Thursday, January 06, 2011

Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal – 28 December 2010

Visiting the Taj Mahal for sunrise was not an option as the winter fog meant that it would be an exercise in futility. The guides even suggested that we did not make the Taj Mahal our first visit as it would be too crowded with “all the other tour groups there”. What logic drew them to that conclusion, and whether or not it was correct, we will never know but because they were in charge we followed the plan and set off for the Agra Fort.

This imposing structure was built in 1565 and ended up as the location where Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal spent his last 8 years, under house arrest, gazing down the river to his beautiful creation in honour of his favourite wife: The fog prevented us from enjoying that view.

Finally, we arrived at India's crown jewel; the Taj Mahal, which translates to Crown Palace. Regardless of the fact that you may have seen hundreds of photos or documentaries of this building, to walk through the gate and catch your first glimpse of this place is breathtaking.

Naturally everyone is jockeying for the central spot to take the symmetrical photo and everywhere you think there may be an interesting angle or reflection to exploit there is someone standing there ready to point it out to you in return for rupees: A most annoying feature.

Also totally crowded is the “Diana bench” with every man, women and child ready to adopt the pose for family or professional photographers. And there are always those using perspective to pose with them holding up the dome between finger and thumb. Snapped, a little off-centre, they appear quite stupid.

It is a great shame that Shahjahan's son arrested him and prevented him from building his matching black Taj on the opposite bank for his own mausoleum, they would have made an exquisitely stunning pair. But one is certainly better than none and the Taj Mahal truly ranks as one of the world's great sights.

The designers left nothing to chance, even canting out the four minarets by 8” so that they would fall outwards in the case of an earthquake rather than inwards and disturb the tomb.

Reluctantly dragging ourselves away we fought off the trinket sellers and made our way back to our bus for the short ride back to the hotel and lunch. Our (Italian) Tour Manager confirmed what we had read on the web that the cafe in the hotel foyer serve fantastic coffee so we waited an inordinately long time for some coffee to be delivered; one of the worst cups of, supposedly, cappuccino we have ever been served, anywhere.

Still, the waiting filled in the time until we set off for the afternoon excursion to Itmad-Ud-Daulah.
This mausoleum, completed in 1635, three years before the Taj Mahal, was the first building in India built completely in marble. While exquisitely detailed it is considerably smaller than the Taj Mahal, earning it the nickname “Baby Taj” and is thought to be the inspiration for the second and more well known marble building.

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