After our early-morning visit to the Taj Mahal [location] we returned to our hotel and spent the rest of the day visiting other sights in Agra. Inded, the city of Agra [location] has many interesting sights other than the Taj Mahal! We visited the Itmad-Ud-Daulah, the Agra Fort, and a marble-inlay shop. Read on!
The Itmad-Ud-Daulah is sometimes called the “baby Taj” because it is constructed in a similar style; it was completed in 1628, before the Taj, and was built as a mausoleum by the grandfather of Mumtaz Mahal (for whom the Taj Mahal was built) for the parents of his wife. It is an interesting story, but I dwell here on the fabulous inlay work. As in the Taj, it is built from white marble with inlaid semi-precious stones. Inside, there are beautiful paintings.
The Agra Fort was for quite some time the capital of the Mughal empire in India, before Shah Jahan built the Red Fort in Delhi and moved the capital there. It is an impressive defensive structure, with two moats (a dry moat for lions, tigers, and snakes and a wet moat for crocodiles), two walls, and an uphill ramp to the entrance to make it more difficult for elephants to ram the gates. Inside are extravagant palaces; it was here that Shah Jahan, who had built the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal for his beloved wife, was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb, who had killed all his brothers to take over the throne of the empire.
The marble inlay work on the Taj Mahal was accomplished by thousands of craftsmen. Today few craftsmen exist, and the art may be dying. The Government provides free housing to those descendants of the Taj craftsmen who continue their trade. We enjoyed a visit to a local shop to see how it was done and purchased some small items.
We took an overnight train to Varanasi. We arrived at the train station in plenty of time, only to discover that our train was late coming from Delhi. We were already tired, and the wait on the dingy train platform seemed interminable – our 10:40pm train finally arrived at 1:45am. It was a busy place, as other trains came and went and dozens of other people were waiting for trains. A woman and three children stopped to stare at us – I think the children were quite curious about these white foreigners – while I glanced furtively at some old village men in dusty dhotis and colorful turbans. A soldier snoozed on one of the few available benches. All very interesting. On the other hand, the place was filthy. Thousands of chattering and pooping pigeons sat on the wires above, and the occasional rat scurried among the tracks to see what food scraps may have been tossed away. A row of hoses on the other side of the tracks are used to rinse the on-train toilets – which, by the way, are open to the tracks below – and the tracks smelled as such. Sadly, because of the darkness I did not get any photos of the train station.
We had first-class private cabins with lockable doors, AC, electric outlets, bunks, and fresh sheets. Pretty nice, compared to the alternatives, and I think one could get used to sleeping on a train.
See photos of Agra.
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