Sat. Jan. 19, 2013
Up early and off to see the Taj Mahal at dawn. We're lucky - it's a beautiful clear blue
sky day. We're among the first to arrive. As we walk through the entrance arch, we see
the palace at the end of a long walkway. We stop and stare in silence. Photos don't
prepare you for the mystical magic of this place. Words cannot describe the wonder.
The white marble is luminous and glows as the sun rises. The intricate mosaic flowers
made of semi-precious stones on the facade of the building sparkle and the marble
shimmers in the sunlight. We understand why the Taj is one of the Seven Wonders of
After a couple hours at the Taj with our guide, Nadeem, we're whisked back to our hotel
by our trusty driver "Bobby" (not his real name but he said that would be too hard to
pronounce) in our lovely minibus to our hotel for breakfast, rest and relaxation which, for
some of us, means time at the Spa! The massages are fabulous - the best we've ever
had! Doug had the one described as the "Chocolate Fondue"......he says it was yummy.
Next we're off to the Agra Fort - located on the Jamuna River built by the famous King
Akbar in the 16th Century. After touring the fort, Nadeem arranges a special surprise.
Once all the tourists are gone and the fort is closed, one of the groundskeepers
unlocks an ancient door leading down to a dark room. He strikes a match and, to our
amazement (many oohs and ahs), the room comes alive with the luminous sparkle of
precious stones and glass set into the walls and ceilings. We are in Sheesh Mahal, the
private bathing room of the Queen. There is a stone tub set deep into the ground. The
Queen would take her bath here surrounded by candles and the shimmering reflections
of thousands of precious jewels. The groundskeeper starts tapping on the walls with
the heel of his hand which produces a nice drumming sound. Apparently the Queen
enjoyed hearing music while she bathed. (Who knew?) We are ushered quickly and
quietly out of this secret place so as not to be found out by the security guards.
Before we head to a local restaurant (Indiana's - a place Janice read about in a
magazine) for dinner, Nadeem takes us to a family-run thirteenth generation shop
where we are given a demonstration of how precious stones are shaved and pieced
into the white marble still being mined from same area where the marble for the Taj
Mahal was found. We are led to the display rooms containing marble table tops, dishes,
elephant ornaments of all shapes and sizes, candle holders, jewelry boxes, Buddha
sculptures, etc. We buy a few souvenirs and everyone is happy. By this time, we're
starving so off we go for dinner and Indiana's doesn't disappoint. Great food at great prices.
Once back at our hotel, we decide to crash a huge wedding reception in process. Huge
event in excess of two thousand people. It was incredible. The bride and groom are on
a raised platform sitting on two very large stuffed chairs watching the entertainment on
a a stage in front of them. Various guests are taking turns dancing to lively Bollywood
music. Meanwhile people are lined up by the platform with flowers and gifts to present
to the happy couple. The women are all dressed in beautiful saris. There are fresh
flower garlands hanging on the walls... chairs and couches filled with guests watching
the entertainment while waiters walk around with trays of appetizers and drinks. In a
large hall next to the performance area, there are waiters behind tables serving various
types of Indian appetizers and drinks. An expansive area outside is filled with guests
helping themselves to the dinner buffet and kids running around with some type of milk
chocolate Popsicle treat. We are the only non-Indians there so it's kinda obvious that
we aren't part of the family but no one seems to mind. We stay for an hour or so and
then head for bed. Another awesome day in India.
The next morning, after breakfast, Bobby picks us up for our next adventure. As we
drive through the streets of Agra, we see pigs, sheep, squirrels, turkey vultures, goats,
water buffalo, cows, monkeys, dogs (no Milos, Ralphs, Rosies, Chickies, Bishops
or Jemmas though), horse-drawn carts, camels, chickens, people ridingh bikes and
motorcycles, people driving tuk-tuks, vans, buses, trucks and cars, markets filled with
people buying fruits and vegetables, stalls selling food cooked on portable gas stoves,
hawkers selling everything you can imagine, men standing around, women carrying
large parcels on their heads, children playing, old women begging, shopkeepers
sweeping the road in front of their stores, and the ever-present sound of horns. Even
with all this going on (sometimes all at once on the same street), it's a clean city and the
people seem happy. We love it here.
We leave Agra and drive for 45 minutes to Fatehpur Sikri ("Victorious Village") to meet
up with Nadeem. Fatehpur Sikri is a deserted medieval city built by Akbar the Great
in the 16th Century to serve as the capital of his vast empire. The complex consists of
religious, residential and administrative buildings. The Mosque is the structure copied
for the Mosque at Mecca and is very elegant, containing elements of Hindu and Persian
design. Housed here is the Shrine of Sheikh Salim Christi, one if the greatest of Sufi
saints of the Muslim world. We each bought a piece of cloth from a hawker and, once
inside, placed it over the shrine. We were given a piece of coloured thread which we
tied onto one of the marble latticed windows. As we each tied our knot, we made a
silent wish and promised to do a good deed to make our wish come true. According to
legend, our wishes will be granted. Nadeem assured us that would happen. A couple
of years ago the French Prime Minister Sarkozy visited the shrine and wished for a son.
And, recently, his wife gave birth to a baby boy. Bollywood stars are frequently spotted
at the shrine as well as Indian politicians. When we asked Nadeem (a Muslim man
married to a Hindi woman) if he believes in the power of the shrine, he answered, quite
sincerely, that he does.
Once we finished touring Fatehpur Sikri, we bid farewell to Nadeem and continued
on to Jaipur, a five hour drive in our mini-bus with Bobby at the helm. We stopped for
lunch at a lovely roadside cafe where we ate outside in the sun at tables on the grass.
We arrived at our hotel in Jaipur early in the evening, settled in and had dinner. The
choices varied - some of us had vegetarian mulligatawny soup and vegan fries, one had
onion soup and spring rolls! It was all very tasty.
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