It has been a few days, although we have done so much it seems like a week! We are now in Agra where we visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and the place that they make marble items with the most exquisite inlays I have ever seen.
We got up this morning at 5 AM and were at the Taj Mahal for sunrise. It was beautiful, but unfortunately a bit overcast. The pollution is also so bad here that on many days there is a constant haze that hangs over everything. On our drive from New Delhi (again terrifying!) we passed an oil refinery. Our guide told us that this has contributed terribly to the pollution around the Taj (as everyone affectionately calls it).
The Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It took 22 years and 20,000 men to build it. It is built from the white marble found in the center of the state of Rajasthan, which is the state we are touring in India. It is mined about 200 miles from here and all of the marble was brought by elephant. This marble is not found anywhere else in the world. It has a translucent quality that allows light to pass through it, but it is impervious to rain and weather. The craftsman that built the Taj so long ago, put very intricate inlays of semi precious stone, such as lapis lazuli, malachite, turquoise, onyx, abalone and carnelian thoughout the marble of the Taj Mahal. The craft has been passed down from generation to generation and the men that make inlaid marble items today, everything from tables to boxes to carved figures, are directly descended from those that built the Taj Mahal. Pictures of the Taj are incredible, but truly do not do it justice. It is so much larger than you can imagine.
After we experienced the Taj and all of the colorful people that came to see it, we toured the Fort at Agra. This was started in the mid 1500â€™s by the Emperor Akbar. It sits across the bend of the Yumana river from Taj. Each successive Emperor, being the son of the one before, tended to destroy the buildings that were at any given palace and use the stone to rebuild one for themselves in their own style. But portions of the Agra Fort were not destroyed because they were the home of the mothers of the next two Emperors in succession and they kept them intact out of respect for their mothers.
As I mentioned we toured the local factory where they make the delicately inlaid marble items. I spent the last hour this evening after dinner negotiating with a local shopkeeper to purchase some items. I picked out a beautiful plate that I plan to give to my mother when we return. Sssssshhhhhhhh Daddy, itâ€™s a secret!
My father and I spent part of the afternoon standing on a street corner trying to capture pictures of the many people they fit onto one motorcycle. The record so far is 6, three adults and three childrenâ€¦.on one motorcycle! Many times we saw families of 4 and 5. And to think, in the USA they would buy a minivan or SUV!
This afternoon I found some musical instruments that were fascinating. Miss Wallach, the music teacher at NES asked me to pick up any instruments if I thought I could get them home! Well Kim, you are now the proud owner of a flute, called a Sehnai. And a single stringed and wonderful instrument called a Gopi Shanker. I am sure she will share with all of you at NES.
I saw my first elephant yesterday. I turned in the car and found him standing right next to us. I continue to be fascinated with the children and the animals. I am sure I have far too many pictures of both. I have taken pictures of dogs, goats, cattle, horses, pigs, water buffalo, and donkeys. Today a small child of about 4 was quite taken with me. He kept coming over and wanting to play with me and smile and giggle. Just like children everywhere! Many pictures were taken by everyone around of the two of us. The people here are as fascinated by us as we are by them. Our guide explained that many of them come from rural areas and do not see many foreigners. I have had my photo taken I think more often than I have taken photos of Indians! I love it! I am more than happy to pose with people for the photos that they will take home and share with their own families.
It is hard to believe that this is only day 6. Tomorrow is it off to Fatehpur Sikri, also built by Emperor Akbar the Great India 1569 and then deserted 14 years later because itâ€™s water supply failed. From there we head to Ranthambore where we will spend 2 days on safari ant the national park looking for tigers, as well as crocodiles, hyenas, jungle cats, (panthers!) and sloth bears. The birds are reported to be amazing as well.
So, until Ranthambore, Namaste to all.