After our tiger sighting we decided to leave Ranthambore a day earlier than planned. Since we saw a tiger on our first try we left for Agra early Thursday morning and drove for seven hours. We found Agra to be very different from the other two cities that make up the Golden Triangle. Both Delhi and Jaipur are cleaner than Agra. The shops seem more run down and the streets aren’t paved as well, which seems backwards since the Taj Mahal brings so many visitors to the city. During our short time there we stayed at the Clarks Shiraz Hotel, one of the hotels in the Clarks Group chain. It is the sister hotel to the Clarks Amer (where the conference was held). Our transition from tent to nice hotel was not as drastic as you’d think. We slept just as well in both places.
We went to the Taj on Thursday afternoon before sunset. Hundreds of foreigners and Indians filled the grounds of the Taj Mahal. Fountains reflected the special tomb made by a king for his queen. As we walked around I kept thinking, “I can’t believe we are actually here!” The intricate work of marble, gemstones and carvings were breathtaking. Even the maintenance work was interesting to look at. They’ve cleaned two sides of the Taj for the first time. Workers climb scaffolding in order to plaster mud which removes the dirt and stains on the marble. Using dirt to clean, not an unfamiliar technique to those of us who have had a facial, eh?
We had a guide who led us around the monument telling us about the Arabic inscribed along the entry and within the tomb. Verses from the Koran are engraved into the marble getting progressively larger the higher it is on the wall that way it looks the same from the bottom. Before entering the Taj or the identical mosques on either side, we had to put wraps over our shoes. As we walked around the Taj the sun began to set and the lighting around the structure was incredible. The entire building glowed. It was stunning.
The next morning we hoped to see the Taj at sunrise since our driver Shakti said it was so beautiful. We got up at 5:30 a.m. and drove to the other side of the river across from the monument. There were quite a few people who were already awake getting ready for the day. Some were already keen to sell us stuff. We walked out to the riverbed from the road and waited for the sunrise. We even collected some followers including a boy with a camel. The Taj was pretty in the morning, but it was kind of cloudy so we didn’t get the effect Shakti was hoping for us to see.
Afterwards we (some of us) went back to sleep for a couple of hours before breakfast. When we awoke we had breakfast together, packed our bags and got in the car again! This time we went to the Agra fort, a much larger red fort similar to the one in Delhi. Made from red sandstone and some parts of marble, the son of the king who made the Taj lived in this fort. He also imprisoned his father there. I imagined him locking his father in a dungeon or something, but in reality the king was given luxurious accommodations and 5,000 women for his harem overlooking the exquisite tomb he had made for his wife.
We also went to a shop where descendants of the craftsmen who did the marble work for the Taj. There were incredible tabletops, boxes, plates, vases and other things made from marble and inlaid stones like jade, jasper, onyx, lapis lazuli, mother of pearl and carnelian. After viewing their studio and extensive collection, we continued our road trip by leaving Agra and heading to see a walled city called Fatehpur Sikri. I’ll tell you more about our adventure to Fatehpur Sikri and the crazy dust storm we experienced while there in my next e-mail.
Here are the Taj photos: http://community.webshots.com/album/562929506morRKc?vhost=community