Mar 9, 2011

The Taj Mahal

On the same weekend that we visited the Agra Fort, we also toured the Taj Mahal.  We had an awesome tour guide that made sure we got there early before it got crowded.  We were able to enjoy the serenity of the 7th wonder of the world aside from all the craziness that was going on all around it.  When I say craziness, I mean the traffic of India and the hustle and bustle of the streets next to the entrance.  (If you are curious to see a glimpse of light traffic here, check out this video.  It is older but still fairly accurate on what to expect.
It was an amazing opportunity to be able to experience the Taj Mahal.

Entrance to the Taj
Looking back from the Taj Mahal toward the entrance
I was listening I promise - tour guide telling the history of the Taj Mahal

Just proof I was actually there!  :)

Hand carved stones and marble created the walkway to the Taj

A current day active mosque used each Friday - the Taj Mahal is closed to tourists on Friday to allow for worship in the mosque.
Closer view of the mosque

It was a little hazy, but still beautiful!

I can't even describe how large this structure is in person.

It took 22 years to complete due to the workmanship that was involved.
Huge arch over the main entrance
So breathtaking when you know how much went into the construction of this!

Beautfiul inlay and carving work around the entry doorway to the Taj Mahal

Intricate patterns carved into the marble surround the replica tombs on the first floor.  The real tombs are underground, but the replicas are directly behind this wall.  It is too dark to get a good picture of the replicas up close.

Of course, you have your guards on duty standing around observing everyone.
Camel ride anyone?  They were taking people back and forth on the short walk from the street to the Taj Mahal's entrance.
Up close and personal
"Wild" monkeys along the pathway - they can be aggressive, but these particular ones are use to people feeding them.  We still steered clear of their immediate path!

I am very grateful to have had this opportunity to see such an amazing structure and to experience a little more of India while I was here.  It has been an eye opening experience for me being in this country for three weeks - away from family and friends.  It has helped me put my life into perspective and to realize all the many things I have to be grateful for in my life.  I am truly blessed to have the life I have and to have all the amazing and wonderful family and friends that provide love, friendship, and support for me and my family.  I can't wait to be back home and to see everyone!  Only a few more days to go......

Mar 6, 2011

The Agra Fort

The Agra fort is more commonly known as a walled city due to its size.  Akbar, the third Mughal emperor, began the construction of this fort made of red sandstone on the banks of the Yamuna river in 1565.  The fort was completed in 1571 with additions made later. During Akbar's time, it served mostly military purposes, but Akbar's grandson, ShahJahan, also used it as a palace and court.
The fort spreads over a triangular area measuring 1.5 miles.  The structure is crescent shaped with colossal double walls 20 m in height and 2.5 km in circumference.  The fort is surrounded by a 9 m wide & 10 m deep moat.  It was an amazing structure to visit, and it is still in pretty good condition after all these years.   

Going to the Agra Fort

Entering the fort
One section of this massive fort made of stones

Marble design that was hand carved for the Agra Fort.

One of the ruler's rooms overlooking the river valley

Common grounds where they would hold parades of the concubines for the ruler!

This basin is a huge bath that was transported to different locations that the rulers stayed when not at the was HUGE!

Entry way to another section of the fort

Intricate designs carved into the marble facade

Those doorways led to the concubine rooms - as many as 700 concubines lived in this fort during one of the ruler's time.  If you look closely, the section directly below the people standing is a 'soaking area' for the women.  Those spaces are seats where they would sit. 

Beautiful archways in the common ground area

A double moat surrounded the fort for protection.

Mar 4, 2011

The Trip to & from Agra

We travelled the long journey to Agra, India from Bangalore to visit the Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort.  Let me just say it was quite the weekend!!!  We were only gone from early Saturday morning to late Sunday evening.  We had a 6 am flight from Bangalore to Delhi which meant leaving work around 2 am and loading into a car to drive a minimum of 1 hour to the airport.  It normally takes 2 hours no thanks to Indian traffic.  :)  Our flight to Delhi was about 2.5 hours long, then we loaded up in a car again to drive to Agra.  The distance is around 150 miles, or 250 km, one way roughly.  Now, when I say loaded up, I mean we loaded up!  There were a total of seven adults in a car the size of a small American minivan, so it was a tight squeeze (mostly for those in the back row)!    It took us 7.5 hours to get those 150 miles with an hour or so for lunch.  That had to be the longest day of my life!!!!  We checked in and met up with our guide to visit the Agra Fort a short distance from the hotel. 
Along our ride, we have many interesting experiences.  First, on the way from the hotel to the airport, the driver did not see a pothole in the road, and he hit it going somewhere between 80 kmph.  It was like jumping hills in a car, and my head hit the ceiling along with several of my co-workers doing the same.  Off to a great start.........the flight was uneventful, but the really fun part of our trip was about to begin.  Our driver was one of those people that punches the gas then lets off then punches again, so you can imagine how we all felt after spending 7 hours in the car with him that day and lots of traffic in the smaller cities along the way.  I was exhausted and wanted to take a nap, but I could not peel my eyes off what I was seeing outside my window as we passed through smaller Indian cities, mostly rural type ones.  We had to stop about half way and pay a tax for the two day visit, so our driver hopped out and left us in the car.  While parked, we had monkeys on leashes jumping on our car and sticking their rear ends in our faces as well as a child carrying around some type of cobra in a wicker basket with a lid.  I don't have pictures of these things because apparently if you take one, they start beating on your window wanting money.  They try to trick you asking you to take one, but someone in the care knew the scam and alerted us.  Whew!  We also saw other things that words won't do justice, but I will try.  As we are watching these animals and people outside our vehicle trying to make a quick rupee, we look up just in time to see a man dressed in makeup and Indian woman clothes (tunic, leggings, and a scarf).  He walks on past us, but we see another one right in front of us making goo goo eyes at us!!!  Then, this person lifts their tunic up and rubs its belly while doing dance type motions.  It was a VERY distrubing picture that I am not sure I will ever forget.  Shortly after this extravaganza, we pass through something similar to a toll booth, and we start to hear a funny noise!  A flat tire on the side of an India highway......not exactly my idea of fun!  Luckily, we happned to have our flat tire and flat spare right next to a tire 'shop' on the side of the road.  (see pic below)  The return trip was just as eventful with yet another flat tire expreience.  This one was worse because we were not as lucky to have a tire place right next to us.  The driver took the flat tire off, and he proceeded to put on the spare.  The spare did not have enough air in it to make it to the airport.  In fact, if we all got back in, the tire would be on the rim - it had maybe 3 inches from the ground before the rim would hit.  We all refused to get in the car, so he was stuck trying to figure out what to do.  He wanted us to get in on this tire to travel 1 km in the OPPOSITE direction.  There was no turn around, so that would have meant into ONGOING traffic.  Yeah, we told him he was crazy!  Instead, there were two natives with a child walking in the wheat fields off the highway.  Our driver goes to talk to them, and the man walking knows the person running a tire 'shop' down the road.  They call up this tire guy, and he shows up on a motorcycle to take our two tires back and fix them.  So picture this:  a motorcycle with a driver, then two tires (rims and all), then the other man riding and holding them on.  They fix tires the old fashioned manual way still (chisel and hammer type removal from the rim),so it takes them some time.  All I can say is:  WHAT AN ADVENTURE!!!!!!  (sorry for the long post, but I had to share all the fun with those reading this) 

A pictorial recap for those who did not make it through the written part, but this does not do it justice at all.....

We ate at this place on our way to Agra, and the guys are snake charmers sitting by the entrace!

Coke Zero

When is the last time you use this pull tab to open a soda can?

Any guesses on how many people are in this rickshaw going down an Indian highway where the speed limit is at least 80 kmph?  (I think we decided between 10 & 12).

Common Scene:  Cows pulling carts through the streets and making their own way through traffic!!

You don't see many people in the US balancing a big bag of something on their head this easily. 

On the way to Agra, we passed many of these.

Right after we went through a toll stop, we had a flat tire - thank goodness for the tire repairmen directly on the side of the road!  Best part:  spare was flat too.  :)

These vehicles are what we would call dump trucks in the US.

Street vendors and random wandering cow!

Typical traffice near the street stands and through smaller cities alog the way there and back.

Vegetable cart

Remember legal limit is 5 on a two-wheeler!!  (side view)

Front view - I love that the child is in the front.  The law is for the driver to be wearing a helment, and they are the onle one required on the motorcycle to wear one.

Not sure he wanted his pictre taken - Do you like the small child sandwiched between them?

Indian version of Elvis!!!  They wanted us to take their picture!

Common housing building and section of the street below.

Empty dumpster, garbage filled street, a cow, and a pedestrian!!

Heavy Indian traffic - talk about congested and lots of emissions.........

Flat Tire #3 and #4 -  Allison and I made the best of it and read our books by the side of the road.  :)

We saw lots of make shift tents/homes along our drive as well.

Earlier a cow was in the middle of the garbage, and now, a man sits in it sorting out things he can use.

Watch out for the cow crossing - herds of cows will just walk into the street, and traffic stops until they are passed you!!

Our hotel in Agra and the doorman!
Flower ceremony - they do these flower ceremonies to welcome valued guests.  These were not for us, but I think there was a wedding or something at the hotel when we arrived.