Rajasthan Stories - Day 8: The Taj Mahal

Trips without fixed itineraries and much planning always throw up surprises; some pleasant, some otherwise. As we were traveling back to Jaipur that night, where the journey had started, we realized that we had a day in hand and not much to see in Jaipur. We had plans to visit Sambhar lake, but when the names Agra and the Taj Mahal came up in the discussion the decision was unanimous. We figured that if we could manage to start in an hour's time after reaching Jaipur, we could go visit the Taj and be back in time to catch 2-3 hours of sleep too, before heading to Sanganer to catch our morning flight to Bangalore. It was kind of a tight schedule, but then we thought it would be a fitting finale for an already eventful trip; the cherry on the cake! Thus plans were made for Agra by the time we 'slipped and slid into another dream'.

So according to the plan we rushed to 'Ganga Kripa' and Shailesh as soon as we got down at Jaipur, and asked him whether he can help us get a ticket on one of the morning buses. Rakesh Jain's clout once again helped us and in no time we had confirmed tickets and a rickshaw outside the hotel to take us to the bus station. We dumped our luggage in the office room as all the rooms were booked, picked up our cameras, brushed our teeth and used the restroom for the staff and were on our way to Agra in less than an hour! Agra is about 230 kilometers from Jaipur and it takes about 5 hours by ordinary bus. We pass the Keoladeo Ghana National Park (formerly known as Bharatpur Bird Sanctuary) and Fatehpur Sikri on the way, two places to visit on another trip some day. Agra, the erstwhile capital of the Mughal empire is a heavily populated city now and it shows. The number of people coming to visit the Taj makes the situation even worse.

We hardly had a few hours to spend at the Taj before heading back to Jaipur and we were disappointed to see the long queue for tickets in front of the counters. The pace at which it kept moving made it even worse and the chances of an early entry looked impossible. But then there are always people around who knows the loopholes, and we met one such in the form of a guide. He agreed to get us in much sooner and we literally had no choice. He took us through some narrow streets, few flights of steps and some really filthy neighborhood to the South Gate of the complex. There were hardly anyone there; and though we were a bit afraid that his intentions were to steal our money in one of those shady black-holes, we found ourselves inside the complex with tickets in hand, in a matter of minutes! He had a nice mode of operation - he stands outside the complex, gets customers and pass them on to his counterpart inside the complex with tickets, who will take care of the 'guiding' part. Essentially the Marketing side of the business was independently functioning from the operational side of it!

Set on a three acre raised platform by the river Yamuna, bordered by red sandstone walls on three sides, the Taj Mahal is probably what India is best known for, to the rest of the world. Apart from the gigantic tomb at the center of the building built in translucent white marble, the other thing that strikes your mind as soon as you walk in through the main gate is the symmetry of the whole complex. Our guide Akram, explained the history and the vitals of the monument with the help of a thousand numbers and dates. Apart from the fact that it took 20 years to build it with the help of a 15 kilometer long packed-earth ramp to carry the stones to that heights, nothing else registered in my mind. Taj Mahal is a 240 feet tall structure, almost as tall as a 25 stories building! Interestingly researchers are almost concluding the use of such long ramps in the making of the Egyptian pyramids as well. We took the customary snaps with Taj's reflection on the garden pools and moved forward. There was a long queue to get inside the tomb as well.

Akram helped us in getting ahead of the queue and showed us around, the beautiful calligraphic inscriptions on the outer walls, the semi precious stones engraved into the white marble and the unique acoustics of some of the chambers. He used the torch on his mobile phone to demonstrate the translucent nature of the marble and some of the precious stones, and also recommended a full moon night visit to the monument to see it in all its splendor. Limited number of people are allowed to enter the complex on full moon nights and that was news for us... got to try it the next time. The tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan is right under the dome and in fact the differently sized tombs are the only asymmetric structures in the whole complex. The four minarets and the two mosques on either side and the Yamuna adds to the splendor of the Taj. It is also a wonderful sight to sit and watch the marble changing hues with the light of the sun.

Akram also told us about some of the stories/myths associated with the Taj. You can see the foundation of a similar scale structure on the other side of river Yamuna, which according to Akram was Shah Jahan's chosen site for building a black Taj for himself. Such an admirer of symmetry that he was, he wanted an exact replica across the river, but built in black marble. It was this spending spree - according to some - that provoked his son Aurangzeb to imprison him at the Agra fort and take charge of the state's affairs. We sat there for a while, watching the sun doing his bit of the beautification. A big group of saffron clad swamis came into the complex whose attire was a nice contrast to the backdrop of white marble. Like the favorite wife of an emperor dying after delivering the fourteenth child, for whom a monument of love in marble is created, is an irony in itself.

As expected this was a fitting finale for the trip. Sowmy went directly to Delhi from there while Kannan and myself took a bus back to Jaipur in the evening. It took more than six hours for us to cover the distance and when we reached the hotel we hardly had 2 hours to sleep. Having done most of the sleeping on the bus we spent the last couple of hours remembering all the good moments, places and people we met over the last week or so. When you walk out of a place with a feeling that you are leaving a part of you there, then you know that you had a wonderful time there. Rajasthan with all its warmth and fun and excitement was much more than wonderful!

Click here for more pictures!

Rajasthan Stories - Day 1: Jaipur
Rajasthan Stories - Day 2: Jaipur
Rajasthan Stories - Day 3: Ranthambhore
Rajasthan Stories - Day 4: Osian & Thar
Rajasthan Stories - Day 5: Mandore & Jodhpur

Rajasthan Stories - Day 6: Udaipur
Rajasthan Stories - Day 7: Ranakpur & Kumbalgarh
Rajasthan Stories - Day 8: The Taj Mahal

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wonderful Jacob! Simply superb. I love every bit of it. Thanks.


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