Monday, November 8, 2010


Yes, I made it to the Taj Mahal.

We left Delhi by the early morning train on AC Second class, which is a very comfortable (if perhaps a bit chilly) way to travel the 3.5 hours. We didn't have our return journey booked, which lead to a bit of hassle as I'll explain later.

Agra is one of the most touristy cities in India, and especially after the Commonwealth Games, has institutionalized the tourism. That being said, you can only expect one thing from being so obviously a tourist- you're gonna be ripped off.

Our Breakfast Nook.

We took breakfast in a cozy rooftop cafe (where I had my first peanut butter toast) before heading off to the Taj Mahal around noon. The Archaeological Survey of India controls most of the cultural heritage sites around the country and they institute a differentiated price for all attractions based on nationality. For example, at the bottom of the heirarchy of culturally considered sites, to get into the Buddist caves at Lonavala, nationals pay 5 rupies. Non-national (aka international tourists) pay 50. As one of the biggest international attractions, the Taj Mahal is almost 7 times what all the other attractions are at an entry price of 750 rupies for non-nationals. Which, granted, is $17 dollars and totally worth it, but it's a bit frustrating being so obviously labeled as a "rich foreign tourist".
ताज महल

That being said, I don't really know how to describe actually visiting the Taj Mahal. It was beautiful. यह बहुत सुंदर था। (Sorry, I just have learned to type in Devanagri and may occasionally repeat myself in Hindi just to prove that I can.) It was unbelievable- the symmetry is REALLY that perfect. The cool, white marble screams of a luxury that I can not even process and the eloquent grief remains forever poignant. Although the mausoleum was finished in 1652, the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan was shortly thereafter confined to Agra Fort across the river after his son Aurangzeb took power. I don't have many pictures from Agra Fort because my camera battery pooped out on me, but I was awed by the majesty of this grandiose palace and fortification. The intricate detailing and excessive white marble evoked a heartbreaking romanticism that was only emphasized by the view of the Taj Mahal across the river.
View from Agra Fort

I couldn't help but imagine Shah Jahan trapped in this marble palace as his love lay across the river, never to be forged until after his own death.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Tour Inside Qala-i-Kuhna Masjid

Sight-Seeing in Delhi: Part II

We started our day by heading over to the Raj Ghat, which is a memorial to Mohandas Gandhi, the Mahatama, at the place where he was cremated. The place was very busy and it was almost disconcerting to see a vast manicured lawn after so much of the urban landscape.

I was fascinated by the Old Fort (Purana Qala), a huge complex of monumental architecture, mosques, and fortification. Since my knowledge of the site is limited by the various plaques around the grounds, let me quote.

"Popularly known as Pandavon-ka Kila, the Purana Qala stands on a mound which may possibly mark the site of the town of Indraprastha of the Mahabharata story. The standing ramparts and other buildings were, however, built by Sher Shah Sur (AD 1538-45). After demolishing and remodelling Dinpanah, a city founded here in AD 1533 after his return from Persia in AD 1555. Humayun resided here until his death in AD 1556 and is believed to have repaired and constructed some portions of the citadel.

Purana Qala is irregularly oblong on plan with bastions on corners and along the western ramparts. Its principal gateways on the North, West, and South are crowned with chhatris and are known respectively as Talaqi, Bara, and Humayun Darwazas. Among existing buikdings inside are Sher Shah's mosque and a tower known as Sher Manual. Originally a moat surrounded the ramparts and was connected on the east with the river Yamuna.

The Qala-I-Kahna Masjid, or the mosque withing the Old Fort, was constructed by Sher Shah Sur in AD 1541. Architecturally, it exemplifies the transition from the earlier mosques of the Lodi period to those of the Mughal period, characterised by a well. The tank in the courtyard was intended for ablution before the prayers.

The Sher Mandal is believed to have been built in about AD 1541. Possibly raised by Sher Shah as a pleasure resort, the pavilion is said to have been used by Humayun as his library and he is believed to have died in 1556 after a mortal fall from its steps."

The medieval architecture was unbelievably impressive and surprisingly uncrowded in relation to the rest of the city. If I could, I would have picnicked there all day. I wandered around the outer ramparts for a while, and some older gentleman asked me how many times I had excavating! I could only mumble that I WISHED I could excavate there, but I was so confusedly happy to be recognized as an archaeologist even in a skirt.

I then made a 180 degree turn around in terms of architecture to go and see the famed Lotus Temple. Completed in 1986, this Baha'i temple gets unbelievable traffic. The line to enter the temple reached to where this photo was taken and the combination of heat and crowd dissuaded us from actually going in the building.

I traveled back in time once more to see the Qutb (Qutab) complex of medieval structures which highlights the Qutb Minar. This wonderfully phallic symbol was first initiated in AD 1199 and remains the world's tallest brick minar! Isn't that nifty?! The whole complex seemed very odd because it had been added to and changed over many centuries and by every conquerer. I really enjoyed how many pieces of earlier structures were being recycled into the newer structures, creating this tapestry of old and older in a jumbled patchwork.

To end the crazy day of sight seeing, I ended the day in the Lodi Gardens, which is a collection of monuments and tombs surrounded by...well.. gardens. It was beautiful and peaceful in the later afternoon after a long day of sight seeing.