Thursday, September 24, 2009

One of Two Hundred Thousand

In the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, on the bank of the Yamuna River, sits the world's most famous mausoleum, the Taj Mahal. Up to four million people visit annually, around two hundred thousand are foreigners. I was one of those foreign visitors, as was my co-worker, Steve.

From the garden
The Taj Mahal

Getting to Agra

This was not difficult at all. I checked both American Express Travel and Expedia and found flights from Bangalore to Delhi, then from Delhi to Agra. Having heard a few horror stories about travel from Delhi to Agra, I was pleased to catch a Kingfisher turboprop flight out of the Delhi airport. To read about one such horror story, check out my friend's blog entry regarding night travel into Agra.

Unfortunately, I no longer see the flight from Delhi to Agra available. This would have taken you into a small military base and saved a lot of time. Perhaps it is a seasonal option. It sure was nice to start from Bangalore around noon and be at the hotel in Agra by seven.

Agra Fort

Hearing sunrise was a great time to see the Taj Mahal, I got up early. However, there was no reason to rush as the fog was thick and nothing was going to be visible at sunrise unless you could touch it.

Plan B was to check out Agra Fort instead, waiting to see the Taj Mahal after the fog lifted. I found the fort to be extremely interesting and it offered the history of the Mughal rulers very well. This bit of knowledge was useful in understanding the purpose of Taj Mahal and to appreciate its construction even more.

Agra Fort outer wall
Foggy gate into Agra Fort

This incline was further defense
Imaging fighting your way up this incline with boulders coming down

Shah Jahan's house arrest residence
Where Shah Jahan was under house arrest for eight years

Click here to view more photos from Agra Fort.

Finally, the fog had disappeared and it was time to see the Taj Mahal. Or, was it?

Sitar Shop

One of the problems with paid guides and drivers is that they usually take you by a few shops to browse (and possibly buy) items. This is done to pad their pockets, as they get an amount for each potential customer thrown a shop's direction. I do not mind the game too much, but on this day I was not interested in looking at carpets. I ventured off down a local street and came across a man playing some Beatles songs on a sitar. After a minute of chatting, he wanted to show me some sitars he had for sale in his small shop, and I agreed. Once he realized I was not a sitar buyer, he switched gears to sell me other things. First, he asked if I wanted some hash, and I declined his offer to sell me some. Then, he basically forced me to smell some he had, shoving some in my face. I politely said I was not interested. Last try to make a trade, he told me I had a nice watch and that he would trade my watch for some nice, clean women. When I got back to the car and recounted the strange encounter to a co-worker, his response was, "How many women?" I guess I will never know. Shopping done, it was now time to visit the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal.

Playing The Beatles on a sitar
The watch-for-women broker

The Taj Mahal

Taking over twenty-two years for construction, the Taj Mahal is considered by many to be the "Eighth Wonder of the World". I found it interesting that only one person was ever destined to be laid to rest here, and that by entombing Shah Jahan, husband of the intended, his sarcophagus throws off all the symmetry. Another interesting thing to note about symmetry are the two mosques, of which only one has ever been used. This is because the other mosque's doors are not facing Mecca.

Mosque at the Taj Mahal

Twenty-two domes represent the years to build
One top dome for each year to build, 22 in all

Last look back
Great shot of the Taj Mahal
Download for your desktop

Click here to view more photos from the Taj Mahal.

Visiting Other Wonders

After seeing the Taj Mahal, I was ready to see other world wonders. There are many reasons why I have given up on catching many of them, but I did get to see the Egyptian pyramids and Stonehenge this year, both of which were great.

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