Monday, 3 April 2017

India Day 2

 Day two in India we went to Agra. It is a three-four hour drive from Delhi. I had planned on just staring out the window taking in the Indian countryside the whole ride. That did not happen. Lyndon and I both fell asleep and woke up as we pulled into the hotel.

We stayed at the Trident Hotel in Agra. It was really nice. As we walked in, the staff welcomed us and marked our foreheads with a tikka (red paint/paste) that the Hindus receive when they go into a temple (the other mark is a sticker called a bindi just worn for fashion). I loved wearing the tikak. I felt really elegant. I don't know why, but I really liked it, and was really excited when we visited some other Hindu temples and recieved the tikka.

We pretty much just dropped our bags in our room and immediately left to go sightseeing. First place was Agra Fort. Absolutely amazing! It is a huge structure with a wall that is 2.5km long that encloses the Fort. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and rightly so. It is where the Mughals ruled and where Shah Jahan lived and was imprisoned, and he is the reason for the Taj Mahal. Within Agra Fort are several palaces, a couple of mosques, views of the Yamuna River, and you can see the Taj Mahal from its balconies. We were absolutely blown away. It was hot, so I wore my scarf over my head. There was no religious requirement that had women cover their heads. It was just hot, so I wore it like that. We were traveling light, and it is easier to travel with a scarf than a big bulky sunhat.

We had an amazing tour guide, Nitten, that Melissa Tours set us up with. He was so knowledgeable about all the sites he took us to, answered all of our questions (we were asking them constantly), basically a professional photographer, and we had such a great time traveling with him in Agra.

A little bit of history about the Fort that Nitten shared with us. It was built as a military fortress by Akbar, one of the Mughals (the people that came from Mongolia and Turkey) in the 1560s. We joked with Nitten about General Ackbar from Star Wars being named after Akbar, and I think someone should totally sell some t-shirts there with General Ackbar and Agra Fort on there.  As you walk in there is a long walk way up to the first courtyard. Nitten told us that it was built in a way that it echoed really well, so when Akbar or any other important person arrived they could announce it and everyone would hear and know that someone important was coming. He also told us at the entrance that they would pour hot oil on their enemies (beware!). Akbar built a lot of it in red sandstone. His grandson, Shah Jahan, later used white marble to build his palaces inside the fort. Shah Jahan is an interesting character. He is the third son from a warrior class family. He was extremely aggressive or ambitious and killed all his older brothers so that he could be crowned emperor. Later on he was imprisoned at Agra Fort for eight years for killing his brothers. His one request was that he be able to see the Taj Mahal, because his wife was buried there, and he wanted to be able to see her everyday. So they gave him this beautiful area with a balcony with a straight shot view of the Taj Mahal in the distance. That's a little bit of the historical highlights that we learned on that tour.

 After an amazing lunch, everything we ate in India was just amazing, we toured a rug warehouse, where they make the traditional knotted rugs. The government helps subsidies the traditional crafts in India so that it will not die out. We are standing in front of all the kashmir wool they use in the different rugs. Our tour guide told us we could jump in it if we wanted. The Indians have a fantastic sense of humor, that kept us laughing the whole trip. We got to see the process from the knotting all the way to the finished piece. They are made with kashmir, and combos with pashmina and silk. We got to walk all over them and feel the differences between the different materials. They showed us how the color of the carpet changes from light to dark depending on the angle. They have a few special edition pieces that are modeled off ones from the Taj Mahal, and told us that the MET in NYC has one of the original rugs on display. Totally going to check it out when we get back to NYC.

The next stop was the Itimad-ud-Daulah, loveling called the Baby Taj. It is the tomb of Mizra Ghiyas Beg, who was chief advisor to the fourth Mhugal emperor. What makes this site a must see it the beautiful architecture.   It is built in the same style and material as the Taj Mahal. The marble lattice screens are just breathtaking. The artwork is a little more delicate than the Taj's as well. It is just a stunning structure. We did not spend a whole of time here. The grounds are not very big, so it can be done pretty quickly. Everything is built symmetrically, so there are four gates, but two are only there for aesthetics. It is built in the white marble with the inlaid precious stones. It is beautiful. At the back gate (which was originally the front gate) we had a great view of the Yamuna River. It was originally the front gate because once the river was a lot higher and boats would dock there so people could come to the tomb. On our way out, a troop of monkeys started venturing into the site. We walked by big one that plopped itself at the front gate. It was very surreal to see the monkeys in an urban environment. It felt like we were in the Jungle Book with the monkeys and the architecture. 

Once again, we had an amazing meal of a vegetarian curry and naan bread. I ate so much naan bread. We ordered a traditional Indian dessert, kulfi. It said it was pistachio and cardamom ice cream. It totally was not. It was weird and they were so nice and gave us something else without charging us. We had to fuel up for the next day, because we had to get up at 5:30am to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. 

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