The Taj Mahal

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Taj 1

I gave some thought to doing a voice-over while video taping the Taj…but repeating “WOW” over and over again wasn’t going to win me any awards for interesting commentary…so I didn’t do that.  Pictures and words are going to have to suffice for my journey through one of the seven world wonders…The Taj Mahal.

We left the hotel at 5:30 am in the hopes of seeing the sunrise up over the mausoleum…but the clouds were going to nix that hope.  However, there is always a ying for a yang …and the best part of traveling through India during the monsoon season was that I was the only tourist in the country….maybe a slight exaggeration…but not by far.  So while I was not going to see the sun shining over this incredible place, I was going to see it in quiet solitude for a few precious minutes.  After asking my guide to give me a moment…I stood by myself for about 5 minutes and just enjoyed the view and appreciated that I was seeing something very special without the chitter chatter of 1000 other tourists impatient to get in line for their “picture in front of the Taj”.  It was glorious.   During high season, the Taj sees about 50,000 people a day.

This is “The Great Gate” or the west gate entrance to the Taj Mahal.

Taj 2

Walk through the doorway…and there it is.  It’s majestic.   My very first thought was…I can’t believe I’m finally here.

I’m pretty proud of this picture – check out that perfect – straight as an arrow – reflection in the pool.  Oh yea!  And not another soul in sight!  My own private moment in front of the Taj Mahal.

Taj 3

My guide was quick to share a quote from  his friend Bill.

“There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have seen the Taj Mahal and love it and those who have not seen the Taj and love it.” — Bill Clinton

The Taj Mahal is a fabulous combination of tomb, mosque, gardens, gateways and fountains.  It also comes with a great love story behind it.  The most famous part is of course the tomb or mausoleum — that big, beautiful, white marble structure behind me.

Taj 4

In 1631, the Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan,  was grief stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their fourteenth child. In her dying breath, she asked him to build a mausoleum for her, more beautiful than any the world had seen before. After 13 children…I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Shah Jahan granted his wife’s wish, and construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, one year after her death.  It took 22 years and 20,000 workers to complete.

Taj 5

The mausoleum, where both the Shah and his wife are buried,  was never supposed to house them both. He was going to build an exact duplicate of the mausoleum for himself in all black marble — directly across from this one on the other side of the river.  How cool would that have been!

But instead…it’s just empty land.

Taj 6

I still can’t believe I was able to spend this time here by myself without all the crowds!

Taj 7

The complex is set around a large 300 meter square garden.  The garden was divided into four quarters and then further into sixteen flower beds. And I hear tell that they were pretty spectacular gardens…with roses and fruit trees and all sorts of beautiful flowers.  But then the British took over India and the oversight of the Taj Mahal. The gardens went into decline and were eventually replaced by the english lawns that currently exist.

Everywhere I walked…there was a picture crying out to be taken!  My guide was great too…he knows it’s his job to take as many pictures of me as possible…and he knew where to go…big tip!  We had fun – especially the jumping up and down shots.  Fortunately there were a few other people by me who were acting as goofy as I was…but there is something about preserving a moment like this with something silly…a memory that will make me laugh when I look back at these pictures.

Taj 8

While the Taj Mahal has managed to escape damage from air raids during times of war…it has not escaped the encroachment of the environmental pollution of our times!  It comes from the Yamuna River that runs along side it as well as from acid rains due to the Mathura oil refinery.  This pollution has turned the Taj yellow.  To help control the pollution, the Indian government has set up the Taj Trapezium Zone (TTZ), a 6500 square mile area around the monument where strict emissions standards are in place.

The building below is the only one with modern technology inside it — used to measure pollution levels and humidity readings within the complex.

Taj 9

This provides a constant read-out of information.

Taj 10

Taj 11

I spent over two hours walking the grounds and going in and out of the palace (where no pictures were allowed).  Off the back side of the mausoleum flowed the Yamuna river, which is very, very low right now.  It seems that the Indian monsoon season is over 20 days late causing many of its river beds to dry up.  I can’t complain…20 days late has meant no monsoon rains for me! I really have gotten lucky — no rains and low season prices on all these wonderful hotels!

Taj 12

Swimming in the river across from the Taj Mahal.  🙂

Taj 13

Taj 14

The grandeur of the stone inlay work is unparalleled. It includes the three main features of the Muslim decorative arts: quotes from the Q’uran, geometrical shapes and a variety of plant forms and flowers, often repeated as borders.

Taj 15

Carving marble is not an easy or quick process – this took some time, patience and lots of skill.

Taj 16

The marble is inlaid with semi-precious stones that are all ground and shaped by hand.

Taj 17

The materials used for building this monument were transported from places far away. For instance, marble was dug from the hills of Makrana, in Rajasthan; Chinese Turkestan in Central Asia supplied Nephrite jade and crystal; from Tibet, turquoise; from upper Burma, yellow amber; from Egypt, chrysolite and so on… The Taj is covered with 43 types of gems including topazes, onyxes, garnets, sapphires and bloodstone.

Taj 18

The marble and precious stone inlays are fit together so well that it’s impossible to detect a seam.   I watched craftsmen do this later in the day…for example…each of the red flowers is made up of 9 petals – three in each section.

Taj 19

The calligraphy of the quotes from the Q’uran on the mausoleum is done to create a decorative illusion – the letters gradually increase in size as they go up the side of the structure, so that from the ground all letters appear perfectly uniform.

Taj 20

Here’s the view of the west gate from the balcony of the mausoleum.  Where you see grass…gardens used to bloom. It’s very symmetrical isn’t it?

Taj 21

The grounds-keepers house — obviously it’s not been in use for a while…

Taj 22

This is the mosque where the Shah prayed daily.  It faces west towards Mecca.

Taj 23

Goodbye Taj – it was beautiful knowing you!

Taj 24

And I’m off to the Agra Fort…the most important fort in all of India.  Way, way, way back in time…all of the Moguls ruled from here and the country was governed from here.  Agra was the first capitol of India and the Agra Fort was home base.  IAfter Agra, the capitol was moved to Delhi…then the British East India Company moved it to Calcutta…then King George moved it back to Delhi…but renamed it New Delhi and rebuilt it south of the “old” Delhi.  That’s why you have two separate sections of the city and “New Delhi” instead of just Delhi as the official name. But we’re here in Agra now…

Taj 25

It was originally a brick fort and first mentioned in 1080 AD.   And as with other great monuments, it was added to over time by various great leaders until it became the extensive walled city that it is today.

Taj 26

It was falling apart when Akbar took it over in 1558.  Akbar is  Shah Jaban’s grandfather (the guy who built the Taj).  He (and his architects) came in and rebuilt the entire fort  using red brick for the inner walls and red sandstone for the outer walls.

Taj 27

Besides great rulers, the fort also housed a magnificent jewel called the Koh-i-noor diamond.  The origins of the diamond are unclear, but most sources say that it was found about 5000 years ago.  There are many stories and mythical accounts surrounding the stone that go on over the years, but fact is sometimes more interesting then fiction…at least I found it to be.  It has a long history, but I was most interested in the time during our friend Shah Jahan’s time.

Taj 28

Shah Jahan (the guy who built the Taj) had the stone placed in his Peacock Throne where it shown very brightly. Then in a sad twist of fate, the  Shah was imprisoned in this very fort  by his son, Aurangzeb.   It is rumored that he spent most of his days on the marble balcony staring out at the Taj Mahal. Then when he became bedridden, his son placed the Koh-i-noor diamond in the window so that the only way he could see the Taj was through the reflection in the diamond.

Taj 29

105.6 carats

Then, of course, the British hoisted their flag upon India and the diamond now resides in the Tower of London.

Taj 30

The tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned for the last 7 years of his life.

Taj 31

The marble balcony where he sat…you can see the Taj off in the distance.

Taj 32

The red sandstone was carved in much detail throughout the fort.

Taj 33

Those are stone bookshelves on either side of the window.

Taj 34

Very narrow bookshelves if you ask me…

Taj 35

A water cistern…the trough brought the water to the basin and a drain at the bottom let it back out again.

Taj 36

Taj 41

Taj 42

Taj 39

This was the shower…the water came out from a slat above me.  The idea was to lean back against the stone and someone above would pour water on you.

Taj 40

The Agra Fort won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in the year 2004.

Taj 41

Hall of the Public Audience

Taj 42

Distinct Persian influences here…

Taj 43

Dhiwan – i – Khas              Hall of the Public Audience

Taj 44

Jahangiri Mahal – built by Akbar for his son, Jehangir (Shah Jahan’s father).

What a wonderful morning and an extraordinary experience.  My stay in Agra is complete and now I’ll go back to my hotel to download pictures and remember again that incredible moment when I first saw the Taj Mahal.

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