Sunday, January 14, 2007

Day 8: The Taj Mahal & Agra Fort

Saturday, January 6, 2007. 7:00 AM IST (Indian Standard Time). We have another big day today as we’ll be visiting the Taj Mahal and the Fatehpur Sikri (or Abandoned City). If you have never read much about the Taj, it is an amazing place with a wonderful story.

Our first stop of the day was to the Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by the emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to her 14th child in 1631. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal were rarely seen apart and in fact, their love was so strong that Shah Jahan wanted to build a lasting memoir to his beloved wife. And that is exactly what he has accomplished. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1631 and was completed in 1653. Over 20,000 people from all over India and Asia were brought in to construct the building, which is an amazing feat. The marble work and inlaid gem stones are awe inspiring – considering that this was in the 1600s, well before large cranes and construction equipment. There are few words to describe the grounds and buildings so I will just leave you with the photos.

The second stop of the day was at the Fatehpur Sikri. This is a great ghost town which was the capital city of the Mughal Empire from 1571 to 1585, during the reign of Akbar. Akbar was an interesting ruler in the empire, where he put himself in a position of God. Initially Akbar’s intention was to bring together the best elements of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and Christianity; however the result was a religion that put himself at the center and acting as God. The city began to fall apart after Akbar’s death due to lack of water and the fact that the city was elaborately constructed to proclaim and celebrate Akbar’s new religion – a religion few wanted to remain aligned with post-Akbar.

We walked through the city’s abandoned lower levels which are the palaces and offices, but did not visit the highest level which is the mosque and religious section. With the recent hanging of Saddam, it is best that we avoid areas which may draw unnecessary attention and concern. The sites we did see were amazing – just walking through these abandoned areas makes one think and imagine. What would it have been like to experience the colors of flying silks, the carpets laid out on the ground, the music playing, and the markets alive with people.

The evening was marked with a visit to Pizza Hut – a veg pizza never tasted so good! And we were treated to a line dancing production put on by 5 of the waiters. The video will likely be on YouTube sometime soon (part of the whole flattening of the word)…