Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Agra, Day 21

This is our last day in India and unknowingly, I saved the best till last. It was a very long day that started early in the morning and left us at the airport at midnight for the trip home on the first of our 3 flights leaving at 3:15 a.m.

Again we got up at the crack of dawn but I forgot to ask for a breakfast box to go. We were really tired and cranky from the night before after having to sit for 3 hours in the airport waiting for our flight back to Delhi. We had hoped for an early and relaxing dinner. We had to arrange for our bags to be picked up that we had left at the previous hotel figuring we would get them on the way back from the airport. Didn't happen that way and we didn't get to bed till after 11:00. We had to pack everything up and we had a 5:30 a.m. pickup to take the train to Agra where we would be met by our guide and car. At least the weather was nice.

Not a bad train ride.. a bit over 2 hours and our guide was waiting for us. Sunil was really good! First stop was a good hotel so we could use the facilities. I guess I forgot to mention bathrooms... in many places they were just holes in the ground... I have run into this before so it wasn't a shock but I am not as young as I used to be and not as flexible. ( if I recall correctly, the top of the Arc D'Triumph in Paris had one of these ).I passed these up. Some with toilets were also not the cleanest, but I run into that problem here in the U.S. as well. We managed.

Our first stop of the day was the Taj Mahal. I don't care how many pictures you have seen, they don't come close to doing it justice. Besides being drop dead gorgeous, it is also massive in size. It is  very deceiving unless you see it in person. The setting is beautiful.

Gateway into Taj Mahal complex
Agra became an important city during the reign of Akbar in the 16th century. He built what is now Agra Fort and created one of the richest kingdoms. It was in the 17th century that Agra reached its peak during the reign of his grandson, Shah Jahan. It was Shah Jahan who expanded the Fort and built most of the buildings in the city, culminating in the magnificent Taj Mahal. It is made of white marble and is a mausoleum to his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal who is said to have died in childbirth delivering her 14th child. It took 22 years and 22,000 workers to build from 1631-1653. The complex of the Taj consists of the tomb, mosques, gardens, gateway, and fountains.The Taj Mahal sits on a platform that is almost 22 ft high and covers an area of more than 1000 sq. ft. Four minarets are at each of the corners and stand 136 1/2 ft high, each set in such a way that if there is an earthquake they will fall out rather than in. Each side of the Taj is 185 ft long. The stone inlay work is incredibly intricate and is made from precious stones. The technique was passed down from father to son and remained in the family. Women were not allowed to know how it was done for fear they would pass it on to their new husbands family. These skills are being kept alive today and a few family's still create the most gorgeous inlaid marble pieces. We bought a small piece.. they are expensive and heavy, but worth it. Photography was only allowed of the outside of the Taj. We wound up buying an "official" book because I wanted pictures of the interior. The intricate work of the inlays and the lattice is simply stunning. The gardens are serene and peaceful and we didn't want to leave. The only disappointment is that renovation was being done on the waterways and fountains so they were empty. I am so glad we did not see the Taj at the beginning of our trip.
Main entrance to Taj
Inlay with semiprecious stones

Our next stop was one of the local marble cooperatives where we were shown a demonstration on how they created the beautiful inlay work we had seen. It is a very tedious and exacting skill. Lunch in one of the good hotels was delicious... Uh Oh, I was really getting use to and liking Indian food! I never thought that would happen.
small piece we bought


Our next stop was Agra Fort. Most of it is off limits as it is being used by the Indian Army. It is no small complex. Shah Jahan spared nothing when he expanded the fort area. The Palace is built of the same white marble as the Taj. The red is the sandstone. The details of the inlays are exquisite and said to be done by the same artisans who did the Taj Mahal. It sits across the river from the Taj Mahal. In his later years, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his third son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in the Palace in what is referred to as the Jasmine Tower. He died 8 years later in his daughters arms looking across the river at the Taj. He was buried next to his beloved wife.

Fatehpur Sikri entrance
Next on our agenda was Fatehpur Sikri fort which sits about 39 kilometers from Agra. It was the first planned city of the Mughal emperors and was constructed by Akbar. It took 14 years to build but was soon abandoned as it did not have enough water to sustain the population. It was built to honor a Sufi saint who predicted the birth of a son to Akbar. The construction shows the influence of Hindu, Jain, and Islamic styles. Local lore has it that Akbar had 3 wives.. one Hindu, one Christian, and one Islamic. Each of them had their own areas in the complex and some of the designs here would seem to support this. This was the end of our official sightseeing, but not the end of the day.

As I had mentioned in previous posts, our guides were very tuned into my interests. Sunil was no different. He took us to a place that did Zardozi embroidery. This is a 3 dimensional technique where the artist builds up layers and layers of stitches and then adds gorgeous colored silk threads, gold and silver threads, and gemstones to produce very rich and intricate pieces. It has the look of trapunto but it is not. This art form was patronized by the Mughal emperors but because of the price of gold these days has become very expensive. You can see this type of work on evening bags, saris, and wall art. I forgot to take pictures! The pieces were beautiful, but not my style. 

Since the beginning of our trip, I wanted to buy a pair of earrings that were Indian in flavor but not big. Most of the places we looked were either geared for tourists or just did not have what I was looking for..... and I didn't want to haggle. Gold is expensive these days and I did not want to spend another fortune on something I didn't really need. Sunil is engaged to be married in February and he took me to his mother's jeweler who was nice enough to stay open a bit later for us. Most jewelry in India is custom made.... you buy the weight of gold you want and then you design the pieces which are made from it. We walk in and first thing we see is a guard sitting with a shotgun in the vestibule! We had seen this in other places but they were large stores that catered to more mass market. I really did know what I was looking for and unlucky for Ned, I found a lovely pair of earrings that were well within the budget I had set. It was a nice way to top off a fantastic last day in India.

I asked Sunil lots of questions about Indian weddings and customs and he was more than willing to answer my questions. His is an arranged marriage as are most Hindu marriages, however, both the prospective bride and groom had to agree. I suspect this is not the case in the outlying villages. I wish them both a lot of luck.

He dropped us off at the train station for our trip back to Delhi where we were picked up by the local representative and taken to the airport for our trip home. If you haven't figured it out yet, we loved India and had a fantastic trip! I intend to go back.

Next posts will be of the textiles we bought. Some won't be till the end of the month because we bought some as gifts and I would like there to be some surprises.

I know many of you have been following our trip and I thank you for taking the time out to read the posts, and a special thank you to those who have left comments and written privately to me. I really have enjoyed writing this up. I have never kept a journal before so this is a way for me to have something besides pictures.


Rayna said...

I wanna see the earrings! Glad you found exactly what you wanted.

Sandy said...

I never dreamed of inlay of precious stones in marble. Fantastic! I also want to see a pic of the jewelry!

Art by Rhoda Forbes said...

I have enjoyed the journey so much. Thanks for taking the time to not only post pics of your travel but also write a travel log for us. The inlaid pieces are fantastic, of course I see some beautiful applique inspiration there. Thanks so much.

Vivien Zepf said...

Thanks for all the great background. Your details help bring these sites alive.

deanna7trees said...

your descriptions were the next best thing to being there. the earrings are beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Thank you dear friend for the trip dialogue... I am sorry it has ended, but glad it is on your blog, because I will be back to read it all again. What an awesome holiday for you! and because I love Indian food, I am glad you have learned to like it. I enjoyed every day, every ride, every tour and I must say you are a fabuous tour guide yourself! And you look great in 'costume'.Where I live in Canada, we have a large East Indian population, so the food and clothing are familiar. I have yet to try on Indian garb... not for lack of wanting to.
I saw the earrings above.... and I would have bought them too. A lovely reminder of a fabulous trip.
I particularly enjoyed the 'art-itecture'... inlaid marble, the Taj Mahal, ornate buildings....even the simple life...
Again, thank you... and I am looking forward to seeing your purchases.

Norma Schlager said...

I finally took the time to sit down and read all of your travel blogs and I'm so glad that I did. Your pictures and dialog were could write guides!

I also loved seeing all the fabric and garments you bought. I must say I'm a bit envious. I also must say that they look great on you.

Thanks for taking the time to document your trip. I know that it's a lot of work, but it certainly was inspiring.