Taj is closed today

Trip Start Sep 17, 2007
Trip End Oct 08, 2008

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Flag of India  ,
Friday, December 7, 2007

We had planned on visiting the Taj today, only to discover that it is closed on Fridays.  So we rearranged our schedule and set out for the day.  Our ambitious plan was to take us to Fatehpur Sikri and on to Bharatpur.  We really wanted to see the birds at the latter's sanctuary. 

We got to the bus station and hopped on the first bus going our way (Fatehpur Sikri) without a hitch.  After a short drive we ended up in what can only be described as a gravel parking lot with a couple decidedly persistent...tour guides?  touts?...who knows.  So, being the intrepid travellers that we are, we plunged into the main street with all its hawkers selling just about everything (but mostly sweets and fruits and peanuts) and thought to ourselves that it couldn't possibly be that difficult to find the way to the enormous edifice atop the hill.  HA!  Eventually we decided just to start walking uphill, because we'd clearly passed the gate.  We were told not to walk places for no apparent reason.  Sometimes people hanging out in the streets we wander decide that we're lost and point us in directions that are helpful.  Other times I think they just don't think tourists ought to be walking through neighborhoods.  But what we had found was definitely a street, and there was no reason for us not to walk up it, so up we went.  Eventually the little kids who had yelled at us decided we weren't worth the effort. 

Our path snaked up and back toward the gate in a steady, reassuring manner, and we wound up popping out of our street to the left side of the entry gate.  Victorious yet again! 

Funny you should say that, Erin, because the entry gate, thought to be the largest gate in Asia (it's 54 m high), is known as the Buland Darwaza, or Victory Gate.  It's pretty massive.  And there are massive numbers of people selling stuff on its steps.  And the stuff is really, really cheap, so if you're looking for a probably fake semi-precious stone necklace, this is the place to be.  I'll admit, I was tempted to get a necklace or two, just for the beads. 

The wooden doors leading into the mosque are covered in horseshoes, all in the bowl style to keep in the good luck.  No idea if those were there ever since Akbar or if it's a more recent development.  There was also a really cute squirrel (it was here that we learned that they're called squirrels - we'd been calling them pipsqueaks...they look like a chipmonk with a bushy tail) hanging upside down on the door chirping at everyone who walked by. 

Let me take this opportunity to tell you a little about Fatehpur Sikri.  It is thought to be the one unwise decision that Akbar ever made. 

Once upon a time, Mughal Emperor Akbar had no sons, so he journeyed to Sikri to consult with the Sufi saint (that would be a mystic) Shaikh Salim Chishti.  Akbar was informed that he would, indeed, have a son.  When he did, he got all kinds of excited and built a new capital at Sikri.  The unwise part of this decision is that the nearest water source is, well, not so near.  So after he died the city was pretty much abandoned. 

Side note - Akbar is thought very highly of because he is seen as an open-minded emperor, willing to discuss issues and accept differences.  He is noted for having not only Muslim wives, but also Hindu and Christian ones.  So I wondered to myself, which wife birthed the precious son?  If it was not a Muslim wife, was anything thought of it?  Was the long-awaited heir's parentage thought to be a sign from above?  Well I will tell you that the wife was the Christian wife - she even got her own palace-ish thing in Fatehpur Sikri - but as far as I can tell nobody cared which wife it was.  But boy could I tell a story about that...

Back to business.  We wandered around the mosque for probably longer than necessary, given that the highlight was small and obvious.  But it was a nice mosque.  The highlight was the tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti, carved in white marble and emblazoned on its inner walls with quotations from the Q'uran.  It was really quite pretty, and all the carved outer walls were unique.  We had to wear goofy plastic baskets on our heads because we had no head coverings.  They might have glowed in the dark.  In the inner sanctum I ogled the walls, paying almost no attention to the little shrine in the middle of the room.  Then we refused to give the man with the feather money (if you gave him money he patted you with the feather and this was special), and because I was the last one out he got gruff with me and made me leave.  Humph. 

We escaped the mosque and made our way to the palace complex.  It was huge and sprawling and covered with a bevy of buildings.  Emily pointed out that, for all their love of symmetry and geometrical designs, the Mughals built some pretty out of control palaces.  The palaces were really quite plain, but there were a zillion buildings and each was a little unique.  There was the place for the ladies to do I know not what, but it was built with five levels, each different with each pillar also different, and the shape was a sort of pyramid.  And there was the debating audience chamber where Akbar would stand in the middle of this weird pillar balcony thing and his opponents would stand at each of the four corners of the balcony.  And there was a nifty pool and some lovely, peaceful gardens.  These people definitely know how to do gardens.  Anyway, look at the photos, because they'll probably tell you everything you need to know about the palace grounds. 

By the time we finished at the palace it was getting somewhat late, so we made an effort to get to Bharatpur.  And I am not kidding when I say it was an effort.  First we walked back down to the bus stand where Lonely Planet says that buses go to Bharatpur and Agra, but this restaurant guy eventually came and told us that the Bharatpur buses actually leave from some random point on the street, so we went in search of that.  I was very hungry, but we'd decided to drive first and eat later, so I had to suck it up and walk.  We walked the 100 m down the street and then some and found a bus that looked like it had no intention of going anywhere, so Emily and I stayed there while Travis did a little recon farther down the street.  He came back with about as much as we'd started with, so we decided to walk to the gate, which was definitely more than 1 km.  Maps lie.  So do guidebooks.  But we knew that buses passed there and we thought we might catch one.  But the gate isn't actually at a crossroads, so you have to keep walking.  After a while the catcalls and little kids asking for "one pen" got on my hungry nerves.  Having arrived at the gate we found a zoo, but no bus, so we walked back.  I was so tempted to climb on the tractor full of persuasive men, but I didn't.  If my legs could climb up and down South America for weeks on end they could certainly walk downhill to Fatehpur Sikri. 

By this point we decided not to bother with Bharatpur because we would get to the bird park only shortly before it closed.  This, naturally, was when we found the bus to Bharatpur, parked exactly where the restaurant man had said it was supposed to be.  Rotten luck.  So we ate lunch and it was good.  And then we went back to Agra and, much to Emily's disgust, Travis and I fell right asleep. 

At about 9 we were awakened by a loud marching band.  Emily went to explore and scurried back to the room, described to us a parade with the band and lanterns and dancing men, so we all went to watch out the window.  It wasn't long before the groom on his horse, followed by an absurdly large circle of blinking lights (think carnival blinky light displays 5 ft in diameter).  That's right - we were witnesses to a wedding parade, and it was pretty sweet.  If nothing else, the music was really catchy, so it was impossible to care that it was a little late for loud parades.  I guess our luck wasn't so rotten after all. 

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