Thursday, June 14, 2007

Taj Mahal - Part 2

After a week of fun in Mumbai, we headed to New Delhi, India on Friday. We flew KingFisher airlines and it was an incredible experience. If you ever have the change to fly KingFisher, I highly recommend it. Even in coach, you are treated like royalty and you even get your Northwest miles! Can’t beat that!

When we arrived in Delhi it was like a sauna when we stepped outside the airport. North India was experiencing an extreme heat (great timing for us). We arrived after 6PM and it was miserable outside. We knew at that point that Saturday was going to be terrible when we went to the Taj Mahal!

The next day (Saturday) we got up early and met our driver who was taking us on the 3 hour drive to Agra, India where the Taj Mahal is located. The drive is really terrible, but if you are 3 hours away from the Taj Mahal…you have to suck it up and deal with it, which is what we did. Along the way we experienced some of the worst poverty I have ever seen. I really cannot describe it for you to get a clear picture of just how bad it is here. Really sad to see kids playing in trash and looking for food, homes made of plastic tarps and metal sheets falling in, dogs digging in trash for food, etc.

When we arrived into Agra we stopped and picked up a tour guide who was going to take us through the Taj Mahal. We then drove to another location, got into a small bus to another location, then got into a rickshaw (more about those later) which took us to another part of Agra where we were able to walk the rest of the way to the gates of the Taj Mahal. Whew, it was a trip just getting there!

Once we finally made it to the gates and walked in….wow! It was exactly like the pictures I grew up seeing, but much more impressive in person. Before going on, I have to say the heat was over-powering. It was over 115 degrees and was the hottest day India has had in over 20+ years. I am not kidding when I thought I was going to be sick and have a heat stroke. Over 100 people died in Delhi that weekend due to the heat.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and sits on the right bank of the Yamuna River. The Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, commissioned it as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who was his second wife. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in approximately 1648. Some dispute surrounds the question of who designed the Taj Mahal; it is clear a team of designers and craftsmen were responsible for the design, with Ustad Ahmad Lahauri considered the most likely candidate as the principal designer.

The Taj Mahal (also called "the Taj") is generally considered the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements of Persian, Turkish, Indian, and Islamic architectural styles. While the white domed marble mausoleum is the most familiar part of the monument, the Taj Mahal is actually an integrated complex of structures.

Jahan was grief-stricken when Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their 14th child (yes, I said 14). Construction began soon after Mahal’s death.

Mumtaz’s tomb is placed at the precise center of the inner chamber. Both base and casket are elaborately inlaid with precious and semiprecious gem. Calligraphic inscriptions on the casket identify and praise Mumtaz. On the lid of the casket is a raised rectangular lozenge meant to suggest a writing tablet. Muslim tradition forbids elaborate decoration on graves, so the bodies of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan are laid in a relatively plain crypt beneath the inner chamber of the Taj.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials. The translucent white marble was brought from Rajastham, the jasper from Punjab and the jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Before we could walk into the Taj Mahal we have to either take off our shoes or put on shoe covers out of respect to their religion. The inside was smaller than I imagined. The marble work and detail was very impressive and quite beautiful. As we walked around I could not believe I was standing and looking at the Taj Mahal…I never thought I would see this incredible site.

As I mentioned before, the heat was unbearable. It really took away from being able to really absorb what you were seeing because the soles of your shoes were melting. I have never in my life been in heat this intense. It was so bad you had trouble breathing. The pollution was extremely high on Saturday which did not make it any better. I could not stand in one place for a few seconds without feeling very nauseous.

When we walked out of the gates of the Taj, there was a TV crew standing outside. They walked up to me and wanted to interview me about my experience inside the Taj and if I was going to vote for it on the new Seven Wonders of the World list. It was really bizarre to have someone shove a microphone in your face…especially when I was dripping sweat and about to throw up! HA! I am sure I looked really cute on Indian TV!

Finally when we could not take it any more, we left…hopped into a bus and made our way back to the car.

Who would have thought a little girl from Mississippi would travel all the way to India and see the Taj Mahal? I am truly blessed!

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