Wednesday, March 7, 2012


We are in Agra because everyone who comes to India must see the Taj Mahal.  I did that on my last trip, however this is Lloyd's first time.  I've taken 11 pictures in the last couple of days and he's taken over 200!

I had to take this picture quickly because of other tourists vying for the same spot in front of the reflecting pool.
Unfortunately Agra is also an industrial city with lots of pollution so the beautiful white marble doesn't stand out well from the grey horizon.

The setting sun
The Taj closes 1/2 hour after sunset, and it was most disturbing to be hustled along by whistle-blowing police who wanted to make sure we were in and out quickly.  None-the-less, the marble showed up beautifully in this light.  It is a very beautiful complex and well-maintained, absolutely amazing to consider the resources that went into its construction (1631 - 1652) and now to maintain it...all for the love by a king, Shahjahan for his favourite wife who died young.

Yesterday we hired an auto rickshaw (tuk-tuk is not a word commonly used here) and went over to the other side of the river for a back view.
Lloyd's father always wanted to see the Taj Mahal.
 One of the nice things about our hotel room is that we have a bit of a view of the Taj.

The view from our window at about 5:20 PM.
Last time I was here, Wendy and I stayed on the eastern side of the Taj, and didn't venture over to this side.  Lloyd and I have discovered that there is a large park and so it was possible for us to walk about 1.5 km from the Taj western gate to the Agra Fort without being in traffic.  It's a common refrain now for us--where can we go to get away from the traffic??

Agra Fort is an immense complex built mainly of red sandstone in the mid 1500's by the great Mughal Emperor Akbar.  There are many exquisite buildings within, many made of white marble.
This is a beautiful garden laid out like a Persian carpet (the Mughals were Persian in origin.)
The elderly king Shahjehan was held captive in 1666 in this beautiful space while two of his sons were fighting over succession.
He could see his beloved Taj from one of the windows.
Yesterday we also enjoyed visiting the Itmad-ud-daulah or Baby Taj on the other side of the river.  It was built also as a mausoleum in the early 1600's.
The main entrance to the mausoleum.  The jali (screens) are carved from marble.
The exquisite marble inlay or "pietra dura" was first used in this building, foreshadowing its use at the Taj Mahal a few years later.

And I took a knitting break under the shade of a tree while Lloyd went off to explore the building in detail...

I'm now working on my third shawl, this one out of navy crochet cotton that I bought in Singapore.
We hired a car and driver for the 40 km trip to Fatehpur Sikri a marvelous fort again built from red sandstone by the Emperor Akbar in the late 1500's.  Unfortunately, only a few short years after he occupied it with his three queens, numerous concubines, and a massive number of servants, it was abandoned due to a lack of water.  The last time I was there, Wendy and I were besieged by men all clamouring to be our guide..."you'll get lost!"  "You won't know what you're looking at!" etc, etc, so that we didn't hire any of them, and indeed we did get lost and we didn't know what we were looking at!  So, this time, Lloyd and I decided to hire a guide.  We told the driver we wanted an approved government guide.  "No problem, sir, I can arrange that."  He took us to the spot where approved guides were stationed and we were told the price was 400 Rs plus 80 Rs for the tuk-tuk.  So we agreed and off we went (no private cars are allowed up the narrow road to the monument).  At the ticket wicket, I noticed a big sign stating the approved rates for hiring a guide...250 Rs!!  Quite a difference.  We pointed this out to the guide, and after a little big of shrugging on his part, he agreed that it would only cost us 250 provided we paid the tuk-tuk driver. (No problem--we'd expected to do that.)  While we were buying our entrance ticket, he was on his phone to his boss presumably telling him that we had noticed the sign...  None-the-less, he was professional explaining the various rooms to us, and we felt that we had a reasonable experience with him.

When we arrived back at the guide station, we were obviously persona-non-grata...  We made sure to pay the guide his 250 Rs directly, and while his big boss probably got a cut of that later, our driver's commission was less as well or maybe non-existent.  So the ride back into town was a little quieter with much less conversation!  The driver did make an effort to provide us with another service however--finding a "wine shop" that actually sells wine.  When we parted company and paid the balance owing on the bill, Lloyd explained that his tip would have been larger had he been truthful about the guide fees.  He obviously got our message, and I also reinforced this in my comments in his guest book.

We also visited Sikandara, the mausoleum of Emperor Akbar completed in 1613.  This was another peaceful park with deer grazing the grass!
Another knitting break!
Sikandara is another beautiful complex...

Our defenses are wearing down.  It's definitely time to be home where we understand how business is done.  We're getting tired of having to negotiate fees, and feeling that we're being ripped off.  I'm getting tired of being surrounded by children with their hands out, asking for sweets, pens, or 10 rupees.  I want to sleep in smooth sheets and use a towel that I know is clean!  I want to breathe clean air and get rid of this chronic sinus congestion.

We're taking a break this morning in our room and haven't ventured outside on the street at all.  It's Holi, the Hindu festival of colour.  We had thought we might participate (even going so far as to buy some natural colours) but realized yesterday that the build-up was immense and had the potential to get out of hand.  Indeed the partying started last night with bonfires on the street in the middle of the night, and since early this morning people (mostly boys and men) have been roaming the streets with their coloured powders and dyes in water guns.  We've been watching from our window and there does seem to be some typical action--men hugging each other 3 times (a bit like Europeans kissing the air on each side of the head) and then sprinkling powder either on the feet or rubbing it on the face.
Note the boy in the background with his gun of coloured dye!  He was firing at kids on the rooftop.

 The boys are of course more rambunctous and the last thing we want is to be hit in the face with these toxic powders or dyes.  There are also a lot of very drunk men stumbling around who probably didn't sleep at all last night.

And finally, here is how the two of us have spent the morning--me at the computer and Lloyd at the window with his camera!
Lloyd is holding his camera at waist level and he's reflected in the mirror in front of me.
We leave for Delhi tomorrow, hopefully by train, but that depends on getting confirmed tickets this afternoon.  They've been promised....

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