Published: April 7th 2012March 31st 2012
TAJ MAHAL, & THE RED FORT, AGRA, UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA. Saturday March 31, 2012.
The phone woke us up at 6.15 as were being collected by Sachin and Mr Berun at 6.30 so we could get to the Taj Mahal and be inside before the sun came up.
Apparently, the Taj Mahal looks completely different throughout the day as the sun moves around the building and sunrise and sunset are the two best times of the day to see it. We queued for our entry with all the other early birds - mainly white tourists. There were four separate queues to get in. Two for foreign men and women, and two for Indian men and women. Sachin had warned us the night before not to bring anything except a small bottle of water, wallet and a camera. The men’s queue moved fairly swiftly but the women’s was painfully slow. This was because nearly all of them were carrying handbags which had to be meticulously searched before they were allowed in. As a result the sun was already up when we got in.
The Taj Mahal overlooks the Yamuna River and stands at the end of a vast, walled
garden. This amazing building is Islamic in style and is a monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal ("Chosen One of the Palace"), who died shortly after giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. This number of children reflected how important she was to the Emperor as he had many other wives and concubines on whom he could call. The emperor was devastated by her death and wanted to create an unsurpassable monument to her memory and its name 'Taj Mahal' is simply an informal version of the title of the palace in which Mumtaz lived.
The building took over 20 years to complete. The white marble was brought from Makrana in Rajasthan and semi-precious stones were used for decoration. Onyx, amethyst, lapis, lazuli, turquoise, jade, crystal, coral and mother of pearl were imported from Persia, Russia, Afghanistan, Tibet, China and the Indian Ocean. Later, Shah Jahan's nasty piece of work of a son seized power and imprisoned the Emperor in Agra Fort, where he lived out his final years gazing at the Taj Mahal. When he died in 1666, his body was carried across the
river to lie alongside his beloved wife in the Taj Mahal.
We entered through an arched gateway topped with domes and adorned with Koranic verses and inlaid floral designs. Sachin asked us whether we thought the inscriptions on the structure were the same size. They looked like they were, but apparently the ones at the top are much larger to cater for the difference in perspective to the human eye. The result is that the verses and floral designs seem to be exactly the same size. Amazing given that this was erected in the 17th century!
Once through the gateway we could see the Taj at the end of a long garden split into four quadrants by waterways. The building seemed to be calling you in as you went through the archway, slowly revealing its splendor. Sachin advised us to take photographs at all stages as we passed through. Once through the archway, we took some photographs of the Taj with its reflection in the water. You can only do this in the morning and evening when the fountains are switched off.
We walked through the gardens until we reached the steps which lead up to the
high square platform on which the mausoleum sits. Each corner is marked by a tall tapering minaret. Sashin explained that the minarets lean out at an angle of 3 degrees so that if there is an earthquake they will fall away from the building. They are also there to act as kind of lightning rods to divert any lightning strikes away from the main building.
We climbed the steps to the entrance, and, although we were both looking forward to seeing this iconic monument at last, neither of us were prepared for it to make such an impression as it did. We have both seen hundreds of photos and read about this building but the reality was overwhelming. Others have tried (and failed) to describe its perfection and more words by us cannot to do it justice. Its magic was not spoiled by the crowds of tourists. According to Sachin the monument is at its most alluring at this time of day, bathed in a soft red glow. As the vast marble surfaces are touched by the sun the colour changes from a soft grey and yellow to cream and then dazzling white. The semi-precious stones light up as
they reflect the sunlight and the translucent marble glows in the sun's rays. It was stunning. Sachin pointed out the beautiful inlaid marble on the facade and showed us the different semi precious stones used to create the different colours.
Once inside we found ourselves in a high octagonal chamber whose walls glowed in the pale light. A marble screen, decorated with precious stones and cut so finely it seems almost translucent, protects the cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal which is positioned dead centre, perfectly aligned with the doorway and the gateway through which we entered. The cenotaph of Shah Jahan lies next to it, to the right, and is the only object which breaks the perfect symmetry of the entire complex. The reason that his tomb is to her right is that his body faces Mecca and her body faces him. The cenotaphs, in accordance with Mughal tradition, are only representations of the real coffins, which lie in the same positions in a crypt below. The crypt is no longer open to the public.
From inside the Taj you can see the four entrances. Each are identical and in perfect symmetry both inside and out. From the outside
the building looks exactly the same from all 4 sides - the only difference being the way the light is falling at the time you are looking. We strolled around the grounds for a while and then went back to the homestay for breakfast - it was still well before 9.00 am!! We were to be collected at 10.30 for our next excursion to the Red Fort.
We were collected on time and taken to the Delhi Gate of Agra Fort (a.k.a. The Red Fort). We walked up to the Hathi Pol (Elephant Gate) which is flanked by two red sandstone towers faced in marble. In days gone by this gate was guarded by colossal stone elephants with riders, but these have been long since destroyed in battle. Still the name remains. We turned left and continued to the entrance which is through the Amar Singh Pol (Pol means gate) which is actually 3 separate gates placed adjacent to each other at right angles to deprive any elephant cavalry attackers of space, disorientate them and slow them down to reduce the effects of elephants battering the fortifications.
We then climbed gently uphill flanked by high defensive walls and
through a second gate into the spacious courtyard. This courtyard is now laid to lawn and studded with trees. These gardens were introduced by the British. The courtyard surrounds the Diwan-i-Am (Public Audience Hall). This pillared hall is open on three sides. The original structure would have been made of wood and scattered with luxurious carpets and the ceiling would have been covered with satin canopies.
We continued on past many different royal pavilions until we reached the Shish Mahal (Glass Palace). This was built by the Mogul King Shah Jahan as a summer palace. It has two tanks with fountains connected by a canal and a waterfall which are designed to keep the building cool in the summer. The distinctive feature of this building is the glass mosaic work which has been done on the walls. The royal women would have bathed here in the soft lamplight reflected from the glass pieces in the mosaics on the walls and ceilings. We could only look through the gates at this spectacle as unscrupulous tourists had been nicking all the glass bits as souvenirs!
We continued on to the Jahangiri Mahal (Jahangir's Palace) which was actually built for Jahangir's
father Akbar as a harem. This robust sandstone structure has a lot of Hindu elements mixed with traditional Mughal and Islamic designs, unlike the rest of the fort which has largely Mughal architecture. Immediately in front of this palace is Jahangir's Hauz (Jahangir's Cistern), a giant bowl with steps inside and out which was used as a spa or jacuzzi. It was made from a single block of porphyry and inscribed in Persian. It would have been filled with rosewater and, it is said, was carried around with the Emperor on his travels through the empire - not sure about this as it is enormous and not easily portable!
Our next stop was the customary hard sell at a place called the Subhash Emporium. We were taken to a place where they inlay white marble with semi-precious stones using the same methods as they would have when the Taj was built. We watched carefully as the process was explained to us. Having seen the marble at the Taj, this process came to life and was even more impressive. Some of the pieces were as small as a strand of hair and were shaped on stone grinding wheels that were
controlled with a bow. When M asked how they could see such tiny pieces and get them so accurate the owner explained that they do it by feel and touch as the pieces are much too small to see the shapes properly. Different craftsmen complete different parts of the process. Having watched the grinding we saw how the marble was marked with a pattern and then carefully carved out up to a depth of around quarter of an inch (6mm). We then saw a third craftsman placing the semi precious stones in the right place and fixing them with a glue. This is the same glue that was used to fix the stones in the Taj facade and the recipe is a closely guarded secret. D bought a present for M as it is her 50th this year and a gift for his daughter Ellie who is 18 in July.
We then went for lunch and a rest at the Homestay. We were collected again at 4.30 in order to return to the Taj Mahal to see it at sunset. It was still as stunning as it was this morning but looked completely different as the light was falling
on different sides of the building. This time we looked at the Yamuna River and the red sandstone mosque to the west. There is an identical building to the east which was only added to maintain the symmetry of the complex. It cannot be used as a mosque, because it faces away from Mecca, and so was used as a guest house.
We were taken to a place called A Touch of Spice for dinner on Sanchin's recommendation. The food was excellent and the portions were enormous. Mr Barun took us back to the Homestay. We both felt that this day had far surpassed our expectations and that the only way to do the beauty of the Taj Mahal justice is to go and see it in person.
There are more photos below