Our family visited the Taj Majal twelve years ago this spring; after that 2009 visit I wrote “Taj is, quite simply, stunningly beautiful, exquisitely crafted, and a marvel of engineering and art.” Portions were under renovation at the time, so I was excited to return in 2017, as part of Dartmouth’s Mystical India tour. On that day we enjoyed blue skies and a fully-open site. Visit both posts for more info and more photos!
Two lovely weeks touring northern India with Dartmouth Alumni Travel. Magical! More stories, and photos, in this blog post.
I’ve just returned from India, where Pam and I had the opportunity to host a Dartmouth Alumni Travel group for a two-week tour of the history, architecture, culture, and arts of northern India. We joined a wonderful group of 12 interesting individuals, and an outstanding tour guide from Odysseys Unlimited, for a bustling tour of Delhi, Jaipur, Ranthambore, Agra, and Varanasi. I think what struck me most about the agenda was its fascinating mix of the sights (palaces, temples, mosques, etc.) with the culture (villages, markets, families. religion) and arts (dance, music, weaving, pottery, jewelry, stonework, carpets, and even paper). Read on for a summary of our journey, and for a sampling of the many photos!
Everyone has seen the canonical photos of the Taj Mahal, all beautiful, but none of them really prepare you for the experience of visiting the place yourself. The Taj is, quite simply, stunningly beautiful, exquisitely crafted, and a marvel of engineering and art, nearly 400 years old. It is made entirely of white marble, exquisitely carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones. All of the colors and design work you can see (up close) are inlay, not paint. Even the arabic letters conveying quotes from the Koran are inlaid stone. Read on!
On the road to Agra, we pass thousands of pilgrims.
We’re moving upstream against a river of humanity, as we drive eastward toward Agra. We’ve just left Rajasthan and entered Uttar Pradesh. On the other side of the road is a steady flow of Hindus, walking 200km or more on their pilgrimage into Rajasthan. On Monday there is a huge 9-day holy festival (Navratri, I believe), which we’re told will attract 100,000 pilgrims on foot and 100,000 more by train, plane, or car. Along the roadside, individuals and organizations have set up tents, chairs, water stations, and food, as a charitable service to the pilgrims. The people are cheerful, waving colorful red banners and chatting among themselves. A few children ride on bicycle carts, but most folks balance their few travel needs on their head.
Today began before dawn, so we could catch an early morning train from Ranthambore to Bharatpur; our driver picked us up there for the two-hour trip to Agra. Along the way we visited Fatehpur Sikri, the capital of the empire of India from 1571 until 1585 [location]. This impressive city, made almost entirely of red sandstone, was built by the Mughal emperor Akbar, son of Humayan (see blog entry about Delhi) and grandfather to Shah Jahan (who built the Red Fort in Delhi and the Taj Mahal, among other things). “Fatehpur Sikri is regarded as Emperor Akbar’s crowning architectural legacy” [Wikipedia]. Akbar, a Muslim like all the Mughal emperors, was remarkably cross-religious, marrying a Hindu princess from Amber (Jaipur, which we visited a few days ago) as well as Muslim queens. He is a fascinating and deep character, though; read his Wikipedia page for much more.
The patio of one courtyard embeds a huge game board, on which members of his harem were the ‘pieces’ that could be moved about the game board.
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