Friday, June 22, 2007

Agra: Beautiful forts and Taj Mahal

Trip to Agra
Saturday 6/24/2007

On Saturday, we ventured to the land of Rahjastan (desert-hot) and specifically Agra. We set an ambitious internary of seeing 3 of Agra’s most famous sites: Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort, and the Taj Mahal. Agra is approximately 4 hours away from New Delhi and we woke at 5 am to meet our driver. 7 of us squeezed into the ("9-passenger")vehicle and got ready for a long ride. Delhi at dawn is still a bustling place with pick up trucks packed with traveling workers in the back, rickshaws loaded ridiculously with goods to be delivered to opening shops, and auto rickshaws starting up their motors for their first customers. We passed by miles and miles of fields with small shacks made entirely of hay dotting the landscape. Apparently these are temporary homes for the farmers during the harvest season, and each is so well crafted and bound together. Their hand/ox plowed fields are a stark contrast to America's industrialized and mechanized mass farming approach.

Finally, after much uncomfortable sleep in the heat (AC in some cars just means Air Control) and various parts of my body falling asleep, we arrived at Fatehpur Sikri, the political capital of India’s Mughal Empire under Emperor Akbar’s reign (1571-1585). This elaborate contructed capital included courts, harems, and a treasury but was abandoned quite suddently due to lack of water. It’s situated on a hill top with spectacular views of the surrouding land. Because it’s on a platform you just see sky and clouds when looking past the buildings. There are two main components to the capital- one being the palace complex and the other being the gate and mosque. The magnitude and extravagant detail of the entire capital is breathtaking and it melds together islamic, hindu, and judaism in many of its carvings; I believe this architectural achievement dwarfs any western/American building I’ve seen as yet.

Me in front of the private court where the emperor would discuss matters with his ministers.

The entrance to the mosque and welcom gate, the red sandstone is beautiful.

Next, we traveled to Agra Fort, the most important fort of India and a place where only 25% is open to tourists while the other 75% is still used for military training. The same Emperor Akbar helped finish this fort with red sandstone. About 4000 builders worked for eight years to complete this fort in 1573. There lies two sets of fortress walls, one that had a moat of crocodiles surrounding the outermost wall and another that had a moat lions and tigers surrounding the inner wall. Talk about really trying to keep the enemies out! This fortress shared a lot of the redstone architecture as the other one, with a later emperor Shah Jahan (commisioned the Taj Mahal close by) putting his signature white marble touch on a small mosque in the middle.

Our MIT-RF team (missing Sony) in front of one of Agra Fort's inner walls.

We also got to see a special bathing house of mirror inlays covering floor to ceiling of a huge chamber. The idea is that a single candle light will be magnified thousands of times in the small mirrors making it look as if one was bathing beneath the stars.

Inside the bathhouse full of mirrors. Holding candles to create the starry night look :)

Last but not least we visited the Taj Mahal and were able to see it around sunset when it is said to resemble the many moods of a woman as it changes hues with the color of the setting sun. For those who don’t the story, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan commisioned the Taj as a mausoleum for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child. It’s white marble is striking aginst the landscape and the size is breath-taking. Because it is a religious/sacred place/mosque, all visitors are required to remove their shoes before stepping onto the Taj’s platform. As westerners we paid almost 10X the fee to see the Taj Mahal but we got complimentary booties to wear over our shoes so we wouldn’t be burning our feet on the white marble.

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