Where I've Been

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Part 9 – Agra and the Taj Mahal

I’m going to pick up as if there hasn’t been a 3 month hiatus.

I’m not a complainer; optimism makes me happy. So I tell this next little bit of travel brilliance for sheer comedic value, which, at the time, was completely lost on us.

We bought our bus ticket the night before from Hari Om Travel in Jaipur (never, never, never, never, never, please never go there). Naturally we purchased deluxe tickets for a bus leaving at 6:30 AM.

At 7:30 the next morning the city bus to which we had been directed after showing around our tickets rumbled out of Jaipur with us on it. Our fellow friendly Indians joined us in forced laughter as we explained how we had paid double the price for our ordinary bus ticket to Agra. And, great Brahma’s bull! My unshuttable window from the previous bus had been reincarnated directly beside my assigned seat. Luckily we paid extra to have our bags on board and so with 3 shirts, 2 pants, coat, and knit hat bundled on me, we rumbled on to Agra. We merrily bumped along until a grapefruit-sized stone inexplicably flew through the rear window, shattering shards of glass over everyone. After a short stop to completely knock the glass out of the rear window, we again, somewhat less merrily, continued until reaching Agra to see the famed Taj Mahal.

So, was it worth it?

Take a peek (I mean look at the pictures, they're everywhere).

I’ve been a few places, but after stepping through the portals to see the Taj Mahal my breath caught in my throat. It is the most beautiful piece of architecture I have ever seen. And I say that without equivocation, remorse, shame, or desire that some girl will find me sensitive and end my life of crushing loneliness and interminable yearning.

Quick note for future Taj Mahalers: do not waste your time waiting at the front gate if the line is long. You could be waiting over an hour there to get in. Head to your right from the front gate along the garden wall until you reach the first narrow road you can turn left. Follow that and you will eventually take another left at the next narrow road which will be the side entrance to the Taj Mahal. No wait, same admittance. One tout offered to take us there for $20/person. We eventually talked some guy into getting us there for about $1.50 for the three of us.

The whole of the Taj Mahal looks like it’s carved of finely-chiseled white marble, much like I do with my shirt off. It looks like that because it is. Over 12000 tons of marble was used in the dome alone. The sheer size of the Taj Mahal is mind boggling. I never expected it to be so huge. The plinth the Taj Mahal stands on is 300 square meters alone. Walking inside the structure we viewed the tombs where Shah Jahan’s 3rd wife lies beneath the 44 meter high dome, buried some 350 years ago. There’s no artificial lighting so it’s dim and the caretakers will take small flashlights and press them against the rubies and emeralds embedded in flowering designs in the marble to show how the light reflects and illuminates the whole flower in the dark (just go and see it, you’ll understand what I mean). It seems our caretaker only wanted to do it for us though as he shooed away the Indians that came to see as well. Why? Well the outstretched hand at the end of the 2 minute lightshow explained why.

Besides the Taj Mahal itself there are two red buildings to either side, one is a mosque, and then a couple of gateways, each beautiful alone.

As dusk fell, the dome and minarets turned from the dazzling white of the afternoon to fiery gold, to luminescent sandstone, and then a glowing blue. We left in the same awestruck mood as we entered.

Truly fantastic.

This next installment will finally end the India trip. After which I will talk about Nepal, then Bahrain. Then hopefully my trip to Europe, look for that in about 2012.