The Taj

Ajarbagh Valley 443 It’s hard to imagine coming all the way to India from the United States, and not seeing the Taj Mahal. It’s arguably the most beautiful building ever constructed, any era, any location. And on a clear day, with no crowds, it must be an unequivocally awe-inspiring experience to visit this building. But as we were crushed as we made our way through the mausoleum, the experience was somewhat dampened.

Ajarbagh Valley 447 The Taj Mahal was constructed over a fourteen year period and completed in 1648. It was built by India’s Emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She bore him 14 children, but died giving birth to child number 14 (who can blame her?). Her last request was that her husband build her a fitting monument. The result was the Taj Mahal, a spectacular memory to this woman. And from the sound of what happened later with that family, she might have been better off with a few less children. One of the sons ended up imprisoning the father, taking over the country, and killing some siblings.

Agra 086 We flew into Agra, a city that will quickly slip from memory. Our hotel was the place to stay in Agra, the Oberoi Amarvilas, where the rooms have great views of the Taj Mahal. The hotel also had great grounds, including the nicest grass field we’ve found on our trip to date — perfect for some diving catches in baseball. The picture at left is pretty much the view we had from our room, although the foreground includes a great swimming pool. As I said, this is the place you want to stay here.

Ajarbagh Valley 445 When you get to the Taj, you wait in a long security line. Once someone mentioned how perfect a target it would be for a suicide bomber, the wait seemed pretty darned uncomfortable. They segment the line into threes — one for Indian citizens, one for female tourists, and one for male tourists. You can’t bring a whole lot into the premises apart from cameras and cell phones. Once inside, you join the other 657,481 people visiting the Taj for the day, all of whom seem adept at pushing their way in front of you for a slightly better photograph.

Ajarbagh Valley 467 After doing our best to take in the Taj Mahal from a distance, we walked down closer to the mausoleum (the room under the dome). India has lots and lots of very smart people, but none were involved in designing the traffic flow for this the complex. There are some narrow steep stairs that you take to get up onto the level with the mausoleum, then a small door (just one) to get inside the room, which is almost completely dark. We made it up the stairs fairly easily (little did we know), then felt like something under a steamroller as we tried to make it through the door. Since it’s the only way for people to both enter and exit, it’s a complete mess, and people just bulldoze through. Ouch!

Ajarbagh Valley 493 After not really seeing a whole heck of a lot in the room with the remains of Ms. Mahal, we walked around the deck area, and looked out over the river valley. We observed people going through a religious right by bathing themselves, clothed, in the river (a very polluted river, by all appearances). And we congratulated Gibson on losing one of his baby teeth, and suspect he’s one of the few U.S. citizens to have ever lost a tooth at the Taj Mahal. After losing a pair of teeth in the Outback of Australia, he’s working on covering all of the continents!

Ajarbagh Valley 492As darkness set in, we decided to leave. To our surprise, the stairs were completely gridlocked. A large number of people were trying to come up, urgently, to get a last look before dark. And an equally large, impatient set of people was trying to get down. The net was that no one was moving, and everyone was getting squished. The police stationed there seemed to be clueless about how to handle the situation, and you could sense a crowd close to panic. We finally made it out, and were thrilled to have survived the “Taj — Get Mauled.”

Agra 049 The next morning, we toured the Agra Fort, which was the home of Shah Jahan for ten years while his “loyal” son imprisoned him. This is one heckuva fort, and very impressive to visit. It has interesting design features for fortresses. For instance, elephants were often used to break down the wood doors of forts. So the Agra Fort has a curved approach path that ramps up to the door (keeping the elephant from running and getting momentum), and spikes on the door. Elephants may not be the smartest animals on earth, but you can bet they figured out that the assignment to break down the Agra Fort door was a loser. The room you can see through this portal was where the Shah Jahan was under house arrest for ten years, spending much of his time looking out at the Taj Mahal and undoubtedly wondering how this one evil son turned out so poorly.

Net, net, I’m glad we saw the Taj Mahal, and would jump at a chance to see it again under the right circumstances. But beware of the crowds, the visibility on the day you’re planning to go (at times it can be so foggy you can’t see the structure), and the abysmal foot traffic management there.

Feel free to check out our photos from Agra, including the Taj Mahal.

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