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Published: April 14th 2018
Mayank and Amey
"Wow, how have you not visited the Taj Mahal being in India ?" is the first reaction you get from most of the people when they get to know that you have not visited it yet. It sure is something to be ticked off by any proud Indian but I guess there are a lot of people who are in the same bucket. So was I until .......
When Abhishek Verma, one of my work mentors announced his marriage, all former teammates started making our plans to attend this much awaited wedding. When you travel that far, you might as well tick off a few places of interest from your bucket list and that is exactly what we decided to do. Initially, Nikhil suggested Nag Tibba trek as an option and as with any event, the planning discussion email thread lay dormant for a while after the sudden excitement. By the time we finally decided to go to Agra, Nikhil backed out citing that the cost of flights were his priority over his dear friend's wedding (Sorry, Nikhil couldn't resist it :P). So Amey, Mayank and I booked our flights and accommodation at Agra while Abhishek took care
of the rest once we reached Delhi.
So we landed at Delhi Airport on 14th Jan, 2017 and took a bus to Agra. The Oyo rooms where we had booked our stay was a pretty good place and was pretty close by to the Taj Mahal. As we were looking at how to spend our time for the evening, we first decided to go to some place to eat. We chose Sheroes Hangout which was really close by and seemed to have a good rating on Zomato. From the outside it seems to be the usual cool cafe for folks to hangout but once you go inside you will be surprised. It is managed by ladies with grit and determination who despite their difficulties decided to tough it out. They have been victims of acid attacks and the place just shows how far they have come overcoming the trauma. Do visit it if you are ever in Agra. After a pleasant time there, we decided to visit the Agra fort and attend the light and sound show. The auto driver who took us there was a very entrepreneurial guy and since we 3 guys looked like college
folk enjoying Agra, he decided to suggest us pretty innovative endeavors telling us that his brother could accommodate various needs. We politely refused telling him our schedule was already jam packed and asked him to just drop us off at the Agra fort. The show took place in the huge area in front of the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of audience) where the Mughal Emperors used to listen to public grievances. The show started off pretty well with some cool lighting but the slow paced narration and repetition of the lighting effects could not keep me engaged for long. It was a cold night and I was pretty tired with all the travel and so promptly slept for a while. We then came back and Mayank bought some of the popular savories from Agra which included the famous Agra Petha. Along the way Amey also decided that he had to buy something from the Chor Bazaar from Agra and he finally decided to buy a pair of shoes. Since we had a lot of time to kill we went window shopping too and tried to find a rooftop restaurant which had good reviews. While trying to find the restaurant we walked into
a very shady street. There seemed to be a gang lurking at the end of the road and no other soul. We initially though whether we want to just walk ahead without bothering but as we were already scared of the incidents which occur in UP, we decided to be prudent and took a roundabout route. Even with all that effort we were not successful in finding the restaurant and finally we had dinner at a dhaba.
Most of the people we spoke to told us that it is better to reach the Taj Mahal early since it would then have a huge crowd. With great vigor we got up and walked to the place at around 6 am. The ticket counter was completely empty and deserted. We had an option of swatting flies but we were too bored to do even that. As we waited and waited and waited, some people (similar to us who did not realize the start time) came to the counter asking when it would open. As soon as the counter opened we quickly bought the tickets and got to the entrance where we realized we again had to wait a while
to enter. And to add to my luck, when I got to the security check, I was told that I could not carry my gorillapod inside. So I had to walk about 300 m, deposit it and again get in (Whew I finally made it). The entrance itself was pretty enchanting at dawn with the sun rising behind the crenellated red sandstone walls with the sky having an orange tinge and the lawn in front having a green carpet of grass. Further ahead was the Darwaza-i-rauza (The Great Gate) which is made of red sandstone and marble and has beautiful decorations on the ceilings. As we stepped in through the entrance we could see the Taj only partially since it was pretty hazy. We decided to wait for a while until the sun could drive away the haze. As the sun rose higher, we started to clearly perceive the beauty of the setting. The gardens were exquisite and the Yamuna reflected the white wonder of the world on its pure aqua blue water. The Taj Mahal proudly stood in pure white showing everyone why it is one of the wonders of the world. Though I had felt numerous times when
I had seen the Humayun's tomb as to why something having a similar architecture would be given such high praise, I realized that marble made a huge difference and made it much more alluring. For some history, Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal in 1632. It is made completely from marble and from the outside, there is a main building with a huge dome surrounded by smaller domes and decorative spires. There are 4 minarets which are placed at each edge of the main building and rise to more than 40 m in height. The interiors are also extremely beautiful with a multitude of carvings on all the walls and each of the carving further adorned with precious and semiprecious gemstones of various colors. We spent some time marveling exquisite interiors and finally left by 11 am. Mayank was heading to Delhi early to meet his friends while Amey and I decided to visit the Agra Fort to understand its historic significance better (we also had time to kill).
A stark contrast to the night entry, we were mobbed by guides telling us that
Mayank: Wtf are you doing Amey ?
we would need a tour guide to understand the history and mystery of the place. After a lot of deliberation and bargaining by Amey, we finally decided to take a guide since we were also intrigued by what all we would get to hear. Also, without a guide it generally becomes boring just seeing the courtyards and rooms everywhere. The gate we entered through is called the Amar Singh Gate. It is one of the 4 gates of the fort and the only one which is open to tourists. Outside is a 70 ft draw bridge which used to be the first line of defense. The entry is not straight but meandering which itself acts as a defense mechanism. To further fortify the place, the entrance also has a ramp to make it difficult for horses to enter and the sides of the walls have grooves where they could supposedly pour hot oil to slow down the enemies. Not only that but the place has amazing acoustics so that anyone approaching could be easily heard far away. Further ahead are the gardens where there is the Jhanagir's bath. That is a monolithic bowl shaped tank which is about 5 ft
in height and was used by the princesses for bathing. Next came the Jahangir fort which had a pretty open interior with lots of window like openings through which he used to be welcomed with a shower of flowers. There are a number of open bedrooms which used to have purdah and also a library which had been lined with gold. Further inside, we visited a room where one could talk to the wall at one end and another could hear the person talking at another end pretty clearly. Amey and I tested this out and were pretty surprised to see that it worked really well. Just outside is also the Anguri garden (garden of grapes) where the grapes used to be cultivated for making wine. The bedrooms of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz were next which were highly fashionable and were decorated in a similar manner to the Taj Mahal. Surprisingly, Shah Jahan was also imprisoned here by Aurangzeb and his prison was so beautiful that we felt it would not be that bad being imprisoned there. Then came the political spaces, Diwan-i-Khas and Diwan-i-Aam. Diwan-i-Aam is where the Parliament or the equivalent of the same used to be held
Beautiful decorations in Agra Fort
This was very similar to what we saw in Taj Mahal too
during the emperor's times. It is a spacious place and showed how rich and luxuriously the high folk lived during those times. Relatively the Diwan-i-Aam (The Hall of Audience) where the common folk were invited to share the grievances was more simple. There is a dias like structure where the king and his folk would sit and listen to the public. Our guide also showed us an optical illusion where because of the relative sizes of the structures in comparison, the Taj Mahal looks far nearer and bigger from once place compared to another. We also saw the Moti Masjid which is a mosque within the fort made of white marble. We came out of the fort having gained a lot of historic knowledge of the place and happily paid the guide for his excellent narration.
It was enough historic knowledge for a day and the rest of the day was spent in shopping and enjoying the food of Agra. We went to Panchi Petha Store near the Agra Cantt for Agra Petha and though they had a huge variety, the irritating part was that they did not accept any card for payment. Even other stores and
The Groom on a horse
Abhishek Verma on the way to the temple
hotels expected cash. It being the time after demonetization, we were pretty irritated by the shops but we had no option but to use cash. We bought 2-3 types of petha including the paan flavor which was our favorite. We were in a huge dilemma as to what all flavors to choose but in the end we could only carry a certain amount. We also had some chats in the same street and ended our day getting ready to leave early to Delhi.
We met Mayank at Delhi metro station and boarded the cab which Abhishek had sent for us. It was a 3-4 hr drive and we reached Karnal by evening. Abhishek's parents and sister welcomed us and then he too joined us since he was free until night time. We got to know a few of his friends and took a quick nap to recharge our batteries. Then our next in line for marriage Amey and Mayank changed into their suits while I changed into my Sherwani. The procession then left with a lot of fanfare for the first event of the evening which was to visit the temple. It was pretty close and Abhishek
End of Baraat
Abhishek being welcomed to the marriage venue
rode on a horse with music and dancing around him. As the groom and his family received the blessing, we then moved to the main venue of the event where the Baraat procession started. All of us danced to our heart's content to remixed retro songs while Abhishek sat smiling in the carriage. A few cute kids sat beside him enjoying the celebrations. There were fireworks that lit up the sky at times. By the end when we reached the entrance of the venue, the bride's folk welcomed the groom with a few customs one of which included the groom bargaining his way into the place. When all that was over, we entered the venue to see the food spread over a pretty huge area with multitude of options which included chats, starters, rotis, sweets, fruits etc. It was pretty cold and we filled ourselves with the delicious food. As we waited for the bride, there was a DJ stage set where they played a number of groovy Punjabi, Haryanvi songs. Mayank gave us a word to word translation and explanation of a few songs. By midnight the bride joined the groom and they had a filmy entrance to start
the proceedings. There was a very fashionably decorated stage with an enclosure having an opening at the top. Internally it had an elevator like mechanism where the bride and groom entered it and then went up the elevated stage where they exchanged garlands. As they came down and walked across the stage, there was fireworks from the side of the stage. It was all pretty dramatic and it was the first time I was seeing such a wedding. After a few pictures with Vermaji and his bride we decided to start back since we had to reach Delhi by early morning.
It is great to experience weddings from various cultures and this one did not disappoint. If you get a chance do not miss it. I have enjoyed all my colleague marriages since I joined my job each having its own unique celebration style and extravaganza. Abhishek and his family were very helpful in making sure we did not face any difficulties during our time there though they were super busy with the marriage arrangements. I also got to visit Agra and the famous Taj Mahal which was a plus. No more will I get the "Wow,
how have you not visited the Taj Mahal being in India ?".
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