Monday, February 1, 2010
Sunday, 31 January - The TAJ MAHAL
Sunday = Taj Mahal!!
We started early, our big tourist bus trundling off into the 6:30am darkness. It was a jerky ride to say the least, four hours straight of aeroplane turbulence. Probably would have been a shorter trip if Indian vehicles ever exceeded speeds of 50kms per hour. Our driver made a few stops along the way - "coincidentally" right next to snake charmers, and monkeys and their handlers who held out their palms expectantly from below the bus windows. Of course there was the the compulsory McDonalds stop and so an opportunity to try the Maharajah Mac burger. But the best stop of all had to be just after we had entered Agra, having seen the Taj Mahal on the foggy horizon only minutes before. At this point, a rather obnoxious-looking woman jumped on board and proceeded to announce herself as our tour guide for the day. We made it clear that we weren't in need of her services, but she insisted that our "company" had hired her - "What company?" we asked, "We didn't come with any company!" - and then that we needed her to protect us from all the pickpockets out to get us. Talk about our daily dose of daytime TV drama. But finally she was forced to take the walk of shame and we continued on our way.
It was a short walk from the carpark to the venue, made longer by the numerous young men and boys harassing us to buy their wares and visit their shops. So persistent! "Remember me, okay ma'am?" over and over. Finally, having purchased tickets and found a licensed guide, we made it in and feasted our eyes on the Taj Mahal.
How do you describe an indescribable place? Magnificent, stunning, majestic...the list goes on and on. Commissioned in 1631 by Emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his favourite wife, it was completed 22 years and 20,000 labourers later. The symmetry of the Taj was the most important feature, and ironically the only thing to throw out the its symmetry is the fact that the emperor was buried next to his wife instead of in a black tomb opposite as had been originally planned - whether a respectful move on the part of his daughter or a spiteful one by his son is up to speculation. And rumour has it that the workers had their hands chopped off so that they could never build such a building again.
After too many photos we headed off to see another moseleum nearby, which had beautiful architecture and an array of wildlife including gazelles, peacocks and squirrels in the surrounding grounds. Leaving here we got back into the bus for a bumpy ride home - with only a slight detour by the drivers to a restaurant we had not requested - and then more Maccas for dinner before collapsing into bed.