Monday, December 14, 2015

Agra (AKA The Taj Mahal)




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After the wonderful days in Jaipur, Tanzeela and I took a sleeper train to Delhi to check-in to our hostel and meet up with Emilie. We booked STOPS Hostel, another budget stay ($5-10 USD per night per person) for travelers. The staff at the hostel were very friendly, breakfast was included, the beds were very clean, and it was in a great location!

Anyway...

The day we arrived in the city, we were very tired and wanted to save our energy for our huge trip to Agra the next day. Tanzy and I stayed in the vicinity of our hostel and found a delicious chicken place, Changezi, and stuffed ourselves there while waiting for Emilie.

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The next day...

We visited Agra, home to one of the legendary wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Commissioned in the 1630s by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and built over a span of 22 years by over 20,000 people, this tomb was both a symbol of love and power. As the Emperor was new to his throne, he wanted to demonstrate his empire's wealth and power through building a monument of such extravagance and luxury. He also ordered its construction because he wanted to build a magnificent tomb for (one of) his wives, Mumtaz Mahal. Believe it or not, the tomb cost 400 million rupees for materials and labor...that would probably cost hundreds of millions of US dollars today!

Surrounding the Great Gate of the Taj Mahal is Arabic calligraphy, much of it taken from the Holy Book of Qur'an. Our very knowledgeable tour guide, Yash, told us that as you enter to view the towering tomb, your soul is supposed to be purified. The verse at the gate reads: "O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you." The Taj Mahal is an Islamic garden and is supposed to remind you of paradise, a place of peace and goodness. I would imagine that on a day with few crowds, it would feel very tranquil there. For more information see: "Islamic garden" in 'Useful Links'. Pictures below.


The Taj Mahal, Agra, India.


Made completely of white marble imported from 500 km away, the Taj Mahal is truly a modern wonder of the world.


We had to wear coverings on our shoes in order to preserve the marble as best as possible...in Islamic gardens, there is a central pool, which converges the four rivers of paradise, one each filled with milk, honey, water, and wine.


In front of the Taj Mahal! :)


As you can see, all the entrances are beautifully decorated with Arabic calligraphy of Qu'ran verses. As the Mughal Empire was Islamic, this only makes sense!


What would a trip to the Taj Mahal be without awkward family photo?


Thanks for the awesome photo of the three of us from our friend, Juan!

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While in Agra, we also visited the famous Agra Fort, an extremely impressive complex comprised of intricate palaces, masjids, and quarters. Taking 8 years to build in the 16th Century, this impressive fort served as the place of residence for many Mughal rulers, such as Akbar. To demonstrate the superiority of the Emperor's rule, only his quarters were made of white marble imported from 500 km away, in contrast to the rest of the fort, made of red stone from local quarries. Unique elements of this fort included a fishing pond, elephant ring, a justice courtyard, and the world's smallest mosque. Pictures below.


Entrance to Agra Fort, Agra, India.


Justice courtyard...Yash, our tour guide, told us that some of the Mughal Emperors, such as Akbar, used elephants to make court decisions... when a guilty party could not be identified, he let the elephant decide who was guilty and who was innocent


Where Akbar and other Mughal emperors once sat and made decisions for their empire.


The quarters for the Emperor's Harem...


View of the Taj from Agra Fort


Apparently this is a jail cell? I thought it was a royal bedroom or something, but even the jail at this place was gorgeous!


The grass used to be a fishing pond for the Emperor to practice his angling skills


A hallowed out Hindu temple...though the Mughal Emperors were always Muslim, they practiced religious toleration and some of them had Hindu wives...as such, a Hindu temple was provided so she could freely practice her religion


This style of marble decoration was consistent here and at the Taj Mahal, as the architect was the same!


An outpost at the Agra Fort


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The Taj Mahal lives up to its glory, magnificence, and beauty. Its stunning symmetry and perfection captures you from the minutes you look at it, and it was truly amazing to physically stand in a place with such an awe-inspiring presence.

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Cheesy, but 100% necessary.

Thank you for reading!

I have two more blog posts to go: "Delhi" and "Saying Goodbye", which I hope to post within the next couple of days.

Love,

Kara

P.S.-The answer to the trivia question: "Which style of architecture is the Taj Mahal?" is, indeed, Islamic.

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