»
S
I
D
E
B
A
R
«
Road Terror, the Taj Mahal, and other TOTALLY over-the-top forts and mausoleums
March 28th, 2010 by Kate
Okay, look closely now - we COUNTED 11 people on the roof - and 26 inside!!!  This is a nine-passenger van!  The most amazing thing is that we saw more than one van like this that had at least 20 more people in/on it!

Okay, look closely now - we COUNTED 11 people on the roof - and 26 inside!!! This is a nine-passenger van! The most amazing thing is that we saw more than one van like this that had at least 20 more people in/on it!

So our trip from Delhi to Agra didn’t go as smoothly as we planned.  Our eight hour car ride turned into 11 hours in the car, with one car accident, one fist fight, three very bad side-of-the-road restaurant meals, one carsick kid and one carsick parent, no fewer than 3 motorcyclist hit with our rearview mirrors, and hundreds upon hundreds (I am NOT exaggerating here) of barely avoided collisions with large colorful overload trucks carrying everything from tires to asphalt, chickens to people.  I was sitting in the front seat to try and quell my carsickness, and from my vantage point I was FOR SURE the worst parent in the world for putting my kids through the misery (and sheer peril) of this car ride.  In the eleven hours we on the road, we saw EIGHT overturned trucks (of the brightly painted variety), two car accidents that involved fire  and blood, about 2,000 various animals wandering though traffic (1,500 of which were cows), and one car-into-the-back-of-said-brightly-painted-truck that resulted in a person without a head.  Nice.

cows

cows in townThere actually may have been more examples of death and mayhem to report, but I decided to put on my i-pod and close my eyes for the last four hours of our ride home.  I only opened them when the driver slammed on the breaks so hard my seatbelt choked me, or when I’d hear “THUMP” and look around to see that the motorcyclist, pedestrian, or cow that we’d just sideswiped with our side mirrors was still moving.  If I had to re-count the most stressful 24 hours of my life, this ride would account for 11 of them.

This is the "Little Taj".  I know it looks nothing like the Taj Mahal, they call it that because appearently it was the first time the King made the entire inside with white marble which made it much more light and bright inside... or at least that is what we THINK the guard told us...

This is the "Little Taj". I know it looks nothing like the Taj Mahal, they call it that because appearently it was the first time the King made the entire inside with white marble which made it much more light and bright inside... or at least that is what we THINK the guard told us...

The one positive thing that came out of our “journey” was that when we pulled over for the second time after our accident (so the 7 men in the van we hit could beat up our driver), we stopped at this really really pretty mausoleum that was the pre-curser to the Taj.  Everyone called it the little Taj, and while I can’t for the life of me find the paper I wrote the name of it on – I have a few great pictures!  If anyone out there knows the name of it, please give us a holler and I’ll update the blog!

Our first sighting of the Taj was from a busy street in Agra that was situated high above the river valley that winds behind the Taj.  The pollution was pretty bad, but even through the haze you could see how magnificent it is.  Thankfully, some wise person a long time ago had the foresight to keep the rest of the city at arm’s length from the grounds, so there is a 2km swath of river and grassy-ish plains surrounding the sides and backside of the Taj Mahal grounds.

That building in background is the "gate" leading up to the Taj Mahal entrance (looking at it from the Taj).  As you can see it is pretty impressive in its own right.

That building in background is the "gate" leading up to the Taj Mahal entrance (looking at it from the Taj). As you can see it is pretty impressive in its own right.

We had pre-arranged a guide (his name was “Money”- god I love being a tourist and being at the mercy of tour guides) to bring us to the Taj Mahal and to the Agra fort, so after meeting up with him we made our way to the west entrance of the grounds.  There are actually 3 entrances, the west one was reserved for the royal family (and that’s where the tourists now enter), an east one that the locals and current employees use, and a south entrance that was where the actual Taj construction workers used way-back-when.  The passageways for the entrances are located within a huge rectangular wall/building complex that creates a giant courtyard.  On the northern side of the courtyard, mostly blocking your view of the Taj, is a massive arched gate building that provides a pretty spectacular build-up to finally seeing the Taj.

Throngs of people bottleneck at the arched gate because as you walk through the largest arch, it makes a perfect framed view of the unbelievable building.  You can not help yourself but to stop and add to the bottleneck of humanity.  It is truly an amazing sight (sadly, no photo could do it justice), and just seeing the Taj made our entire trip to India worth it.Taj through frame of gate

As you pass out of the gate, your perspective changes as the expense of the grounds of the building are visible.  The gardens are just like you see in the photos, green and pretty and with fountains lined up perfectly dissecting the middle of the vista.  We were bummed to find the fountains empty for cleaning, and missed out seeing the famous Taj reflection in the waters, but your eyes are SO drawn towards the building, we quickly forget the fountains.Taj Mahal

We spent a bit of time doing the hokey tourist photo ops that our tour guide insisted that we take (pushing the Taj over, jumping over it, putting your finger on the top of the dome, and catching the reflection of the Taj in our sunglasses – oooh so cool) and then we went to see it up close.Taj dome & tessa

Taj phoebe jumping

Taj w familyThe entire building is giant blocks of white marble, and the closer you get the more you need your sunglasses.  Phoebe didn’t have any, and could barely open her eyes once we were on the main level of the building looking up at it.  From afar you have no idea that most of the surface of the building is intricately carved – but aside from the dome, every square inch is covered in carved vines, flowers, patterns, and Arabic inscription (the king who built is was Arabic, the architect Turkish, and the beloved wife who it was built for was from India).  Also, there is quite a bit of color on the building (I always thought it was all white) in the form of semi-precious inlays.  The thing that surprised me the most though was that the building was really small inside.  There’s one room with two stone coffins (very high ceilings obviously, but not such a big room considering the size of the building), and a few very small anti-chambers around the edge of the burial room that didn’t seem to have any purpose other than to provide light into the center room.  I was really shocked that is was so small inside – for some reason I thought it was sort of like a palace with many rooms.  Hum.  The other thing I didn’t know about the Taj Mahal is that it is not just symmetrical from the front view, it is totally symmetrical on all four sides.  The “back” of the building looks over a very wide river (it was really shallow when we were there) and if you stand in “line” with the entrance and look across the river, you can see where the king was going to build his black Taj Mahal for himself!  I had heard this story, but thought it was a rumor – but no, he totally had plans for his own fabulous mausoleum too.Taj marble detail

This is behind the Taj looking towards the river and the land the King was going to build the black Taj on.  Check out the kids riding the water buffalo across the river - totally India!

This is behind the Taj looking towards the river and the land the King was going to build the black Taj on. Check out the kids riding the water buffalo across the river - totally India!

As it turned out, the King’s plans were VERY expensive, and his son decided to overthrow him anyway – so in the end, the king was imprisoned in a very nice wing of the Agra Fort (they call them forts here – but they are actually VERY amazing royal palaces) and he spent the end of his life with a lovely view of the Taj Mahal from all of his windows.

The entrance to Agra Fort

The entrance to Agra Fort

One of the many grand courtyards inside the fort.  I had the mistaken idea that forts were for armies, but in India, the kings lived in the forts and wow are they grand!

One of the many grand courtyards inside the fort. I had the mistaken idea that forts were for armies, but in India, the kings lived in the forts and wow are they grand!

Shortly after the King finished the Taj Mahal for his wife, he was overthown by his son who imprisoned him here in the Agra Fort.  At least he had a good view of his masterpiece!

Shortly after the King finished the Taj Mahal for his wife, he was overthown by his son who imprisoned him here in the Agra Fort. At least he had a good view of his masterpiece!


4 Responses  
Pappy writes:
March 28th, 2010 at 8:50 am

Hi Guys (Girls)
Just finished your March 28 — Had quite a laught. Now you-all been 2 places
that I never got to, the Pyramids and the Taj Mahal. I can understand your bus
trip, as I have ridden a number of those type buses and rickshaws — BUT I doubt
I could handle 11 HOURS! Pictures were wonderful. PAPPY

Satnam writes:
March 29th, 2010 at 9:11 am

So, I think I mentioned the India traffic thing when you guys were in China. I wish my in laws in Delhi could have hooked you up with some more reputable drivers. When we drove to Agra 2 years ago it took us 6 hours going and 8 hours returning (it had rained). We stopped at a McDonalds for lunch on the way and when I told my niece (from India) that we don’t do McDonalds she turned to me in the car and said “clean food (also veggie dishes and clean bathrooms”. That sold me. I never complained again about any roadside food places that the family took me to after that. I am sorry India was such a bummer. I wish you could have seen the nicer side.

Theresa Sanchez writes:
April 9th, 2010 at 8:21 am

So glad to know that you all are doing well and still on the move. Love all the pictures and wait till the next posts. And thanks for keeping it real Kate. This makes for good future planning! Tell Phoebe and Tessa Isabel say holla from AZ!

Alison writes:
April 12th, 2010 at 2:43 am

Hi Kate,

Don’t know if you remember but we met in the city of Udaipur. I took a look of your photos and they are nearly exactly the same as ours…

Anyway, I live in Paris and you said that you may be passing through in May for your birthday, so look us up. We’re away from 9-16 for my birthday.

Bon continuation! as we say in French.

Alison & Didier

Leave a Reply

»  Substance: WordPress   »  Style: Ahren Ahimsa