Day 131

We took an early train from Delhi to Agra. We then hit some sites!

Before diving into the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort, let’s take a quick dip into Mughal history.

In case your Indian history is failing you…here’s a quick overview of Moghul history. This link has more information Mughal information

The Mughal Empire at its height extended from Afghanistan throughout the Indian subcontinent. The empire was known as effective administrators and successful at governing. It was also a religiously tolerant regime; although Muslim, they integrated Hindus widely. The empire was founded by the Mongol leader Babur in 1526, when he defeated Ibrahim Lodi, the last of the Delhi muslin sultans.

Under Akbar the Great,  (1556- 1605) the empire grew considerably and he is considered the greatest of the Mughal emperors. Jehangir, the son of Akbar, ruled the empire from 1605 to 1627. He was known for the structures he built which allowed the empire to prosper for another century. Shah Jahan (Jehangir’s son), ruled from 1628- 1658 and he commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal. His rule is notable for the cultural height of the Mughals but his military exploits brought the empire to near bankruptcy. Aurangzeb brought the empire to its greatest extent, but his intolerance led to the fall of the empire. His exclusion of Hindus (previously accepted) eventually roused rebellions.

We were anxious with anticipation for our tour of Taj Mahal. Would the reality be as great as the expectation?

Yes…once again we were amazed. And the sun and blue skies certainly helped. It was the first time in days we had seen the sky.

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An overview of the Taj Mahal complex.

We hired a guide with the assistance of our hotel for our trip to the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort. In addition to the knowledge we gained, PC helped navigate the lines and getting to the sites. I would highly suggest a guide for these two sites.

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Our first glimpse of the Taj with its large dome appearing over the exterior wall.

But first…..check the list of forbidden items.

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We didn’t expect that a cell phone battery would be on the list. Both our phones were low starting the tour. My battery was at 1% as we left! Luckily we had enough battery power to take all the pictures we wanted.

 

It is always interesting the cool facts that you learn while visiting great sites and here are some things I learned.

The Taj Mahal was built by over 22,000 laborers, painters, stonecutters, embroidery artists. Many artisans were brought in from foreign countries for their skilled artwork. The materials that were used to build Taj Mahal were transported to the construction site by 1,000 elephants.

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The classic photo of the Taj with water fountains in front.

Many types of precious and semiprecious jewels are set in the marble. The marble is carved to form an inlay and the perfectly shaped stone is set inside the inlay. A particular glue is then used to set the stone without changing its natural color. The marble and inlay are then polished to perfection. Many of the precious stones on the mausoleum were ripped off from the walls of the mausoleum by the British army during the Indian rebellion of 1857.

The inlays were absolutely breathtaking. The inlays around the entry arch were scripts from the Qu’ran. The artists changed the size of the letters on the bottom vs top to ensure the letters appeared the same over the entire arch.  The inlays and marble carvings were more spectacular than the actually building itself.

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Mandatory picture of us in front. We were covered by shadows if we took a picture in front of the fountains.

The Taj is a mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s third (and favorite) wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died during childbirth of their 14th child. Islamic tradition forbids the decoration of graves, so the actual graves of Shah Jahan and his wife are plain. Her tomb (and Shah Jahan’s) are on the bottom floor and not visible. The tombs in the Mausoleum that are viewed are “fake” tombs.

Throughout the day, the white marble reflects different colors. It takes a pinkish hue in the morning, milky white in the evening and golden at night when illuminated by moonlight.  It would have been incredible to watch the marble glow in full moonlight; but I was thankful to just have an Indian clear day! The inlays also change color as the sun moves throughout the day.

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One can appreciate what 20,000 visitors a day looks like. Also, the dome top and the arches of both buildings completely line up (if I was standing in the true center).

The construction took 17 years to complete and started around 1632. Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, generally regarded as the chief architect of the Taj Mahal, was not Indian; he was a Persian from Iran. One of the main themes of the structure is symmetry. The symmetry of the building is seen through aligning columns/arches throughout the entire structure.

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The view from the Mausoleum towards the entry gate.

The most recognizable feature is the white dome at the peak of the mausoleum. Often called the ‘onion dome’, it rises to about 115 feet and is surrounded by four other domes. The dome is actually a double dome; one dome on the outside and one on the inside. The entry to the actual mausoleum is a raised platform.

The four minarets (towers) surrounding the Taj Mahal were constructed to lean slightly outward rather than stand straight. If the minarets were to fall; they would fall away from the tomb.

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One of the corners of the Mausoleum and its minaret. In the background is one of mosques of the complex constructed of red sandstone and marble.

The Taj Mahal’s white marble is rapidly turning yellow because of terrible air pollution. Only electric vehicles are allowed near the structure to help control emissions. However, if you have been to India, you know that more drastic measures are needed. The current renovation (cleaning) process is utilizing an old traditional clay rub on the outside. The scaffolding and cleaning process were on the back of the Taj and the difference between cleaned surface and dirty surface were significant. The previous restoration used a modern cleaning solution and the process has been repeated in just a few years.

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Some of the scaffolding from the restoration process is visible on this photo.

The Taj Mahal contains a working mosque and is closed on Fridays for prayer. Our original schedule had our tour on Friday and luckily we were able to move it to another day.

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Even the entry gate was magnificent!

Following the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was put under house arrest (at Agra Fort) in 1658 by his son, Aurangzeb. Shah Jahan was only able to view the Taj Mahal from his window for the last eight years of his life before being entombed there. We visited Agra Fort after the Taj.

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View from Agra Fort

The Taj Mahal is surrounded by significant gardens and a number of other buildings including  a mosque and guest houses which make up the 17 hectares of land within the complex walls. The Taj Mahal is not located in an open space. It is located in Agra, it is surrounded by the hustle of a working city. In fact, the housing that once supported the workers is a current neighborhood of Agra.

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Guest house on the complex

The Taj Mahal was declared one of the New Seven Wonders in 2007.

Next….Agra Fort

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Agra Fort (a UNESCO World Heritage site) much more than a fort; it is a walled royal city. The walls tower at 70 ft. It is one of the finest forts of the Mughal period. The fort is a complex with a mosque, public hall, private hall, towers, gardens and courtyards. Throughout the complex, both Hindu and Muslim styles are present. The Yamuna River originally flowed along the straight eastern edge of the fort providing ample water for the fort. THe river also supplied water for a moat (with crocodiles) that surrounded the fort.

The Mughal emperors who ruled from here were Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangazeb.

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Originally built (and used) as a military fort by Akbar in 1565. However, a structure was already built there previously by the Lodi Dynasty. Akbar rebuilt the structure (and expanded it) with red stand-stone.

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Shah Jahan later transformed it into a palace. He started to replace the traditional red sand-stone with marble. Ironically, Shah Jahan spent his final 8 years in “home arrest” in one wing of the palace, the Mussaman Burj. He was able to see his masterpiece, the Taj through a window. Agra Fort was the inspiration for the Red Fort in Delhi, also built by Shah Jahan.

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Many buildings inside the fort was destructed by Britishers to make barracks instead. Currently the Indian Army still uses part of the fort and therefore visitors aren’t allowed to see many of the areas.

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The carving of sandstone cover nearly the entire surface!

 

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The Diwan-i-Am – which was used by Shah Jahan for domestic government business, and features a throne room.

Diwan-i-Khas (below) was a hall for private audience, it was used to welcome kings and dignitaries.

Musamman Burj (above) is a  large, octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal. This palace housed Shah Jahan for his house arrest until his death in 1666.

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In front of the palace is Hauz-i-Jehangir, a huge bowl carved out of a single block of stone, which was used for bathing.

 

It was a full day of Indian history and viewing ornately decorated buildings. Our guide then took us to marble artistry store where the craft had been handed down through generations. The pieces made were striking. We may have found our next dining room table surface and a cool price tag of $20,000! Unfortunately photos were not allowed in the showroom.