Rick’s Agra (city with Taj) Description

The night before, we went to see the “Red Fort” in Agra, (or Agra Fort as it is now called so as not to be confused with the “Red Fort” in Delhi). It was even larger and more spectacular than the Delhi one, with more areas open to the public. It was the main residence and ruling location for the King who built the Taj as a mausoleum for his favorite wife. This one had an “S” curve, three gated, upwards sloping entrance, which apparently had made attacks nearly impossible. The seventy foot walls probably helped with the “impenetrable” reputation it had as well. Just across a very wide (and currently dry) riverbed the Taj Mahal stood, even more majestic than all the pictures I had previously seen.

We had many early mornings in China, but still found it difficult rolling Luke out of bed (not to mention ourselves of course!) early enough to see sunrise at the Taj Mahal. We arrived a little after the sun had lit up the sky, but a half hour before it crested the buildings on the horizon. Quite a few tourists were crowded just inside the main gate getting early morning light pictures of the Taj Mahal in the reflection pool. This was a few hundred meters away from the actual Taj. It looked fairly close, but then we could see the little tiny people up on the base of the Taj who were incredibly small. That helped put the scale of the building into much better perspective. There were lots of “staff” (or so they said they were) around who were only too helpful in grabbing people and (almost forcibly) guiding them to various specific spots to get all types of “perfect” pictures of the Taj. A couple at different spots of the reflective pool, and a few to gain all manners of artistic perspectives of beautiful pictures.As soon as several outstanding shots were gained, the staff member would maintain a perfect smile while semi-demanding a tip. I only paid the first guy about $3 of the $6 he was asking and then kept only small bills (equivalent to about eighteen and thirty-five cents) in my shirt pocket for any future scoundrels. Any that greeted me after that first one were initially thanked by me and then warned very sternly that I was out of money! They would then only show one good spot, still ask for a small tip, and then wander off to find more lucrative tourists.

Our guide was supposed to be provided, and while our driver (for the eight day circular tour out of Delhi to Agra and Jaipur) is great, the guides have been very poor so far. Just before leaving the hotel for the Red Fort, our guide changed. He knew very little about the fort and a pushy photographer was obviously (in Hindi) feeding him bits of info. This was after telling the “professional photographer” (as he kept on referring to himself as, it reminded me of Denzel’s experience in Man On Fire) many, many times that we didn’t want his amazing, photoshopped pics of us around the fort.

On the left side was a fairly large Muslim Mosque and on the right was a similar sized guest house house. Both of these were about three quarters of the height of the Taj, with about the same footprint as the Taj, (excluding the large 3m high plaza base all around the actual building that is). The two side buildings were a red stone, but with very similar exquisite craftsmanship in the hand carving and sculpting of the stone. All decorations in the three buildings were made purely from inlay of other types of stone, or precious and semi-precious jewels. Inlay means that the grooves are carved out of the larger marble and then precisely the same sized pieces of other stones & jewels are laid in to the grooves with a heated glue (from a top secret formula of course). The building(s) was (were all) spectacular by sheer size and logistics of moving such a massive amount of large pices of marble from a different area of the country a few hundred kilometers away. The artistry of all of the inlays, and piecing the marble (almost seamlessly) together however is just totally amazing! Along with the flowers, and general patterns were scribed text (in who knows what language?, arebic presumably) from the Koran.

We later went to a marble inlay factory and showroom, which had tonnes and tonnes of amazing pieces. There were tables which they insisted could withstand and pop spills or any winter temperatures that we could throw at it. The size was irrelevant to the price, everything was based on the quantity and difficulty of the inlay work. He showed me a small (football) sized elephant with to most exquisite and delicate inlay work all over the body. He said it took his master craftsman eleven months to make and was selling it for about $15,000, (and well worth it for the beauty and craftsmanship that went into it). This place also had inlaid designs on marble wine goblets which would have made an excellent addition to the Gauthier collection, but $300 was just a wee bit out of our reach (we still Love you guys though!). They also had some small (and not too heavy earrings that would have been nice to get for a friend in Smith who paid me some cash to buy his wife odd $5-$20 earrings from around the world on our travels. These ones were $85 though, but were probably the most unique ones I’d seen so far.

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