Our day started with a very early start. We were to meet our guide Hanuman in the lobby at 6:30 am. After way too brief a sleep ( about 3 hours) we were up, showered and ready to go.
We were met by a guide company representative at 6:30 from WindHorse, and he explained our highlights for the next 7 days as well as gave us pointers on survival while here. We were then introduced to Hanuman and our driver and we were off to the train station to take the high speed train to Agra. The sun was just rising as we set out.
The ride to the train station was interesting indeed. Since cows are sacred animals, do see them everywhere wandering the streets. Cars honk, and they’ll just stand in the middle of the road and let the traffic flow around them. Apparently, there are fewer flies there than in the parks and fields!
When we got to the train station, I saw the longest train I think I have ever seen. Hard to believe that this train with at least 50 cars can go at speeds greater than 120 kph!
The ride took under 2 hours and with good conversation and interesting scenery of the bread basket of India, we were in Agra!
We stopped at the hotel to drop off our bags, and then we were off to visit the Agra Fort. This fort was build during the Mughal empire by Akbar and was later added to and then became a guild Ed prison for his grandson Shah Jahan. It served as both a palace and a military fort for centuries.
This massive fort had some extraordinary defenses such as a huge round stone that when released would slam the draw bridge up against the door, as well as a long inclined sandstone walkway that would accommodate elephants!
Once inside the Fort you could see the wealth and craftsmanship of a great empire at work. The fort actually overlooks the Taj Mahal, and it is said that Shah Jahan would often look out at the tomb of his favored wife while he was held in captivity!
Once we finished our tour Dan and I were ready to head back to our room for a little nap before we tackled the Taj Mahal, and then went to a private home for a cooking lesson! Sleep beckoned us as we only had a few hours sleep in the last 48 hours!
We met Hanuman at 4, feeling refreshed and ready to see this Wonder of the World! I must say, it did not disappoint! The gate acts as a bridal veil, beautiful to look at in and of itself, yet when it is lifted the true beauty of the treasure beneath is revealed!
Once inside, the views were breathtaking. This palatial mausoleum was built to honour the death of Shah Jahan’s favoured wife, who died from complications in childbirth. The plans took six months to conceive, 17 years to construct and 5 years to disassemble construction supports and polish the inlaid gemstone ornamentation. An incredible feat that only used the finest marble and gemstones.
The symmetry to the grounds were perfection, the artisanal craftsmanship unheard of. The gardens were manicured and filled the sanctuary with aromas of Stephanotis and Jasmine. A sensory overload indeed!
As we approached the entrance to the mausoleum we saw the great detail in carving perfect single slabs of marble, identically matched to their mates on the opposite side of the door way. Hanuman took great delight in pointing our the gemstones and the carvings for us.
Here we see the intricate stone carving and inlaid gemstone work that is found in the mausoleum of Mumtaz Mahal. In this room you can see 7 cm chrysanthemums made from 63 individual pieces of gemstones! The detailed work it truly inspired!
As we left the mausoleum, we took a look at the amazing architecture of the entrance door ( or veil) to this heritage site. A work of art in and of itself!
All this walking, with little sleep has left us not only tired, but hungry! It was off to Villa 21 for our cooking lesson and supper tonight! Dan and I were joined by 6 others from an Intrepid Group doing a “Foodie” tour of India. No one left disappointed!!
Tonight’s dinner included a lesson on Shani Paneer Korma, roti, and several other sides. I made my first Roti, and managed to get it to puff like the master!
Well, with our bellies full, our souls fed with friendship and new experiences we were both very ready for bed. Tomorrow is another long and fun filled day, where we’ll experience our first jeep safari in Ranthambore National Park. It’s an early start, so I’d better sign off for tonight!