Attestations of affection and authority in Agra

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The title says it all. In all aspects. Both the title of this blog entry sums the purpose of Agra, while the title many of the historical emperors held in India sums the significance of their actions. Agra holds a clear exhibition of the old capital city of India that kept this title until Shah Jahan formally changed the capital to New Delhi in 1638. Home to the renowned Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and many of the Moghuls throughout the centuries, this historical town was worth a stop over for the night.

Arriving in Agra after a six hour bus trip from New Delhi, we are taken straight to our hotel, Hotel Taj Resorts, park the bus and go straight up to check out our roof top view. Looking into the white sky a circular dome, two thin towers and a collection of three more domes slightly to the right can be faintly seen in the distance. But the white marble which assembles the Taj Mahal easily blends into the blanketing fog of Agra’s sky on this day so the view is not as spectacular as one might imagine.

On the journey to Agra, us nine Northern travelling partners acquainted ourselves with our Indian driver, Mr Singh and his younger companion Bhupi, who were to accompany us over our remaining four days in Agra. Once in Agra it was decided with their advice, that rather than visit the Taj for the sunrise, our original plan, visit the Taj that evening to catch the sunset and avoid the unpredictable morning fog.

Walking through the tall brown doors we pass through security where Maggie’s self stick and her rape whistle are confiscated. Yes I know, two rather harmless devices but I guess precaution is key in such a popular tourist destination.

Our tour guide takes us through and explains the entrance of the Taj with the Sandstone gates and the twenty-two domes positioned on the top to represent the twenty-two years it took to build the entire mausoleum.

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Walking through the official gates, the Taj Mahal is as beautiful as it appears in pictures. Constructed with such love and care the visibly vertical columns and double domed roof, creates this image of perfection. Each column was created at a slight slant outwards so as to create an apparently vertical column and each slab of marble has such dedication and detail to create this picturesque attestation.

This is exactly what you see on online images. So are you really missing anything if you don’t see it for yourself in person? However we were able to take those cliche pictures, pose like we meant it or pose like we didn’t belong, but most importantly we were able to touch it. We could shine a light through the marble to see the extent of its authenticity. We could feel the detail of each engraved image on the outside walls of the Taj Mahal and we could view the enigmatic interior of this renowned mausoleum.

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(Photo credits to Matthew Blake)

Placing the supplied plastics bags around our shoes we climb the stairs to the entrance itself. It’s surprisingly pretty dark inside. By the time we got inside the sun was setting a little, which wouldn’t have helped. We made a slow walk around the fenced tombs of Mumtaz Mahal (the favourite wife of Shah Jahan and the reason the Taj Mahal was build) with his own tomb to the left of his wife’s.

As we walk out of the Sandstone gates and leave the temple behind, if you turn back for a final look at the mausoleum itself, it will appear quite close as the long reflecting pool leading to the Taj Mahal can no longer be seen. So as they say, we are leaving with the Taj Mahal in our hearts.

From here our tour guide takes us to the place where the detailed marble slabs are constructed. This skill is passed through generations of Indian families and takes such time and precision to create. Showing us the various stones used in the mauleum such as lapis azul, jade, of course marble and a few others he explains the different techniques to creating the carefully designed marble slabs. Half of the reason we’re here is to buy the marble ornaments he has on offer, so we take a look around his shop and a few of us make a small purchase.

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From here we are taken out to a buffet dinner by our driver. The vibe just doesn’t seem right with this dining place, so we make it our mission from here on not to follow the driver’s opinion but take the recommendations from Lonely Planet, which a few of us had conveniently brought along.

The next morning we’re off to the Agra Fort. This fort was the home to most of the greatest Moghuls that governed India including Shah Jahan and Abkur (who I am soon to learn about). This one is a lot more interesting than any we have already been to, although that’s probably due to the fact that we had a guide explaining things to us.

We paid our money for our entrance to the fort.

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We “crept” through the long walkway as if we were an approaching army. (As this is where they would attack from.) Highly impractical as the eight of us without armour were making a lot of noise.

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(Photo credits to Matthew Blake)

We sat in the hole that was used to collect water to be used to cool the fort down.

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We whispered to each other through the walls of one of the rooms, which could impressively channel sound diagonally through its structure.

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(Matt talking to the wall.
Photo credits to Patrick McElhone.)

We saw the conspicuous rooms of Shah Jahan, obvious because its marble construction stood apart from the mostly sandstone structure.

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And we walked through the large garden courtyard where the Moghuls were able to relax in the fresh air.

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There was plenty to see, so I’m sure the Moghul emperors would have been well satisfied with the fort they called home.

The tipping culture is annoyingly expected here in the North of India, so at the end of our tour we leave our guide with a tip of 500 rupees. We discover later he was not impressed with this amount, but with so many people to tip, it just keeps adding up.

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(Group shot with our guide.
Photo credits to Marjan Farid and her selfie stick.)

There was one last place to visit, 40km from Agra, as we travelled from Agra to Jaipur: Fatehpur Sikri. I actually quite liked this place as well. Perhaps not so much the structure of the palaces and mosque, as by now I was starting to notice similarities between all that I have seen, but I liked the principles Emperor Akbar maintained in his rule and in making such a creation. Fatehpur Sikri is the name of the “fortified ancient city” so our stop only had time to include the mosque and the palaces for his three favourite wives.

According to our new guide, Shah Jahan and Akbar were the two prominent Emperors of Indian history between the 14th to the 19th century. Emperor Akbar succeeded Humayun (whose tomb we have already visited) and was remembered for preserving peace in a culturally and religiously diverse empire. He built his three favourite wives each a palace, each representation of their different religions: Hindu, Muslim and Christian. The mosque was created in honour of the Holy Man, Shaikh Salim Chisht, who predicted the birth of the heir to the Moghul throne.

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We visited the game board where Akbar would sit in the middle and tell his lady subjects where to move for entertainment.

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We visited the pole that had intricately carved patterns, where Akbar would sit above the people. Our guide also said it was symbolic of the joining of all four religions: Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islamism.

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