Mesmerising India – Taj Mahal

We started the day (day 4) early in the morning about 5:45 AM trying to beat the traffic. Our first stop was at Mathura to visit Lord Krishna’s birth place. The Iskon temple is a fully marble structure which left me least impressed. I somehow don’t like the idea of worshipping latter day saints. Mathura is a city in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh. The streets lining the temple are filled with shops and street peddlars. Seeing a tourist vehicle, there are many who descend upon you for guiding you, some of them evey rowdy-like. We had to drive past them with faces peering down the window. This was the case all over our trip anyway. You feel almost threatened by these locals wanting your business.

The Hindu letter OM inscribed on the Taj
The Hindu letter OM inscribed on the Taj24-Aug-2011 13:14, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.05 sec, ISO 1000
 

The Krishna-janmabhoomi is the prison where Lord Krishna was born. There is a huge temple built surrounding this. But the very place is the highlight. It somehow brought peace upon ourselves just to sit there and recollect how He may have been there thousands of years back. Unfortunately no photography was allowed. We had to leave our cameras and cell phones at the office outside. Just a decade back, I would have been hesitant to leave an expensive electronic equipment at the door step of any Indian temple, but now things have changed with more tourists and awareness. I got back all of our cell phone, worth over a thousand dollars w/o contracts, intact. The Krishna-janmabhoomi is next to a mosque which isn’t surprising – a Muslim emperor built one sometime during the late 20th century.

Driving to Mathura was an experience by itself. As you drive away from Delhi, you start to see a mix of green fields and small towns. Filth and poverty are rampant. It is no wonder, that Gandhiji felt the pain upon his return from South Africa. Such poverty, after six decades of independence, is solely the cause of corrupt politicians whose main goal is to further themselves than those of others who elect them. Fortunately, the Anna Hazare movement is having an impact on Indian politics. Last week many of the ministers including the PM, came forth with their assets. While the amounts are questionable in many cases, it sets the precedent for such openness for future.

The marble is translucent making the Taj glow in moon light
The marble is translucent making the Taj glow in moon light24-Aug-2011 13:03, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 10.775mm, 0.002 sec, ISO 80
The ultimate dream resting place?
The ultimate dream resting place?24-Aug-2011 12:30, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 15.673mm, 0.001 sec, ISO 80
 
Pictures aren’t enough to portray the beauty of the Taj Mahal. No expert videography will do justice to the entity that is the Taj. If there were ever can be a man-made structure that would rival nature’s own, the Taj would occupy the top of the list. It is so much different than other man made structures such as palaces, forts, churches, etc. I guess the underlying cause for this is Shahjahan’s intention of capturing his love for his dear one. The monument is pristine in its attempt to portray that love, the elements of love are all over the place. The Taj has four gates in each of the directions. The gates themselves are something to marvel about. The Taj was built in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The construction completed in 1693 and is a now recognized as a world heritage center. There are rumors that Shahjahan cut of hands of all the workers so that such a building could never be built, but that is only a rumor – there were 20,000 workers working for over 20 years to finish the construction. This is a structure of perfect symmetry from all sides. The walls on the outside have scripts from the Koran inscribed on them. The text at the top of are of larger size than those at the bottom so that they all appear of the same size to the viewer from a distance. The inlays are of 28 different precious and semi-precious stones. The main monument is surrounded by pretty imposing other mausoleums themselves – tombs of his other wives. The entire Taj was covered with black covering during the 1971 Indo-Pak war to keep from being sighted. You can see the Hindu letter OM engraved on the walls in memory of one of the Hindu wives of Shahjahan.
Bulund Darwaza - world's tallest gate at 58 m tall
Bulund Darwaza - world's tallest gate at 58 m tall24-Aug-2011 18:01, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 3.2, 10.775mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 80
24-Aug-2011 13:54, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 2.8, 6.1mm, 0.017 sec, ISO 80
 
Our guide, whom we picked up on the way into the Taj, did a great job of explaining the many aspects of the Taj. We were advised of many pick pockets and not to talk to anyone else as we might get misleading information – a bit of a misgiving. My advice is to seek a official guide – a Govt. of Tourism approved one. It is hard to find these easily. As soon as you drive into the vicinity you get mobbed by people wanting to be your guides. Best thing to do, or what I would do next time, is to park your vehicle and scout around the ticket booth and check around.
Inside the Fatehpur-sikri
Inside the Fatehpur-sikri24-Aug-2011 17:27, Canon Canon PowerShot G12, 4.0, 12.074mm, 0.004 sec, ISO 80
 
Lunch was at the Oberoi next door to the Taj. Every room has a view of the Taj. The hotel itself is a super five-star one. It is a fact that the Oberoi group of hotels has the most loyalty among all known brand of hotels in the world, including the Ritz, et al. The interior of the hotel is a fitting neighbour to the Taj. The afternoon took us to Fatehpursikri, a fort or a self-contained city built by Emperor Akbar around 1570. The entrance to the fort – Buland Darwaza – is allegedly the largest door in the world at 54 meters tall. Unfortunately we had one of the locals posing as a guide with official documentation who bargained us into his services. The whole experience was regrettable and this is another monument that lacks strict enforcement of  visitor-friendliness that is essential for attracting tourists. Once here, the place takes you back literally into the medival times – the streets leading up the Darwaza are packed with street vendors and structures that show no signs of modernization. It is as though people there are resigned to the fact that living in old times is the way it should be. If not for poverty, I bet the experiences of visitors would be better.

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