Third of a four-part series
Our drive to Agra from Jaipur took us about four hours. As we passed a few small villages, all forms of arts and crafts were on display, including a lot of marble and wood items inlaid with colored stones, durrie rug weaving, brassware and embroidery. Agriculture was very dominant, as I saw farming communities all along the way, as well as industries aligned with the building trade.
Our first stop was at Faterpur Sikri about 20 miles from Agra. It was built by the Mughal Emperor Akbar between 1571 and 1584. When Akbar had no heir to his throne, he enlisted the help of holy men and visited Sheik Salim Chisti, a Sufi saint who lived in the village of Sikri. The saint foretold that he would be blessed with a son. Expressing gratitude after the birth of his son, he constructed his capital city and named it Fatehpur Sikri.
In the vast courtyard stands the magnificent marble tomb of Sheikh Salim Chisti. The tombstone of the saint lies under a beautiful canopy made of ebony, brass, mother of pearl and lapis lazuli. His blessings are still sought by childless women. The courtyard was filled with tourists, many of whom were women. I paid my love, respect and homage to this saint who has helped many even to this day. You have to believe me, when I say that I was not seeking an heir to the Edge empire!
We arrived in the city of Agra, a medieval city situated on the banks of the Yumana (Jumna) river. Agra also is known as the birthplace of Lord Krishna, the Hindu God, and for its marble and wood inlaid work and a variety of other handicrafts.
The golden age of Agra began with the Mughal Emperor Akbar in 1526. After the decline of the Mughal era, it eventually got into the hands of the British in 1803. The influence of the Mughal era is very evident in the many historical buildings in and around the city. Akbar’s tomb housed the famous Kohinoor diamond, which was in the canopy of this tomb. This famous diamond is now one of the British Crown Jewels, as it was part of the bounty when Britain invaded India. The Kohinoor, which means "Mountain of Light," is 105 carats in weight and is known to be one of the largest diamonds in the world. It was handed to Queen Victoria, who was proclaimed "Empress of India" in 1877. This diamond originated in India and belonged to various Indian and Persian rulers. According to legend, this diamond was discovered in a river bed in 3200 BC and at one time belonged to Lord Krishna.
We arrived at our hotel and managed to get a room overlooking the Taj Mahal – we could see the Minarets and the luminous marble through the haze. An hour later, we met our driver in the hotel foyer and headed to the Taj Mahal. It was late afternoon, closer to sunset when we arrived in the visitor’s parking lot about a mile from the Taj Mahal. One has to take an electric tuk tuk (scooter), an environmentally friendly vehicle that carries up to six people. All gas-emission vehicles are banned from entering the area close to the Taj Mahal, to avoid pollution and damage to this world-renowned structure.
The Taj Mahal was built in memory of the beloved wife of Shah Jehan "Mumtaz Mahal." She was accompanying him on a military expedition when she developed complications and died while delivering her 14th child. The shah was a distraught and heartbroken man. After her death, his only mission in life was to construct a monument to fulfill his wife’s last desire to symbolize their eternal love for each other.
It is estimated that nearly 20,000 workers worked relentlessly for almost 22 years (1631-1653) to complete this magnificent work of art. It is said that 35 different types of precious and semi-precious stones were used in the inlay work. Jade, crystal, turquoise, lapis lazuli, sapphire, coral and diamonds were brought in from many countries, including China, Tibet, Sri Lanka, Persia and Afghanistan. It is believed that about 1,000 elephants were used to transport the material. Shah Jehan spent the remaining years of his life as a captive of his son Aurangzeb in a palace, The Khas Mahal, which overlooked the Taj Mahal. He spent his life looking longingly at this work of art.
We walked through the gardens looking at this magnificent marble structure, which looked almost mystical in the evening sunset. Light from the setting sun as it hit the minarets and the building seemed to dance and blend with its majestic beauty. I was so transfixed and mesmerized by this vision; it brought me tears of joy. I felt an overwhelming love and bliss for this symbol of undying love and flawless beauty. Although this was my second visit, I was still in awe of this wondrous sight.
We then walked into central hall, which houses the false tombs. The original graves are located in a crypt below the central hall. The stone inlay work in both the outer and inner halls and tomb is a sight to behold – intricate work of precious and semi-precious stones inlaid in marble, done by craftsmen who excelled in their trade. Many of the original precious stones and gold became part of the British bounty and do not grace the tomb or inner walls of the structure anymore. However, this does not take away the beauty and craftsmanship of this structure.
We left the morning for Delhi and our flight to Bangalore. Along the way, we visited a large Sikh temple. It was wonderful to see people being fed all day at the temple at no charge. It is part of Sikh culture to feed anyone who visits any of their temples. No one is turned away. Donations come from the community and the food never runs out.
By the time we got to Delhi airport, Gary (my husband and Edge Life publisher) was gravely ill with the Indian curse (diarrhea). The airline was very helpful and brought in their doctor at the airport to treat him.
Next month: Experiences of Southern India