Our trip to Agra
The hotel arranged for a car to take us to Agra and a guide once we arrived. It was a really long trip (about four hours by car one way) over very rough roads in some places. We saw some interesting sites and our driver was very knowledgeable.
When we were leaving Gurgaon, our driver pointed out the wild pigs that live in the midst of the debris that seems to be everywhere in this part of India. Since Indians do not eat pork, they simply exist on their own, foraging for food. We also saw lots of cows … well, actually cows, oxen and water buffalo. We just called them all cows! They were everywhere, tied in the middle of the road, in fields, tied to trees on the side of the road, walking with people leading them or just wandering around on their own. We were on the national highway with four lanes – two in either direction. The center medium was filled with beautiful flowers and cows lying down or standing in the midst of them.
We also saw monkeys (waiting by the side of the road apparently for people to toss bananas to them), camels, goats and sheep. (Still no elephants … I was promised elephants!) We stopped so the driver could pay a toll as we entered another state and a man with two monkeys tried to get us to take photos so he could charge us afterwards. The female monkey jumped up on the car window on my side and she had a little baby clutched to her. A rope was tied around her neck and anchored to a large and clearly heavy chain. It was unbelievable sad.
The Taj Mahal – one of the Seven Wonders of the World
The Taj Mahal was as magnificent as you would imagine. Our tour guide, Bobby, was very knowledgeable and took lots of photos of Tracy and me. He told us the story of the building of the tomb, but it differed from the accounts I’ve read elsewhere. Here is what he said: ‘Shah Jahan fell in love with Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess, but was not able to get permission to marry her because his father (the current Mughal Emperor and son of Akbar the Great) wanted him to marry an Afghan princess (clearly for political reasons). He married his first wife, but after his father died, he became the Mughal Emperor and so was free to marry Mumtaz. Shah Jahan had dreams of a glorious palace and had been looking for sites to build it long before his beloved Mumtaz died. On her deathbed in 1631, Mumtaz told him she would soon be forgotten as he would be totally consumed with building his palace. And so it was that he was so overcome with grief that he decided his palace would be a tribute to her.’ So it wasn’t conceived out of love, but ended up being dedicated to love. Nice!
While we were there, a couple from India asked Tracy and me if they could have their photo taken with us “for memories.” We said sure and were later told by our guide that they were probably from a small village and they’ll show the photo to their friends to impress them that they met people who are so pale.
Following our Taj Mahal visit, our guide took us to a factory of sorts – similar to the co-op in Kerala – subsidized by the government. We saw the artists grinding and shaping the semi-precious stones to inlay in marble for tables, boxes and other objects. They explained that it’s the same process the Persian artists used when building the Taj Mahal. The art was being lost, which is why the government subsidizes it. The handmade items are beautifully crafted and some take months to complete.
We had a great lunch at a local establishment and Tracy had her first sweet (banana) Lassi. It was a wonderful trip; one we’ll always remember!