Agra, page 1 of 5
We took the bus to Agra and arrived after some six hours of hooting and bumping. We were sitting in front of the bus, a nice place to escape the worst of the bumping, but close to the horn of our bus, which was very loud. Our driver used the horn constantly, because in India you use your horn to warn other vehicles that you are intending to pass them. It is not aggressively meant, but it took some time till we found that out The bus was driving very fast and all the time passing much slower vehicles, completely ignoring the possibility of traffic from the opposite side. Bicycles and smaller cars were no problem, they were pushed of the road. Bigger cars, especially taxis, hooted a lot but eventually removed themselves of the road just to save their nice taxi (and their life). Other busses and heavy traffic were a problem and this resulted in sometimes heavy accidents, the remains of which could be seen about once each hour laying partly on the road and partly beside. In India they tend to keep to the left, so typically the right front of the busses was destroyed. A detail that worried us a bit, because it was exactly our current location in the bus Luckily nothing happened, but we didnt get to catch up any sleep.
Agra is probably the most tourist city of Northern India and it is the ultimate place to test the limits of your resiliency. It is a paradise for touts, who get money for taking tourists to certain shops. When the tourists do buy something, they get much more money: up to 50% commission. Taxi's get the highest commission, bike riksja's the lowest. The same commission principle goes for hotels, where you absolutely have to enter alone to prevent paying a lot more for your room. Im sorry I have to write about these problems so much, but it is really very dominant when you travel over here. The hotel we choose beforehand with the info from our LP was not full, as our riksja driver and his companion worried, and it even had a swimming pool! The last hotel had a pool also (as they assured us when we checked in), but the water had a bit disturbing green-brown color. Anyway the entrance to the pool was thoroughly locked.
Late in the afternoon we went for our first visit to the Taj Mahal, to see it in the evening sun. The next morning we went to see it again and took a lot more time. The Taj Mahal was the reason I wanted to visit India. In fact we planned to go to Nepal, but we could only book a flight via Delhi and Jacques thought it nice to visit India now we would come through anyway. I didnt feel much attracted to India, of course without knowing anything of it. But when I saw pictures of the Taj Mahal and of the Palace of the Winds I completely changed my mind. And I have to say I wasnt disappointed, not in the buildings and also not in the experience of the India of today. However many problems we had with touts, India has a real special, intriguing oriental atmosphere.
Most of the times you see beautiful pictures of interesting places which you would like to visit very much, but when you finally are there it is hot and crowded, things look different than on the pictures you saw and you feel a tiny bit disappointed afterwards. During both our visits to the Taj it was very hot and very crowded, but the view of the building was really stunning. And the ambience was very special also; somehow you could feel the presence of all those people in the past.
Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal when his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal died while giving birth to their 14th child. They spent much of their time together and as far as we know now, it was a very happy marriage. The story goes that the Shah became completely gray in the night following her death. He wanted to make a permanent monument for their love and this the Shah being extremely ambitious must be the most beautiful building of the whole world. I think he succeeded, at least I never saw a more beautiful and impressive building in my whole life. The Taj is made from very white marble and is decorated with inlaid inscriptions and with pietra dura, a technique where semi precious stones like jasper, onyx, amethyst, lapis lazuli, turquoise and jade are inlaid in marble.Below you see a beautiful example.
The Taj is located on top of a slope running down to a river and this gives the impression that the building is the end of the world. According some theories the Taj Mahal is not only a great monument for love, but is also intended as a replica on earth of Gods throne in heaven. A kind of heaven on earth. The Arabic word for garden is the same as the word for paradise, and this together with all inscriptions taken from the Koran on the front of the Taj and on the building which gives entrance to the garden in which the Taj stands, are evidence in favor of this theory. As said before Shah Jahan was an extremely ambitious man with much interest in religion and a good feeling for art. He himself made the whole design of the Taj and the surrounding garden and buildings, a fact that really impresses me. It took 20 years to finish the Taj! A historian researcher sent me a bit irritated e-mail explaining that the Shah never made the design himself, the Taj was not built from scratch but was originally an ancient seven storied temple and mansion complex owned by Maharajah Jaisingh around 1630 AD. So much for my romantic story! I can't find confirmation for this new theory, when you have information please e-mail me. Anyway, the Taj is a breathtakingly beautiful building.
On the left side of the Taj is a mosque, on the right is a completely symmetric building which can't be a mosque, because it doesn't face Mekka. Inside the mosque and on the square in front you have to walk without shoes. This is the case for every mosque, it doesn't show much respect to enter the mosque with your dirty shoes. Jacques finds this a bit ridiculous. At home I tried to convince him it is much cleaner to leave your shoes at the door, but, no luck. Anyway, Jacques is the one who does the vacuuming! But here he indeed removed his shoes, under protest, as you can see on this picture!