Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Taj Mahal

There was a T-shirt on sale in the town of Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located which proclaimed "Go Via Agra and witness man's greatest erection for a woman" lol, yeah ok, I know it's kinda crude but you gotta admit it is funny, and quite true actually. The Taj Mahal was, in fact, built for the love of a woman. It stands as an amazing monument to love and the great heartache of love lost. So now here it is in pictures and stories as I experienced it.

Me and an English fellow named John I'd met the evening before at dinner agreed to get up at the butt crack of dawn to beat the crowds and see the Taj Mahal. So at 5:30 AM we found ourselves to be the only ones in line waiting to buy a ticket to enter which we were allowed to do at 6:00 and in we walked...the first two people through the gate.

After you walk through the outer courtyard and head towards the main gate this is the view which greets you and your heart starts thumping and you get a goofy sorta grin on your face as it begins to dawn on you that you've finally made it, after all the travel and difficulties, you're only steps away from one of the great wonders of the world.

Then there it is, in all its splendor and white marble, the Taj Mahal. Built to be the eternal resting place of Shah Jahan's true love, Mumtaz. The story goes that the beloved Mumtaz died giving birth to her 16th child. No wonder Shah Jahan felt so bad and went to such lengths for the poor gal, he killed her by knocking her up 16 times, she must have spent her whole life pregnant!

The Taj Mahal is surrounded by four minarets but since it's actually a tomb and not a mosque they're not used for calling the faithful to prayer but simply as towering decorations.

They say it took 20,000 workers 12 years just to complete the main tomb building, and when you get up close you can see why it would have taken so long with the intricate carvings and inlay work, the small details are just as beautiful as the building as a whole.

The Taj Mahal was constructed using materials from all over India and Asia. Over 1,000 elephants were used to transport building materials during the construction. The translucent white marble was brought from Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.

Agra Fort in the distance

The story goes that as Shah Jahan was advancing in years that he decided to build an identical Taj on the other side of the river from the original one only this one would be made entirely of black marble. His son, the heir to the throne, had other ideas since the building of the first one had all but bankrupt the kingdom (they say the price tag was somewhere in the billions of dollars in todays money) So the son placed the father under a kind of house arrest and forced him to live out the remainder of his days in an apartment built for him, out of marble of course, atop the walls of the Agra Fort which he was never allowed to leave. He apparently spent the last 7 years of his life gazing across the river at the Taj Mahal and mourning the loss of Mumtaz, his one true love.

Shah Jahan's marble apartment built on the walls of the Agra Fort facing across the Yamuna river to the Taj Mahal.

I dunno what the Indians call this critter but it looked to me like a squirrel accidentally humped a chipmunk and out popped this little guy.

Later in the day we went to the other side of the river to take pictures of the Taj from that vantage point where there was a little kid who would not stop harassing me until I let him take a picture of me "holding" the Taj Mahal...for which he later wanted some compensation for, of course.

Here's a view of the Taj Mahal from the roof of my hotel just after sunset. I would have taken the picture at sunset but there was a monkey on the roof enjoying the view during that time and know how I feel about monkeys, so I wasn't about to disturb him.

Taj Mahal Quote of the Day:


Taj entry fee for foreigners - 750 Rupees (17.83 USD)
Taj entry fee for Indians - 20 Rupees (0.47 USD)

Does that seem fair to you? Now don't get me wrong, I'm familiar with the idea of a discount for locals but lets at least try to be a little equitable.


Sorry it's been a month late in coming but here's the next update in the India saga that was most of my summer. In this installment we'll take a look at the beautiful Himalayan town of Shimla in pictures and anecdotes. Feel free to click on the images to enlarge them to their full size.

Ahhh...Shimla, a truly beautiful, cool town and I mean that both in temperature and state of being.

There always seemed to be something going on up on "The Ridge" near the church. This couple was dancing to the song the man behind them was singing acapella. I love the look on this dude's face, so typical of this area, the men chasing the women and the women seemingly indifferent.

Mmmmm...Chicken Tikka with some stuffed Kulcha on the side...I miss you

Here's my British classmate and study partner/drinking buddy being attacked by a random roaming cow. Yes, it may look as though he's just stroking ole Bessy behind the ears but tis not so. Actually Bessy got rather annoyed when Stephen stood in front of her to take her picture so she, wishing she had horns, rammed her head into his belly basically telling him to piss off, lol, moody cow.

Here's Stephen with Naveen, our Koenig trainer, in our classroom. Stephen's going for the grandaddy of all Koenig courses, the MCSE career track, which is a 3 month intensive program and Naveen gets the pleasure of being his trainer for the whole the end of which they will either be fast friends or one of them will lay bleeding and dying on the floor.

As I mentioned Shimla is cool, even downright cold at night which surprised me everyone kept saying how hot India was going to be, but not in the mountains it ain't. So being that all I had with me were Saipan clothes I had to buy a jacket, hat and some long pants. So here's me taking a picture of my new getup in the mirror of the fancyass Clark Hotel where we had an outrageously overpriced dinner.

Here's a picture of some Chicken Masala which I'm pretty sure was responsible for my next four days of absolute agony. I dunno how else to explain it except to say that it felt like someone was stabbing me in the stomach after which time my backside would literally explode. At the time I was going through a roll of toilet paper per day.

We came across this guy and his herd of water buffalo on the way to Hatu Peak. In order for our car to pass he forced his flock up onto the precipitous hillside, where they started to slip and stumble...I was sure one of them was going to roll down that hill into our car.

Here I am at the top of Hatu Peak (3400 meters). I was still suffering from some gastrointestinal issues when we reached the summit so for the first time in my life I was forced to find a tree, squat, and spend some quality time communing with nature. That smile is a giant grin of relief!

No, don't worry they haven't been shot in the head, they're just the rarely encountered British Hindu, also known as Rob and Stephen. Stephen had a habit of rubbing his forehead thus smearing red dot all over his brow.

On the way back to Delhi from Shimla I had a ten hour bus ride which was made even longer by the fact that we suddenly ran into a landslide on one of those steep, and I do mean steep, switchback mountain roads. So, our intrepid bus driver, stopped the coach, sighed, picked up a sledgehammer he kept on hand for just such an occasion and started whacking away. After he tired some of the other passengers would take a few turns smacking at the rock to make a path for our bus. I offered my services but he took one look at me and insisted that I sit and watch, now I know I'm a pretty big wuss but something in his demeanor made me think that I had probably paid 5 times as much as the other passengers...ah well, such is India.

Finally we were able to squeeze the old Volvo "Luxury Coach" through and it was on to Delhi...or so we thought...

Unfortunately it was not to be, we got about an hour outside of Delhi when the bus broke down. The bus driver told everyone to get out, opened the doors to the luggage hold, pointed south and basically said "Delhi's that way" before flagging down one of the overcrowded local buses which miraculously absorbed him and the rest of the Indian passengers leaving me and the two Dutch fellows sitting on side of the road in the middle of Whoknowswhere, India staring at half a dozen guys who didn't have a full set of teeth between them but who did manage enough English to say "You go Delhi?" "2000 rupee!" sigh...Ai Adai...

India Quote of the Day:


-it's the default answer to every question regardless of whether its true or not...Can I have some more toilet paper? "Yes" Is this really chicken? "Yes" Do you have any beer besides Kingfisher? "Yes" Do you secretly enjoy dressing in womens clothing at night when no one else is around? slight pause..."Yes?"