Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Day 6. The Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri

Today we woke up at 6:15 in the morning to see the sunrise at the incredible Taj Mahal. The sight of this magnificent palace catching on fire as the first rays of the sun caress its cupolas is all it is purported to be!

The whole palace is a triumph of Mogul (i.e., the Muslim Indians) architecture, and it is a sight to behold from any corner of its beautiful gardens. Noteworthy is the fact that the architects took into account the changes in perspective that would accompany such a tall building, so for example the columns on both sides are not vertical but slightly inclined outwards, so they would appear plumb from the distance. The script also becomes larger as height increases, so as you read the verses of the Coran you have the impression to be reading from a book rather that from the walls of a palace.
Also unique is the stone inlaid work, as seen in this photograph.

The artisans had at their disposal all sorts of semi-precious stones (lapis lazuli, jasper, carnelian, agate), and with infinite patience would carve the shapes in the marble, shape and polish the semi-precious stones, and make the beautiful designs by inlaying the polish chips into the carved marble. It is an art that is much praised in India today, and artisans are rightfully proud of their masterpieces.
The Taj Mahal was erected by the Mogul ruler Shah Jahan, as a mausoleum for his beloved wife Arjuman Banu, between 1632 and 1649.

He had the finest marble brought from Makara, a few hundred kilometers away, and an army of 20,000 workers sculpted with it a marvelous monument to his lost love along the banks of the Yamuna River. Shah Jahan oversaw the construction from his royal apartments in the Red Fort of Agra, across the river. Unfortunately for him the costs exceeded the limits of his vast personal fortune, so he "dipped" into the royal treasure to help foot the bill. When his son realized what dad had done he declared him nuts and committed him to imprisonment in his quarters, from the windows of which the unlucky Shah Jahan stared at the master piece he had built until his death, seven years later.

After a well deserved breakfast we went to Fatehpur Sikri, where a former Mogul ruler, Ahkbar the Great, had his summer palace built. Akbar was a very progressive ruler, who in line with the teachings of Mohammed respected all religions. To make his point his three main wives were one a Hindu, one a Muslim, and one a Christian (and his other 1,400 concubines probably covered the rest of the spectrum). The palace complex is beautiful, but since it was built of red sandstone it was a bit oppressive. Add to that the din of 1,403 women speaking all at once and you will understand why Akbar sometimes awoke in a foul mood. On those days he took his pet elephant Manit for a walk, sat in judgment on some of the backlog cases, and had Manit step daintily on the chest of those who had been naughty (I believe Manit also wrapped his trunk around their torsos to tore them in half, but this may be but a flight of my imagination). Akbar was very sad when Manit died (understandably), so he buried him in the backyard and built a tower decorated with the tusks of female elephants over his grave.

The palace complex also included a full fledge school, which somehow reminded me of my students. I miss you, kids!

The next leg of the trip took us through a portion of the state of Rajasthan, and we had a chance to see modern India in action. For one thing, there is a lot of road building going around, so what would normally be a nerve racking ride along a narrow slow road became a truly suicidal ride as our driver hurled himself at stop speed into incoming traffic (maybe it is the incoming traffic that is hurling into us because our driver is actually very good). The ag fields were green and beautiful, the brick producing yards are going at full tilt, and products are briskly moving along the road in lorries, chug-chug’s (the name given to motorcycle carriers overloaded with people or wares), and even camel-drawn carts (amazingly, there are a lot of dromedary camels in India). Litter is a huge problem in India, but there are campaigns under way to convince people to clean up their act (literally and figuratively), and I saw at least one town where the streets were spotless. Garbage control is not only important because of sanitation issues, but is also a priority in a country that wants to promote its tourist industry (more about hawkers in a later blog).


Sajeemas said...

Beautiful sites! Thank you for sharing your story.
Have a great time!

erin said...

ah a wonderful post of love, loss, annoyance, torture and trash.
very entertaining! thank you keep on posting Dr. Ferriz!