THE TAJ MAHAL AND THE AGRA FORT 12/9/12
On Saturday we got a nice preview of the Taj Mahal by seeing it from across the river. It was wonderful, but not quite the same as seeing it up close the next day. In what I perceive to be the spirit of Agra, the road to the Taj was full of cow dung and persistent salesmen. Once we walked through the first ornate gate, however, we entered a different world, a 17th century paradise on Earth designed to reflect the paradise in heaven. An outer courtyard surrounded by red sandstone colonnades led to an even more ornate gate, a structure that would make a spectacular tomb on its own. Its 22 marble domes represented the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal. As we passed through the main gate, that famous perfect perspective lined up, bringing into view the reflecting pool and its fountains that pointed directly to the center of the massive marble structure. Hundreds of people lined up and nudged each other aside to position themselves to get the perfect picture in front of the building. With the encouragement of our guide, Rajeev, Dad and I fell in line and joined the masses. I have seen the Taj Mahal in hundreds of pictures and I have been looking at them my whole life, but all those pictures simply cannot capture just how other-worldly the building is when you see it with your own eyes. We approached the building in a state of pure awe, retaining very little of the guide’s information because we were so focused on what we were seeing. We walked around the first sandstone platform, taking lots of pictures from different angles, and walked along the river’s edge. We came around and ascended the stairs to the marble platform. As we walked inside, we caught a glimpse through the marble screens of the only aspect of the whole building lacking perfect symmetry: the 2 marble caskets of Shah Jahan and his wife. The lighting inside was only indirect natural light from a few small sources and was insufficient to show the fine level of detail of all the marble carvings and inlays of semi-precious stone. We went outside to try to take in the building more completely. I sat and sketched for a while, while Dad watched me and took more pictures. Eventually, we decided to go, although neither of us really wanted to leave. I think we could have sat and stared endlessly, until the light faded and all we could see was a faint outline of the tomb against the stars. Instead we headed to the Agra Fort, which had weathered the years better than the fort in Delhi had, but lacked its beautiful gardens. The tour featured the tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son to live out the rest of his days with a view of the Taj Mahal. I would have felt very sorry for him if I didn’t learn that he spent his 8 years “imprisoned” with a harem of young girls. It sounds like history’s most luxurious and pleasurable incarceration.