Taj mahal great way to spend the last few ...

Trip Start Jun 03, 2001
Trip End ??? ??, 2002

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Friday, May 31, 2002

Taj Mahal

Great way to spend the last few days in India and indeed my whole trip. I arrived in Delhi with mixed expectations, due mostly to the political situation. Mixed because coming from Northern Ireland you get used to over dramatisation from the press of situations like this. Delhi itself did seem to have an air of trepidation and nerves about it but as we headed to the hotel I relaxed as we passed the sights of another typical Indian city. Street fronts with shoppers and cattle alike blending in dangerously with the traffic and a camakasi driver with an itchy horn finger, made me realise this would be a similar city to Bombay and Bangalore.
I was lucky enough to coincide my visit with Paul having a few meetings and site visit in Delhi and so he was able to arrange it for me to stay in the Hyatt Regency for the three nights. Also welcome was the inclusion of a car and driver to Agra the next day and a long awaited trip to the Taj Mahal. I had an early start by my standards these days 8am. And I was still not ready when the driver arrived. We set of in a strange Delhi downpour, which left the roads flooded and a traffic jam like you would not believe. People nearly having to swim holding bicycles to get through the many merging lanes of traffic. We made it to the main highway and I quickly realised that Indian drivers have all got itchy horn fingers and I failed to get any sleep in the next 4 hours to Agra. It was a blessing that I didn't as I would have missed the sights that followed on the road. Some of the worst traffic accidents you are ever likely to see had happened minutes before we passed and the wreckages still being moved away to clear the road. I spent the time between our own near misses with cattle and other traffic by reading my guide book for the story behind the Taj Mahal.

It was named after Mumtaz Mahal the wife of the King Shah Jahan who died giving birth to their fourteenth child!! She pleaded with him on her death bed to show the world how much he loved her. A challenge he accepted and, for the next 22 years, from 1631 -1653, with the help of 20.000 men (locals from Agra) 1.000 elephants and countless camels, he constructed one of the wonders of the world, the Taj mahal. It is set on the bank of the Yamuna river and if ever there was a building to justify the term takes your breath away, then this is it. We first went to the Red fort about 1km away and through a guide provided by the hire car company I was told the story I had read only an hour ago in the car. I decided not to steal his thunder and mention I knew all he was telling me and I listened with interest to see if there was any detail I hadn't read previously. There were many, and I learned where the king kept his many wives and how they lived in the red fort. Where the king lived and the conditions his servants and carpet weavers lived in too.
The story I already knew evolved like this. Upon completion of the Taj mahal the king would not permit himself to look directly at the building as it brought too much sadness to him in memories of his wife. So he carried a pocket mirror everywhere to look at it in reflection. His son obviously found this a little strange and had doubts about his fathers state of mind. When the king announced a plan to build a second building on the opposite bank of the river, (entirely in black marble in contrast to the solely white marble Taj Mahal) and link the two across the river with a zebra crossing like stone bridge, the kings son finally heard the camels back break with this final insane straw. He imprisioned his father in the red fort and kept him there for the remaining 8 years of his life. He died alone in 1666.

The building itself was as I said breathtaking, my guide gave me the option of walking round it alone or he would come with me. I had heard the story in full and all there was left to do was look at the reality of this amazing building. The marble was brilliantly white and sunglasses struggle to reflect the glare. I, like most tourists, thought of the famous Lady Diana shot in front of the moat leading to the front of the Taj. I resisted a similar pose mainly due to the cheesyness of the photo and the number of Indian tourists in a similar shot. I walked through the main doors and was dissapointed to find a deafening roar from most of the Indian tourists who found it hilarious that this building produced an echo,o,o,o,o,o they delighted in shouting at the top of their voices the whole time and the sshhhhuuusss's of the security only made it worse. Still it took nothing away from the building itself and I stared at the two replica tombs of the King and his wife and relived their story in my head. His son failed to follow family tradition again by refusing to let the ajoing octagonal rooms be used as crypts for other family members and it is only the King Jahan and his wife who lie here. It is a very small building inside, and a few minutes takes you round the interior. The two buildings either side of the main Taj are the mosque on the east and a building identical on the west called the Jawab, this building is not allowed to be used for worship as it faces away from Mecca.
The gardens are immaculate and tended I noticed on my way out by a lawnmower pulled by a cow. I guess it was fitting to find such tradition in a place with such history. It goes without saying I was stunned by this place and it is one place I will return to and recommend to anyone. It is worth the entrance fee of 10 and more.
The rest of my time in Delhi was spent enjoying the trappings of a 5* hotel and I enjoyed a night out for my birthday the next night.
I decided to leave India a day early and catch a flight to London on the Friday, mainly cause I was tired and skint, but it sounds a good, daring, exciting, 007 type of escape if I say it was to escape impending war in a hostile enviorenment. It wasn't any of those things, it was a glorious city in a very underated country. I loved every minute of India and could not have wished for a better way to end my holiday. It goes without saying that none of my experiences in India would have been possible without the help of Paul and Kim and they are sick of hearing my thanks for their hospitality and generosity, but I don't care, thanks again guys.
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