India 2


Taj Mahal, Agra
The story goes back in 1607, when a prince of the royal Mughal, at the age of 14, strolled down the Meena Bazaar, caught a glimpse of a girl hawking silk and glass beads. Five years later the regal 20-yr-old went to wed his 19-yr-old bride. A fairy tale union from the start, withstood court intrigues, battles for succession and finally, the grand coronation. And when she died on the 19th year of their marriage, he etched her story in stone. The Taj Mahal, the living symbol of the monumental passion of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal.
Oct 31, 2009. While my friends left around 4, I stayed at the Taj until I was requested to leave. The Taj is so magnificent but what captured my heart is the symbol of love that it represents... True love is rare and cherishable. When I stood at the monument of Love, inevitably my heart turned tranquil and hope everyone can find their true love.

Per my dairy: "Although I am not in love now, I am enjoying my life, like visiting this Taj, the symbol of Love. My life is good and I appreciate to have friends, colleagues travelling with me, family, relatives, etc. And Taj, for you representing love, please send me some love luck/energy. =P"

The poet Rabindranath Tagore:

"You know Shah Jahan, life and youth, wealth and glory, they all drift away in the current of time. You strove therefore, to perpetuate only the sorrow of your heart. Let the splendor of diamond, pearl and ruby vanish. Only let this one teardrop, this Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright on the cheek of time, forever and ever."

The calligraphy on the Great Gate inscribed with black marble reads:
"O Soul, thou art at rest. Return to the Lord at peace with Him, and He at peace with you."
All four sides of the Taj are identical with the same passages from the Qur'an.

We lined up and looped around the Taj twice for an hour to glimpse the inside of the Taj.

The crypt of Mumtaz Mahal, with Shah Jahan on her right, the only visible asymmetry of the Taj.

Jali screen surrounding the cenotaphs. All these are marble delicately crafted. From this position where I took the picture, the whole Taj Mahal, the Mosque, the fountains and the gate are in exact symmetry, a typical architectural style of the Islam.

Inlay detail. Jasper, jade, turquise, lapis lazuli, sapphire, and more other precious stones were used in decorating the crypts.

From the South Gate, going through the security check, entering to the garden of Taj Mahal.

One has to remove their shoes in order to get in to the Taj. With tens of thousands of visitors, it is really tough to find your own shoes back.

Across the Yamuna River north of the Taj Mahal was a legend that Shah Jehan decided to construct another black Taj with a bridge connecting the two. 

The South Gate and the garden of Taj Mahal. The 22 bell-topples on the top of the gate signify 22 years with 22,000 artisans were employed building the Taj.

         Agra Fort, Agra

It is the most important fort in India. The great Mughals lived here, and the country was governed from here. This was originally a brick fort and was mentioned for the first time in 1080 AD. After centuries of conquer and occupation, the fort took its shape under the Mughals Empire. The Mughals finally defeated the Afghans in 1556 and made Agra the capital. Akbar the Great had it rebuilt with red sandstone. Some 1,444,000 builders worked on it for eight years, completing this Agra Fort in 1573.

Entrance Akbari Gate of Agra Fort

Moti Masjid. Two great contributors to the Fort is Akbar and his grand son Shah Jahan. Akbar's favourite was red stone, but Shah Jahan tended to have buildings in white marble, often inlaid with gold and precious gems. He destroyed some of the earlier buildings inside the fort in order to make his own.

Shah Jaha and Mumtaz Mahal were first met here in Zenana Mina Bazaar (Ladies only market, but a prince was always an exception).

Jahangir Palace was used by the wives of the Mughals. This Jahangir Mahal was built by Akbar for his son Jehangir.

Shah Jahan was under house arrest by his son Aurangzeb and spent the last seven years of his life here in Muasamman Burj.

Out in the marble balcony is an excellent view of the Taj Mahal. Aurangzeb was still good to his father. When there is power, there is always politics...

You can imagine how the Agra Fort looked like when all the white marble are crafted and inlaid with gold, silver and precious gems. It would have been stunning!!!

The craving are deep and delicate.

  Tomb of Akbar the Great, Agra  
The golden era of the Mughal Empire of India began from the Akbar the Great who consolidated the power over the India since he was in power at 13. After which, his son Jahangir, grandson Shah Jahan could make great marks over the land of India.
Painting over the ceiling of the Tomb.  

True tomb of Akbar the Great at the basement.

Fatehpur Sikri
The historic Fatehpur Sikri city was constructed by Mughal emperor Akbar beginning in 1570 and served as the empire's capital from 1571 until 1585, when it was abandoned for reasons that remain unclear.

Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audience) in the palace in Fatehpur Sikri. Famous for its central pillar with thirty-six voluted brackets. Each corner of the hall represents a religion: Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism and Christian. The symbolism behind this structure is that Akbar would seek advise from all regions when deriving ideas implementable toward the Empire.

Built on the pattern of a Buddhist Temple, Panch Mahal was a pleasure palace for Akbar.

Akbar had four wives, each from Muslim, Hindu, Buddhism and Christian. This Hujra-i-Anup Talao was home of the Muslim wife. But the biggest belongs to the Hindu wife who gave birth to the only son of Akbar.

The square pavilion of this Audience Chamber is the royal residence of Akbar, of which he slept. But the Hindu wife's quarter is at least two times bigger than this structure.

The best craving/crafting off all belongs to the home of the Muslim wife.

5 minute walk outside of the royal palace is the home of the local, in juxtaposition.

This Tomb of Sheikh Salim Chishti is constructed by Akbar as a mark of his respect for the Sufi saint who prayed/predicted that Akbar would have a son, and indeed Jahangir was born in 1569.
It is believed that tying a thread on the marble screens of the tomb building serves as a constant reminder to the saint of their wishes. (with the promise of loosening the thread when the wish is fulfilled.)

-> Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque). They are well maintained as they have been opened to public worshipers since established.

         Exploring the Agra local at night

I stayed at a hotel in a local area of Agra with only 5 minutes walk from the Taj. From the roof top restaurant is a full view of the Taj Mahal and the South Gate. To capture this picture, ISO 1600 was used with exposure of 10 seconds. It was pitch dark to human eyes! Such Romantic!!!

  Jaipur City of Rajasthan State  
      Jal Mahal (Water Palace) located in the middle of the Man Sagar Lake. The palace remained uninhabited, unmaintained, and hence not visited by tourists. When looking from afar, the view is quite serene. =)
  Hawa Mahal (Palace of the Breeze) was built in 1799 in the form of the crown of Krishna, a Hindu god. This honeycomb-like exterior was braided with 953 small windows.  The original intention of the lattice was to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life (an men!) on the street below without being seen, since they had to strictly face cover their face all the time in public.  

         City Palace, Jaipur

In the inner courtyard of the City Palace stood four small gates (known as Ridhi Sidhi Pol) representing the four seasons. This one is the Gate of Spring. Green Gate, also called the Leheriya (waves).

The Peacock Gate representing autumn. Monsoon is an important season in India as it brings rains, the source of life. During this time, peacocks flourish and the association eventually made peacocks as the State Bird of India.

Mubarak Mahal (Auspicious Palace) was built as a fusion of the Islamic, Rajput and European styles in the late 19th century as reception centre.

The Chandra Mahal is still the residence of the descendents of the former rulers of Jaipur. Seen at the top of the palace is a "one and quarter sized flag" of the royal family because all the Maharajas (King) have pre-fixed their name with ‘Sawai’, which means “one and a quarter”, in their title.

Traditional attire of Rajasthani; to me, more like Punjab.
Pink City of Jaipur
In 1853, the city of Jaipur including all of its monuments (including the City Palace) were stucco painted ‘Pink’ as an honour of hospitality extended to the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII) on his visit. Since then, "Pink City" has become a trademark of Jaipur. The outlook barely changed, only withered...
The original Jaipur City was walled with only 8 gates accessible to the city. Amongst all, this New Gate is only permitted to be through by royal family of Rajasthan. FYI, population has grown the city beyond the four walls.  

The Albert Hall (1876) is an Indo-Saracenic style  architecture. The hall was named after Albert, the consort of Queen Victoria’s husband. Now it is a vast and verdant garden housing a zoo, a greenhouse, an aviary, a museum and a sports ground.

With 50 colors of threads, the carpet makers memorize all the patterns and sew the carpets by hand. Stitch by stitch. They are so delicate and beautiful!!! If I have my own house I definitely want some!!

  Amber Fort, Jaipur  
      With history dated back the to 1200s, Amber Fort was the ancient citadel of the ruling Kachhawa clan of Amber. It is a blending both Hindu and Muslim artistic elements
Ride up to the fort on elephant. I was a bit shamed knowing that I rode a 35 y.o. elephant; feeling out of respect, but 'tis her life. She only works in the morning for 2 hours.

The front gate of the Amber Fort. It was a prestigious guest arrival riding on an elephant.

The Ganesh Pol of Amber Fort. The upper level is the Jas Mandir (Hall of Private Audience) which has beautifully latticed windows.

From the fort looking back down to the city.

The arched gate of Ganesh Pol was painted with vegetable dyes.

Mughal Garden at Amber Fort

Up above Amber Fort is Jaigarh Fort. The forts are connected through well-guarded passages and underground tunnels.

Kama Sutra painting hidden at the Amber Fort. I quite envy of the ancient Indian royals' pursuit of pleasure of flesh.
      One of the most striking parts of the Amber Fort is the Hall of Mirrors. When the palace was occupied by royalty, the hall could be lit at night by a single candle because of all the tiny, intricate mirrors.

This is definitely the breath taking moment of my trip. The craftsmanship and delicacy of the mirror mosaic made me speechless...
The outside look of the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) whose inside is adorned with thousands piece of mirrors.

Any streak of light makes them sparkle and illuminate the entire room. It is so beautiful. I was literally jaw-dropped and eyes-popped!

Other Aspect of My Trip
  The major blemish of our India trip was the train transit. Due to a fire in Jaipur, our train was cancelled! We then hired a driver costing US$130 for 5 hrs. Another incident was a train from Jaipur to Delhi which the earlier train killed 6 people on the track which caused a riot. We were then stuck inside a detour train for 12 hours.

To describe the horror of the situation, we took a first class train with which tiny cockroaches around half an inch roamed on the back of the seat. We didn't dare to lean on it... and there were mice around 2 inches hasting on the floor. Surprise was one mice sneaked in between a two layer window, seemed like a museum exhibit. What an adventure...

Condition of a main road in Agra. Except for the embassy road, the rest are very crappy. It was hard for me to believe...

Camel ride! There are cows walking on the road like random object too.
Delhi market center. Everywhere I visit is is so crowd and, aside from tourist site, dirty. I don't know why the area is so poor. Beijing is also a capital of a developing country, but almost every aspect in Delhi is (far) worse than Beijing. If I have to find a reason, I presume it must be the religion and the strong held belief of caste system. The belief is that once you were born poor, you must stay poor and act poor, so you will earn a better next life. With this belief, there is no motivation of betterment of life. The low stays at low...

On the days I am not travelling with my Indian friend, I survived thru McDonalds. 3 meals of Mc's on a day, quite insane...

Submerging to the locals, I ate with bare hand. I love to eat lamb, so for a few days nan and curry lamb filled my tummy happy!

Confections! They are quite dry...

Rajasthani meal. It was a chance of bravery.
November 5, 2009
I can't express the simple joy I had when leaving India. From the countries I am from, the cities I visited in India are really lagging behind. The infrastructure, the environment, road/building condition, the efficiency of the people are not advanced. Definitely travelling is not to make us feel comfortable but to experience the world in a whole different perspective. Even though the journey is not comfy and had quite some bumps, I do enjoy and cherish this special memory. One must experience India at least once in a life time.