TRIP TO INDIA 2017 - Agra

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September 24th 2017
Published: February 5th 2018
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Our arrival in Agra was a little apprehensive, because there was a possibility of rain predicted for our visit to the Taj Mahal. Although we were travelling at the end of the monsoon season, we had encountered no rain, and the heat was daunting at times.

Our hotel was on the main road, not far from the Taj Mahal, and provided a little oasis from the dusty and crowded Road. On our way there, I had been wondering about the amount of dust that might actually settle on top of the foods being sold at the endless stalls along the streets. The roads are dirt in many places, and a small cloud of dust is not unusual due to the heavy traffic. Agra is not as large as Delhi, or even Jaipur, but it is still very crowded.

Early in the morning, without any rain, we set out to visit the Taj Mahal. Needless to say, this was an anticipated highlight of the trip so, what can be added to the well known facts? Well, for me, it was completely surprising the actual size of the whole complex. Although I had seen photos of the main tomb countless of times, I was not aware of the many other buildings, almost as large and impressive as the main building itself, that are part of the complex. There are the buildings on each side, a mosque and a guest house respectively, each with its own waterways and gardens, plus other structures.

The security surrounding the site is tight. Not even a lipstick is allowed inside, no doubt to keep everyone from surrendering to the temptation of doing graffiti. The building had just been cleaned completely, so we were lucky to see it in pristine condition. Barely a small purse and cameras are allowed, and the lines for the security can be long at times. It is not just because of vandalism, but to protect it from any terrorist attack. But it is worth it. Really, the scope of the building and the symmetry and beauty of the design is as expected. It was awe inspiring and memorable.

The only mismatched space in the whole monument is inside the tomb itself, since the sarcophagus of Shah Jahan was placed next to his beloved wife. The latticed screens that partially obscure them are a thing of beauty, although the precious stones that once adorned it have long since been removed. Still, the semi precious stones that form the designs are still beautiful.

Still under the awe left by viewing this monument, we stopped by a shop of artisans still practicing the exquisite designs in marble that adorn the Taj Mahal. The marble in the table tops and other objects they produced is so clear that a light from behind illuminates the beautiful semi precious stone that are inlaid in the designs. These stones are cut and manually patiently filed to paper thin thickness using time proven methods. The designs vary from simple to intricate, according to the artisan's experience, and the pricing is also based on the work. It was impressive to see the variety available, and I was glad to see that this workmanship is still being practiced.

Almost as impressive was the next stop, Agra Fort. This enormous structure is only 40% open to the public, and that is enough to take a good and tiring portion of the day. With its many levels and multiple court yards, it is an impregnable fortress with massive walls on one side, and a beautiful and artistic palace on the other. Again, here beauty and strength were perfectly balanced to both provide defense and beautiful living quarters.

Particularly touching was the beautiful section where the Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son until his death. Believed to have been decorated as a rehearsal for the tomb, the Taj Mahal is visible from its high windows.

One of my favorite stops, though, was The Tomb of I'timad-ud-Daulah, also known as Baby Taj. It is considered another source of inspiration for the Taj Mahal, a transition between the brick and marble. It's engravings were not as luxurious, but they were artistic and it was still a breathtaking tomb and a monument to beauty. Lacking the grand scale of the Taj Mahal, I kept thinking it looked like a giant jewelry box. For me, it was a more intimate experience, less awe inspiring than the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, it is not being as well kept as the Taj Mahal and some areas are already showing a lot of deterioration. Regardless, it is a well worth place to visit.

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