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When Pages Come Alive……..

February 9, 2009

Right before we left the United States, I read an amazing story about the family who built the Taj Mahal. It was Beneath A Marble Sky by John Shors. It’s historical fiction. So he took the facts and filled in the blanks. If you ever think you will visit the Taj Mahal, please read that book first. The pages will come alive.

So, we jumped right in and visited the Taj Mahal this weekend. This will probably be a long one – so go ahead and get yourself a cup of coffee. Or a beer – or whatever.

First – the drive. The Taj Mahal is about a 3-hour drive from Delhi. That is if there is no fog and no traffic. We got both. The fog was so thick that it was like driving through pudding. Vanilla pudding, but pudding none-the-less. Fog should only be an issue in the winter months. In the summer months, it’s the heat. So, pick your poison.

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It took a little much, much longer than expected. But we made it in one piece.

The Taj Mahal is located in a town named Agra. Forget everything you know about towns. Agra is congested and narrow and dirty and, did I mention congested? There are monkeys and cows and goats and people and cars and bikes and buses everywhere.

We hired a guide to take us through the Taj Mahal and its sister monument the Agra Fort. I highly recommend this. He was 500 rupees for the day – which is about $10 – we paid him more than that. It was worth every penny.

For example. He knew that you cannot park near the Taj Mahal. It used to be that you could park right in front of the monument grounds – but they are now worried about pollution. So, you have to park in a lot and either walk, ride a bus, ride an auto-rickshaw, ride a horse drawn carriage, or ride a camel drawn carriage. Which one did we pick? You got it – bring on the camel.

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This was probably the slowest (and smelliest) way to go. But I thought it would be the most authentic. Yes, my son loves me very much for that. Apparently, India has taught him that he is acutely aware of smells. Especially bad ones. This cost 300 rupees – about $6. We paid for both sides of the cart. You do not pay them until the return trip to the car. That way they will wait for you.

I did not take pictures of all the vendors who were literally on top of us as we walked down the street. Our guide told us not to look at them, not to buy anything, and not to talk to them. I guessed pictures might not be the best idea. See that college degree did pay off. I am thinking! I did learn a new word. Nay – I am not sure how you spell it – but you say it like this – Nay, Nay, Nay, NAY, NAAAAAYYYYY. And you walk quickly. And hold your kids hands. It’s not dangerous but you want them to know that no is, in fact, no.

And yes, your kids will probably want most of what they see. So it is helpful to tell them before hand not to even bother asking. Because, it turns out that it is not so helpful to have them asking you for things when you are trying to shoo the vendors away. It’s a little bit of a mixed message and the vendors can smell the want in the kids eyes.

This is the entrance to the Taj Mahal. It cost 750 rupees (about $15) to get in per adult. Children under 15 are free. You have to go through security. Yes, they pat you down. The only electronics allowed are cell phones and cameras. No ipods, MP3, or game boys. Cell phones and cameras. That’s it.

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There are 22 small domes on the entrance representing the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal. Another reason for a guide is that he will know just where to take all the good pictures and can shoo away the professional photographers who will charge you money for photos. You are allowed to take your own – you do not have to pay for them.

The Taj Mahal cost 32 million rupees to build. Twenty thousand people worked on it everyday that it was being built. This is what you see when you walk through the entrance. The Taj Mahal was meant to seem like it was floating in air. Job Well Done Shah Jahan. Floating it seems.

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It is very hard to describe how it feels to see the Taj Mahal for the first time. It is overwhelmingly majestic. It looks so soft and when you know the story of the love behind it – well, you can almost melt into its beauty.

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The grounds surrounding the Taj Mahal are beautiful as well.

This might have worked out better with a professional photographer. But it was fun trying. If you do it right, it looks like you are touching the tip of the Taj Mahal.

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The Taj Mahal and its surrounding monuments and temples are all symmetrical. The only thing that is not symmetrical is Shah Jahan’s tomb inside the Taj. His daughter buried him next to her mother after her brother stopped the building of Shah Jahan’s own mausoleum and imprisoned him. She understood their love and knew that they should spend eternity together. Awwww.

The pillars on the Taj Mahal look like they are perpendicular to the ground. They are not – they are bowing out at a 93 degree angle. This is so that from a distance it looks like they are straight up and down. Our guide also laughed that this was so that if the pillars fell, they would not fall on the monument. I am guessing that could be true. How they knew to do that so long ago and how they measured that angle? Maybe there is something to this whole math thing.

This picture was taken on the bench that was built for Princess Diana’s visit. So, I have now sat on the throne of a Princess in the Mausoleum of a King and Queen. Okay, maybe not, but a girl can dream, can’t she? Bring me my crown.

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The decorative flowers in the walls of the Taj Mahal are all semi-precious stones (like lapis lazuli, jade, crystal, turquoise, and amethyst) that that have been laid into the marble. The carvings are in one big slab of marble. So if they made one mistake, they had to start all over. I was amazed that you had to cover your shoes when you walk in the building (or take them off) but you are allowed to touch any part of the walls you want. Shoes not okay – oily, dirty human hands – bring them on. Okay. It was shocking how smoothly the stones fit into the marble.

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The rules said you are not allowed to take pictures inside the Taj Mahal. So I did not. I wish I had. But, rules are rules.

Follow me on to the next post – I am going to continue this so that there aren’t so many pictures for you to load in one post.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. gretchen evans permalink
    January 9, 2010 2:27 am

    thank you so much. all my life i have known gems were in the marble but have never seen a picture. i would love to see this building more than anything else in the world. i appreciate seeing it through your eyes.

  2. Rhonda P permalink
    February 12, 2009 9:08 am

    Loving all the pictures!!!

  3. February 10, 2009 1:52 am

    Tottsmom – that is a bummer – I hope you’ll stay tuned though.

    Miss Grace – thanks

    Nancy – extremely

    Lola – I will have pictures of the animals soon – they are very cool

    Rachel – come visit!

    ke – it is wonderful – he’s been outsourced from the US – he manages India production.

  4. February 10, 2009 12:51 am

    what a fascinating cultural experience your children will have.

    What it is your husband does in India again?

  5. Rachel Snyder permalink
    February 9, 2009 11:02 pm

    You make me feel like I’ve visited there myself except I still want to see it in person.

  6. February 9, 2009 10:33 pm

    It’s all so beautiful! Who could guess that cows and monkeys are roaming the streets just outside of the frames 😉

  7. Nancy permalink
    February 9, 2009 7:26 pm

    Extremely cool.

  8. February 9, 2009 4:56 pm

    Your pictures look great!

  9. Tottsmom permalink
    February 9, 2009 10:35 am

    Wow, this is really beautiful. I had no Idea it was only 3 hours from Delhi, guess I need to learn how to read a map better. Turns out we won’t be joining you in India after all. My husband got an e-mail this morning stating “becasue of unforseen circmstances we are not going to be contracting pilots at this time.” I’m not suprised but I am dissappointed. They did say that he was the first on thier list should openings come up in the near future. Sooooooo, anybody need a pilot?

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