Wednesday, September 12, 2007

All Aboard! to Agra

Bags stowed for a few days in Delhi, we headed out this morning with backpacks for Agra via the train. We were both excited as this was our first train experience ever. We had been warned that the train station can be a bit daunting and they were right. Swarmed by people eager to carry a bag or give directions for a price, we made our way to platform 1. Everyone pretty much listens when they hear a stern “no” and we’ve learned you just have to walk with confidence like you know were you are going. No sooner had we found some ground space to call our own, we ran into the Welser’s again. The 2002 Bhopal Shatabdi was late so we circled the wagons and chatted with them to pass the 2 hours time delay. Their youngest, with red curly hair and pale skin creates quite a stir. It seems that people of India have rarely seen someone with his physical characteristics and stop a foot or two away, staring with intrigue.

Pulling away from the station, we could already see the terrain begin to change. From congested city life we rolled into blips of color amongst a sea of green, only to find that these were the women workers tending to the rice fields. Occasionally, you would see a few cattle or a factory, but for the most part the country side remained flat and green. Aboard train, we were served a veg breakfast which consisted of 2 slices of white bread with jam and butter, 2 potato patties with a scoop of mixed vegetables and a couple french fries. Mango juice and tea were served to keep the edge on the incredible thirst we have here. Agra soon arrived and the scramble for the prepaid taxi booth began. It is nerve racking to try and figure out where you are supposed to go, all the while hearing people yelling for you to come here or there and trying to drown out the horns and train noise.

By the time we reached the Tajview Hotel, we had made friends with and arrangements to have our drivers Alseph and Satish guide us through our day of sites. Life is short, so see the Taj Mahal first, I always say, so that is where we started the tour. Let me just say that because the famous Taj icon is absolutely everywhere I was prepared to be disappointed, but honestly, it is one of the most stunning and peaceful places I’ve ever been. Pictures simply do not do it justice. The marble inlay is incredible and in excellent condition considering that construction of this masterpiece took 20,000 workers and 22 years to complete in 1663. The gate leading to the main structure, mosque and guest house, although not typically in pictures are remarkable in themselves. Alseph guided us through the grounds telling the story of life and love between Shan Jahan and his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal and how he built this temple to honor her in her death.

Along our journey, Alseph shared that he has an arranged marriage that just took place in May. Alseph became ready for marriage when he completed his schooling and took a government job as a tour guide. His parents chose for him a local girl. The parents of both families met on several occasions finally agreeing to the marriage. He hopes to have two children, one boy and one girl, although he smiled and said two girls would be okay too ;)

Next we went to a marble inlay co-op to see how it is crafted. Truly a labor of love, the seventeen family descendants of the craftsmen who actually built the Taj are still staying true to the procedure that was originally used....carved marble and gemstone by hand, not by machine. The government pays the salaries of these artisans so that as the Taj requires renovation, there is a professional to do the job. Fascinating.

We stopped for a spot of lunch at Indianas where I ate myself silly in lentils (dal) and rice. Yummy food only refueled us for more site seeing. Agra fort was next on the list, which is where the mughul leaders actually lived. There is a long and twisted story of how each of the mughal leaders had come into power and how they performed during their reign. Alsep explained how the city of palaces operated during the time of each of the reigning rulers. One, Alkbar, managed to house and keep 3 wives and 362 concubines in these amazing grounds!

Currently, we are sitting in our 5th floor room of the Tajview hotel enjoying just that....a Taj View. Is is absolutely incredible. Slowly giving up the day, the sun is beginning to set casting the most beautiful shadows across this symetrical wonder. Once white, then tan now a hint of pink. Awesome.


The Labontes said...

We are loving the slideshows, Julie. Great pics! We're so glad that that first flat tire wasn't foreshadowing :)

Take care, and thank you for sharing!

Gary Chaussee said...

Julie, We miss you terribly but are enjoying your blog travelogue so much! I did a mural of the Taj Mahal in 6th grade (in pastels) so I was especially thrilled to see it from your perspective. Simply stunning! I also wanted to report that the fertility gods have smiled upon my fish tank....I have a new batch of 14 tiny babies who for some reason have proved to be less than appetizing to their parents! God bless you both on this marvelous adventure(I mean you three!) Peace! ~GARY

Pam said...

Your posts are amazing! You and Karen are not disappointing me with my bloggy addictions! Can't wait to read your thoughts on Kolkata and meeting Devi!
Enjoy it some for me too! ;o)

Sandy & Butch said...

It's happening! Can you believe it is just DAYS now? After the years of waiting? Probably good to have sightseeing to fill the time but I honestly don't know how you're "seeing" anything knowing she's right around the corner.
Can't wait to see the photo with Devi's space filled in! Do you think your smiles can get any bigger?