to accompany guests throughout the monument and take your photograph. While this is a good deal and the shots they offer were quite good, we decided to take our own photos instead. Which brings us to the main event... THE TAJ MAHAL!
Words really can't describe what its like to see the Taj Mahal in person. It was surreal to see the shear size and beauty of the structure, especially when you consider why it was built. For those of you who don't know, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum, built by the Moghul emperor Shah Jahan. It was built for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, after she died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. 20,000 men from all over Asia spent 21 years constructing this ultimate symbol of love. While lore says that he spent his days staring at it from afar, longingly until his death, in actuality he died after a protracted bout of sex and drug-taking. He overdosed on opium and aphrodisiacs in 1666... so much for true love!
Needless to say, we took a LOT of pictures and made our way up towards the mausoleum. Once you reach the lower level of the monument, you have to take your shoes off before proceeding up the stairs approaching the actual building. Here, we took more photos of the intricate carvings that cover the Taj, as well as the 4 large minarets on the adjacent corners of the structure. The Taj is said to be perfectly symmetrical, a feat that I think is quite impressive given that it was built in the 17th century. Once inside the building, you are no longer allowed to take pictures, but why would you... that's just creepy. It is here that the bodies of Shah and Mumtaz were laid to rest. It was easy to notice that the tomb was originally made for just one. The tomb of Mumtaz is laying perfectly centered under the main dome, while the second tomb is off to the left, as if placed after the fact. A longstanding myth holds that Shah Jahan planned a duplicate mausoleum to be built in black marble across the Jumna river. The idea originates in the writings of Jean-Baptiste Tavernier, who visited Agra in 1665. The story suggests that Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb before the black version could be built. Ruins of blackened marble across the river, in the so-called 'moonlight garden' seemed to support this legend. However, excavations carried out in the 1990's found only white marble features discolored completely to black. Others speculate that the 'black taj' may refer to the reflection of the Taj in the large pool of the moonlight garden.
We finished at the Taj and set forth into the marketplace. This was where the fun began. The merchandise here consisted of wood, marble, shoes, clothing, tapestries and downright junk! While the goods were mass-produced and the same items could be found in pretty much every shop, the opportunity to haggle was too great to pass up. Our strategy was to cut the initial price in half and begin to walk out if the merchant didn't acquiesce. This worked every time in Agra (not always in Delhi) and we were able to load up on souvenirs for friends and family at great prices. Mark even had a man lower his price from Rs. 750 to Rs. 10 for a pair of "hand made shoes" and he wasn't even trying to buy anything from him! It made us wonder how much the stuff we bought was really worth. With our newly bought goodies, we headed back to the car for the long ride home. On our way to the bus, Mark was harassed by a little boy selling a snow globe. He followed us back to the bus and even BOARDED the bus, trying to convince Mark to buy the trinket. After about 15 minutes of hard selling (he cut his price by 75%), he gave up. I almost wanted to give him Rs.10 just for trying.
We made it back to Delhi around 2:30PM, just in time for our brunch reservation. We ate at the ultra-modern Trident Hilton Delhi and the food was quite good. The brunch buffet consisted of Indian and Continental fare, as well as, desserts, salads and complimentary martinis and wine. After brunch, we took Mai to the spa and everyone received massages and salt scrubs. We went home, relaxed and made our way to bed to rest for the next day.