Magnificent Mahals

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Happy new year!

We had an early start today, the first day of January 2015, day six of our group trip.  We made our way from Jaipur to Agra. Our first stop was at Fatehpur Sikri, a UNESCO world heritage site which was once a thriving Mughal capital. After arriving in Agra we checked in to the hotel, had lunch, then went off to the Agra Fort. Afterwards we arrived at the world famous Taj Mahal.

Let me share a tid bit of history about the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal was constructed between 1631 and 1653 by 20,000 workers. As the story goes, Emperor Shahjahan constructed the Taj Mahal to fulfill one of three dying wishes of his second wife Mumtaz, who died during childbirth. Just before she died Mumtaz asked Shahjahan to:

  1. Build a memory for her that will stand the test of time
  2. Not marry a fourth time (Shahjahan had three wives) after she passes so that his love for her wont be shared further
  3. To make their eldest son the future emperor.

Emperor Shahjahan was able to fulfill only the first two wishes. Their third son Aurungzeb house arrested the Emperor and killed his three brothers to gain power himself. Emperor Shahjahan was a prisoner in his own palace for 8 years during which time his eldest daughter took care of him. During those 8 years the Emperor lost his three wives, three sons and his health. He asked one wish of his son Aurangzeb. That he be able to see the construction of the Taj from his prison palace. Shahjahan was buried beside his beloved wife at the Taj Mahal.

What I came to appreciate in visiting the monuments here in our tour are the architectural designs that were well before their time. The summer palace of Shahjahan was kept cool through cold water channelling into the rooms walls. The giant sundial and observatory at Jantar Mantar in Jaipur could predict time within 2 seconds of accuracy. The four minarets at the Taj were constructed at 90 degree angles so that if there was an earthquake and the minarets fell, the will not hit the main Mahal. The Qutab Minar was constructed out of ruins of many temples and the pieces fit together beautifully. To have constructed what they constructed, in the time and the magnitude, with incredible precision and craftsmanship is truly a wonder. The buildings were one of a kind when they were built and are still today. While sadly their gold and semi-precious jewels were stripped off of them mostly during the British rule, the monuments have stand the test of time. It’s a pity to see the outlines of the original work – can you imagine the palace of Versailles and the Sistine Chapel stripped off their ornate decorations, chandeliers and their furniture? While I was sad to see the original work lost, I enjoyed imagining what the bustling cities would have looked like during the Mughal reign.

We opted to dine together as a group as the next day 13 of our 20 group members will head back to Delhi and the rest of us will continue to Varanasi. The two other Canadian couples and we did a after dinner McDonald’s run and went back to one of our rooms for a tour recap. The exchange of stories and experiences at the end of our days was my favourite part of the group travel. I hope to connect with them again when we are back in TO.

The one funny thing I must mention was around midnight. The hotel in Agra was the most decent so far so I couldn’t resist the chance to take a nice hot shower. No sooner do I step out of the shower Jer turned our ancient room heater on. The heater literally started shaking and making strange loud noises, then there were sparks flying and we were in total darkness! We took out our handy dandy flashlight and called the hotel staff to help us out. The service was fast I must say and soon our ancient heater was replaced by a brand new one 🙂 when the guy left, I realized our hair dryer didn’t work. So we called the guys again who patiently fixed the hair dryer. Unfortunately that lasted 3 minutes or so. Then we realized the phone doesn’t work. We decided to call it a night off.

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