En route to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, I had to stop off in Delhi. I was hoping to avoid this city at all costs, but alas buses only went to Delhi from McLeod Ganj and not all the way to Agra. Luckily for me, I sat next to a very young girl traveling by herself also and the saying ‘safety in numbers’ is not lost on me. We braved being dropped off in the middle of no where, fighting off rickshaw drivers all before the crack of dawn. She needing to get to the train station and me needing another bus.
After paying for an AC tourist bus, only to be pushed onto a local bus at the last minute (with the bus literally leaving so I couldn’t fight with the travel agent for misleading me). I was peeved, but tried to use my new ‘peaceful’ techniques from Vipassana trying to release what I could not change. Surprisingly it worked and the bus that I was on, turned out to be a Hindi Agra tour bus – so I got a full tour of Agra (all in Hindi and I was amazed by how much I understood). As I had become accustomed to in India – the foreigner becomes the attraction – so I had over a hundred photos with the locals on the bus at the Agra attractions.
The Agra Fort
The story behind the Taj Mahal is beautiful and a little tragic.
The history is that the Taj is a white marble mausoleum, built by the grief stricken Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Legend has it that Mumtaz was the love of his life, who accompanied Shah Jahan on all journeys. For those of you who don’t know (because I didn’t): A mausoleum is an ‘external free-standing building constructed as a monument enclosing the interment space or burial chamber of a deceased person or persons’ (thank you Wikipedia). Basically one massive tomb. Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632, after Mumtaz Mahal died during the birth of their 14th child.
What I found to be incredibly interesting is that the architects in the 17th century were so advanced that they built the 4 outer minarets with a slight outward tilt. This was done so that should an earthquake hit, none of the minarets would ever fall inwards, damaging the main dome.
While earlier Mughal buildings were primarily constructed of red sandstone (see the Agra Fort above and earlier post of pictures of forts), Shah Jahan promoted the use of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. These stones are really spectacular. I was lucky enough to see what happens to the stones when a torch light is shone on them at close range. Not only that, the sheer marble is breathtaking and the size of the building a good indication of his feeling towards his wife.
Soon after the Taj Mahal’s completion, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at nearby Agra Fort. I was under the impression that he had been imprisoned in a small room with only a little window overlooking the Taj… But that was a kind of a stupid idea – he was an Emperor after all – so only fair that he was housed in a whole wing.
View from his wing of the Taj Mahal
There are many myths as to why Shan Jahan was overthrown by his son. Legend has it, that Shan Jahan had decided to build a black marble Taj on the opposite side of the river. His son fearing for his inheritance, stopped his father before he bankrupted the kingdom even further.
Other legends claim that Shah Jahan was so obsesses with his Taj, that he had all the builders dismembered (having their arms cut off) so that they would never again attempt to build a tomb like the Taj Mahal. No evidence exists to support this of course – but History is a crazy kind of beast.
Upon Shah Jahan’s death, Aurangzeb buried him in the Taj Mahal next to his wife. Such a Romeo and Juliet kind of story.