Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India Week 140 -141 December 7th - 11th 2013
India isn't all dust and dirt.

Part of most largish towns is the cantonment.

A British invention with wider streets and larger properties.

In some places some of the opulence remains.

This is the residence of a magistrate.

There are few geological features in this part of northern India.

Its really a vast river plain.

We did cross the Chambral Ravines. Sand carved by water.

So to Agra.

The Lauries Hotel.

Late in the day Yannick and Miriam (with two sons) arrived.

They'd been to the Taj Mahal already and would leave the next day.

We relaxed and contented ourselves with squirrel watching.

Strangely reminiscent of 'flat world'.

As well as recovering from colds (the cough seems to linger for longer as we age) we have understood that one doesn't have to be in Delhi to be afflicted with Delhi Belly. 

Late in the afternoon an Indian gentleman approached our truck and struck up a conversation.

There's usually a pattern to such conversations. Starting with "where are you from?" and so on.

Something a bit different this time. After a little while he invited us to his daughter's wedding.

We feel very privileged.

About 9pm the groom arrived with much fanfare. Lights (powered by generator in following truck), band, and horse.

As we watched the groom's elder brother collared us. Insistent we join in.

It looks like a very traditional Hindu wedding.

Somewhere in the middle is a 'mock' (I think) rifle. A bit of symbolism from the Jat. A warrior clan from north west of Agra.

The first part of the ceremony is the father of the bride gifting the bride to the groom.

Conducted in Sanskrit.

Much ritual, which we couldn't follow.

The bride is nowhere to be seen.

The women had formed a 'barrier'. It looked like passage was prevented until this part of the ceremony was complete.

Ali got to cross the line.

We were never alone.

People ready to look after us. Explain what was happening. Take us for food. Urge us to dance.

Not just a wedding, a different India to that which we see on the streets.

Meanwhile the groom got to wait.

But eventually the bride arrived and he could help her onto the platform.
Bride, groom and father of the bride.

We missed an important part of the ceremony.

The bride and groom got to circle a fire. Seven times. As they made their vows.

Not sure but it was/is law that the marriage isn't legal until that part of the ceremony is complete.

The father looked a bit worn out when he said farewell to us next morning.

How do we say thankyou enough?

Of course its not really a good idea to visit Agra and not the Taj Mahal.

Agra was the Mughal capital of India.

Nothing to do with Harry Potter the Mughals were of Uzbekistan origin. Claimed descendants of Genghis Khan.

Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal was the 5th Emperor.

This building is just the front gate.

Muslim in origin the decoration is of calligraphy and floral patterns.

Nothing anthropomorphic in sight.

The Mughals were predominantly Muslim though later adopted a more obscure religion.

From the early 1500's they ruled most of the Indian sub-continent, including Afghanistan.

Their rule declined into the 1800's following the Deccan Wars and the stated independence of various Indian Maharajahs and Nawobs.

Then once through the gate .....
But of course, apart from the marble veneer part of the attraction is the symmetry.

As high as it is wide. The same from all four sides.

The appearance of the minarets leaning inwards is an aberration of the camera lens.

Apparently they lean out a bit.

It is of course necessary to have a 'we was here' photo.
There's a bit of pollution in the air.

The Archeological Survey of India inform us the Suspended Particulate Matter is 396.7 microgrammes per litre of air.

Apparently the 'safe' level is 100.

No wonder we've been struggling to rid ourselves of our coughs. 

But the translucence of the marble is still apparent.

It was cleaned in 2002.

The artwork is inlaid stone.

There seems to be some inconsistent information about what is inlaid.

Is it black jasper. Or onyx. Or black marble?

I prefer to think of at least some black marble.

Perhaps as I once heard, but can never confirm, from that quarry at Pooil Vaaish on the Isle Of Man.

Then again, maybe it was used in the steps of St Paul's Cathedral.

West of the mausoleum is a mosque.

East, to preserve the symmetry, is an identical building which is not a mosque.

The mausoleum, built to inter Shah Jahan's favourite wife, Mumtaz Ali, is on a marble platform.

Built around 1612.

The centre of the mausoleum houses two sarcophagae.

One for Shah Jahan, the other for Mumtaz Ali.

The real sarcophagae are downstairs.

Not possible to visit.

Surrounded by delicate carved screens. Lit through carved gratings.

Somewhere there are semi-precious stones inlaid in the marble.

So we had a look at the non-mosque.
Next is the Red Fort.
Inside there is a string of 'mahals'.

First is the Bengali Mahal. Built around 1569.

The Mughals tended to rule by managing the economy and related systems rather than by force.

A 'keep the peasants happy' approach that created significant wealth.

Flat roofs (and ceilings).

The span is extended with butresses.

The Taj Mahal is mostly red sandstone. The marble is a veneer.

Through an arch to the Khas Mahal.

Though the signs were a bit hard to spot.

About 1635.

Somewhere is the Shahjahani Mahal.

A progression from sandstone to marble.

It has eight sides.

Overlooking the river.

Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort after being overthrown by his son.

From here he could see the Taj Mahal.

Even the pillars have inlaid stone.
And some of the lapis lazuli, mother of pearl, and other stones we didn't see at 'the Taj'.

(see how easily that rolls off the tongue .....).

Kind of peaceful.
And still ornate.

We think these are palaces inside a wall rather than a fort!

The Taj is in the distance somewhere.
The Diwan I Am has 27 'domes'.

Significant for astrology.

There's a throne in the middle. A meeting place.

Third on the list is the 'mini Taj'.
The tomb of I Timad-ud-dalauh.

Just the front gate.

Built 9 years before the Taj Mahal.

Demonstrating some of the symmetry of the Taj.
But much more dense inlays.
The same on every side.
And the minarets.
But this time coarser grained conglomerates and other less precious stone.
Two tombs.
And some of the Muslim inspired paintings around the centre.
But enough.

A quick trip along the riverside to have a last look across at the Taj.

The afternoon crowds weren't interested in waving.

A quick stop for veggies then home.

'Home' is The Lauries Hotel (car park). In its hey day it provided accommodation for QEII and hubby. 1961.

Its been overtaken a bit.

Three monuments in one day is a bit taxing ....

We've been 5 nights in Agra. Ready to leave tomorrow.

Fatehpur Sikri, Uttar Pradesh, India Week 141 December 12th 2013

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