Thursday, January 11, 2007
January 11th, 2007
India is a war for the senses. Today we are in Agra; the city of the seventh Wonder of the World; the Taj Mahal. Let me try to express the overwhelming feelings I have in this country. We start our day in the Delhi Train Station at 4:30 am waiting for our train to arrive. It’s near freezing and there is no heat. The station is grimy and smells of urine and rotting garbage. We are riding second class so almost everyone here is Indian. They are wrapped in dirty blankets to stay warm. Trains are routinely several hours late at this time of the year because of fog. Fog means no visibility which can be a very dangerous situation in a country that allows cows to roam unrestricted through the cities and roads. Our train arrives only an hour late. There is no heating on the train but I brought a sleeping bag with me so we lie on a bench seat and shiver together for the four hour trip to Agra. The Hotel we booked is really nice, but again, no heat. It costs 450 rupees for a night (about $11.00 Canadian). We drop off our stuff and book an Autorickshaw and driver to take us around. Agra is an ancient city. It’s four hundred years old and the architecture is wonderful but very dirty. As we pass through the city we see people everywhere; selling their wares in the market, or riding on broken down carts or whizzing along on motor bikes. There are pigs eating out of puddles of garbage along the road, and everywhere, monkeys and cows. There are no speed limits. When you can go you go as fast as you can. What stops you is traffic and people and cows. When you stop there is almost always a child begging with his hand out or someone selling postcards or a mother nursing her baby and asking for a few rupees. It’s noisy and dirty and then there is suddenly the blaring music of a passing parade. As I look to my left I see a camel pulling a cart full of rice. To my left there is an elephant walking along; or a bazaar of strikingly beautiful dyed cotton garments or a man selling somosas. My senses are reeling with the beauty and the pain and the noise and the smell and the grandeur; all at once. And then we arrive at the Taj Mahal.
I am wondering if I will really find the Taj to be as beautiful and wonderous as everyone says. I have seen some amazing sights and I think I might be a bit jaded by now. But I am not disappointed. When you see the postcards of this monument you might think it is out in the country somewhere. But it’s not. It’s inside a gigantic courtyard that hides it completely from view from three sides. The only way you can see it is to look up from the Yuma river. Our driver takes us past a herd of cattle to the banks of the river to view the Taj from the rear. I want you to understand that when I describe this building I am not exaggerating in any way. As I first look upon it, it is like looking at a mystical vision in a dream. It has a misty appearance from this distance. Even from so far away it makes me shiver to see something so incredible. Our driver teases us with other sights in the area for a few hours before finally taking us to the entrance to the Taj. We walk through a red Archway and there ahead of us is this incredible mosoleum. The Taj was build four hundred years ago by a Maharaja. He was passionately in love with his wife. She fell ill and when she was on her death-bed she asked that he erect a monument as a token of his love for her. He hired the greatest craftsmen in the world. It took two thousand arisans twenty-two years to complete this one building. It’s made from the finest marble and the designs you see are made from jewels and semi precious jewels that are glued into the marble by a secret technique that is only known to the workers in Agra. When the Taj Mahal was complete, each craftsman had his thumb cut off so that he could never duplicate his work anywhere else. The Taj is so striking to look at that it is impossible to take a photo that does it justice. As wonderful as it looks on film is not nearly how beautiful it is to see with the eye. When we went through the huge hand carved archway I hear the inner sound like the collective strings of an orchestra playing a sustained note in perfect harmony. The inner sanctum contains an eight-sided trellis wall with an arched doorway that reveals two marble tombs. One is in the exact center of the Building and contains the Queen. The second tomb is larger and off-center. It’s the only thing in the whole structure that is not symmetrical. It contains the tomb of the Maharaja himself. His tomb looks out of place; and so it should. He never intended his tomb to be there. He began construction of a second Taj that was to be identical to his wife’s except in Black. His son finally stepped in and stopped construction. He declared his father insane and had him imprisoned until his death. The Taj Mahal is a testament to an incredible Love Story.