Tuesday, April 12, 2011

A Lot of Lovin': Is That a Giant Love Monument or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

Sunrise over the Taj Mahal.  Dave couldn't stop talking about how excited he was to visit India's most beautiful monument at what he'd heard was the most picturesque time of day on the most romantic day of the year, Valentine's Day.  "It glows pink!" he exclaimed, looking up from an internet article titled, A Photographer's Dream: Tips for Shooting the Taj Mahal at Sunrise: the Most Beautiful Sight on Earth. "Plus, there are hardly any people there!"  If there was anything we were going to get up before dawn for, this was it.  So we set our alarm and told Pappu to meet us outside the hotel at 6:30 am the next morning.  And then, in a move he would come to regret, Dave turned off the ringer on the phone.

6:30 AM: As soon as Pappu spotted us walking towards the car the next morning, he yelled out in a panic, "I call you! I call you! I try to call you this morning!  We go now.  We go now!"  We sped down the street towards the Taj as Pappu filled us in.  It turns out that that morning was the Agra Half-Marathon, and all of the streets to the Taj Mahal were closed.  That's right, every single street leading to India's biggest tourist attraction was behind police barricades.  And we had come just moments too late.

Dejected, we slunk back to the hotel and attempted to watch the sun rise over the tiny, hazy, barely discernible figure that was the Taj from a distance. 

The Taj Mahal, as seen at dawn from the roof of the hotel, and dramatically zoomed and enhanced.
Then we revived our spirits with a most delicious Indian breakfast and set off to see the Taj Mahal by day.  It wasn't pink like at dawn, but it was still beautiful.  Our Rajasthan tour included a complementary Taj guide, who gave us a little background information and spent the rest of his time telling us where to stand to take photos.*  

Classic shot.
Did we take this, or did we just scan a postcard?  You'll never know.
The Taj Mahal was built by Moghul emporer Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in childbirth.  More specifically, she died giving birth to their fourteenth child, so it's pretty clear that Shah Jahan loved her not only a lot, but often.  It took thousands of artisans 21 years to build to Taj Mahal after Mumtaz's death.

It's not just white marble...
There are inlaid jewels...
Intricate detailing...
And richly tiled floors.

Today, descendents of those artisans spend every Friday making repairs and cleaning the Agra grime from the Taj's white marble walls.  And white marble roof.  And white marble floors.  And white marble everything.  In fact, new laws prohibit motorized vehicles from coming within a certain distance of the Taj in hopes of reducing the amount of smoke and pollution to which it is exposed.

To further protect all the white marble, we are given adorable red booties to wear over our shoes.
I wonder if they started the booties program after seeing those kids stealing all the shoes in Slumdog Millionaire?

On one side of the Taj Mahal is a red sandstone mosque, and other side a mirror-image guesthouse.  Today, the guesthouse is used as an especially fun vantage points from which to photograph the Taj itself.

View from inside the guesthouse building.

The ornately-decorated roof inside the guesthouse building
Shortly after completing the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and confined to the nearby Agra Fort, across the river from the Taj.  From his locked rooms in the fort Shah Jahan could stare out at the mausoleum he had built for his wife - the mausoleum in which he would later be buried by Aurangzeb.

Agra Fort
Dave in Shah Jahan's old digs at Agra Fort, the Taj Mahal behind him.  See how sad he looks to be on house arrest?
Details from Agra Fort

 The Taj Mahal truly lived up to all the hype. (Even though we missed sunrise). We took hundreds of pictures of this spectacular building.  It wasn't as crowded as we had thought it would be, and was a remarkably pleasant viewing experience as touts did not seem to be allowed inside.  JDMesh gives it two hearty thumbs up.

* And then obviously concluded our tour with a trip to a marble factory where we could buy a marble table or really, a marble anything.

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