Having finally met up with our friends (relieved hugs all round!) and caught up on the events of the past 24 hours or so, we were able to then carry out our plans for our visit to Agra. That was already booked for the next morning. We were to leave relatively early - 7am - as we would be travelling by car and the journey would take at least 4 hours. So bright and early, off we went.
What an experience! Traffic in Delhi in the early morning was heavy. Everything seemed to be on the move. Cars, lorries, tuktuks, motor bikes, scooters and bicycles - all rushing along, mostly in the same direction, and it appeared that horn sounding is compulsory. It seemed to indicate "get out of the way - coming through, like it or not". And that is what our driver did, he just pointed the car and hurtled along at great speed with his hand permanently on the car horn and occasionally speaking on his mobile phone! As well as all the vehicles there are the pedestrians and animals and of course cows wander at will or just sit down somewhere along the side of the road.
At one point during our journey we had to pull in for the driver to go to a border checkpoint. He left us in the car with the instruction " do not open any of the windows or doors"! As soon as he was gone we were approached from all directions by all sorts of vendors, the disabled and children, all trying to catch our eye, some tapping on the windows. A snake charmer came and sat beside the car and started playing but we saw no snake - presumably because we did not pay up. Eventually we set off again and had a relatively uneventful journey, albeit completely fascinating. We arrived in Agra and went straight to the hotel we were staying at that night.
In the early afternoon we were taken to meet a guide and then on to see what I had wanted to see for a long time - the Taj Mahal.
We had a short walk before we went through the first gate. Our guide told us we would be surrounded by people trying to sell us all sorts of items and to just ignore them, make no eye contact and they would go away. However they were very persistent and just kept following. I do not like ignoring people, I think it is demeaning, therefore I found it easier to just look at them, shake my head and say "no", with a half smile. And do you know, it worked, it was much easier and that is how I dealt with that particular problem from then on. Made me feel better too. However, on to the Taj Mahal. There was very tight security, as you would imagine and we were not allowed to take in bags etc, only small handbags and cameras of course. But finally we got through and there it was. A wonderful moment for me and I felt very emotional.
Considered to be one of the Wonders of the World the Taj Mahal was built by the Emporer Shah Jahan for his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1630 giving birth to their 14th child. It is said that it was her last wish that he build a beautiful and incomparable monument over her grave as a token of their worldly inseparable love. It is truly beautiful. Built of white marble and inlaid with semi precious stones it took from 1631 to 1653 - 22 years - to complete, using 20,000 labourers. If you look at the main picture of the Taj Mahal, the four columns at each corner appear to be leaning outwards. It is thought that this was part of Shah Jahan's plan so that in the event of an earthquake the pillars would fall outwards and not on the Taj. There are 22 small domes on the main entrance gate and it is believed that these represent the 22 years of construction.
The body of Mumtaz Mahal was finally placed in her tomb inside the Taj. Shah Jahan had planned to build a similar mausoleum, across the river, for himself but unfortunately for him, because he had spent such vast sums building the Taj Mahal, his son deposed him and imprisoned him in the Agra Fort where he spent the rest of his days. From his window there he was able to look across at the monument he had built for his beloved Mumtaz Mahal. After his death his daughter had his body placed in a tomb beside that of his wife and there they remain, side by side.
The tombs are enclosed within a wonderfully ornate screen, away from the public, who are allowed inside the Taj Mahal, but photographs are not permitted. So here I have scanned a picture from a book that we have. Apologies for the quality.
I think it is very moving to see them there, together for eternity, in such a beautiful setting.
Some of the carving and inlay work - (click on the pictures to enlarge)
We spent most of the afternoon there and it is another memory that will stay with me. Seeing it for myself, the hot sunshine and the whole atmosphere of just being there amongst so many others wanting to see it for their own particular reason, mine being mainly romantic I suppose. It was hard to leave it and I kept glancing back to get a final glimpse of that wonderful building.
Back to the hotel then, having made arrangements with our guide for the following morning, when we visited Agra Fort. (Again photo from a book)
This is an imposing building of red sandstone which was started in 1565 and took 8 years to complete. It had been surrounded by two ditches (moats) filled with crocodiles to repel the enemy. Only the inner one exists today (no crocs).
The fort originally consisted of many buildings but only a few exist today. One of these is a white marble building - Khas Mahal - used as a Harem by the ladies of the royal family and also used by Shah Jahan as a drawing and sleeping room.
The Jasmine Tower was renovated by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal and again is inlaid with semi precious stones including many jasmine pieces, which gives rise to its name. Ironically it was here that Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb and it is here that he died.
The picture again is from a book and you will notice the Taj Mahal on the far left (click on picture to enlarge).
We finished our time in Agra here and eventually made our way back to Delhi in another hair raising car chase! We arrived at our hotel in the early evening and prepared to fly to Chennai the next day.
In peace at last
2 weeks ago