I had the opportunity to head to India for a week with my job at John Deere. The trip was mostly spent visiting our factories and some suppliers. The following week we headed to China, which meant we had a weekend to travel around a bit. Our last stop in India was in Delhi, which is 200km away from Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. None of us had been to the Taj so we braved the 4-hour drive there and back.
We hired a personal guide to drive along with us, and he had a few pre-arranged stops for us along the way. While headed to Agra we stopped at this little rest stop for a bio break and water. In the parking lot were some dancers and a small snake charmer hoping for tips.
Driving in India is an "interesting" experience. I think all of us thought we were going to die at some point. Using one's horn is sport and pity the fool that gets in the way. We never really ever traversed any of our journeys on a motorway. Mostly it was two or four lane streets with a mixture of pedestrians (too many for major roads), bicycles, auto rickshaws, and large trucks all moving much, much slower than our tourist van. The result was chaos on the roads.
The above photos were actually taken a few days before our trip to the Taj at the Karnataka-Tamil Nadu Border. I have no idea why they have border checks between states, but they do. I liked the "Blow Horn" photo on the large lorry. Yes, we did blow our often.
Here are some more photos of "vehicles" that shared all the roads making trips twice as long as they should be. Everywhere.
We determined that there are no actual rules for the road just rules of thumb to avoid being killed. But no actual rules.
A short video I took driving from New Delhi to Agra. Gives a hint to the chaos of driving in India.
After an eternity in the car from Delhi to Agra, we finally arrived at the Taj Mahal. In the left photo are: Max, Jim, myself, Wes and Curt. The right photo shows our tour guide Sudil. I won't write a ton about the history of the place because there are tons of places on the web for information.
Of course, I went a little out of turn, because actually getting to the Taj is a bit of a process. In order to help protect the building no gas or diesel vehicles are permitted within a couple kilometers of the complex. Therefore, you must park and take a horse drawn carriage, walk or electric bus to the gate. We took the electric bus, but even with this non-polluting vehicle the authorities still make you walk the last kilometer. Mostly so you'll be forced to walk past some vendors.
The left photo shows the ticket window and the right is the vendor for bottled water and shoe covers. You are not allowed to walk on the white marble of the Taj without shoe covers.
After getting your ticket you must go through a metal detector and pat down. Do you like how the guys are laughing at me? I guess it looked like the guard was getting a little frisky...
Almost everything in the compound aside from the Taj is made out of local red sandstone. The left photo shows the entrance structure and the right photo shows some of the resident craftsmen needed to maintain the buildings.
Here's the main gateway structure leading to the Taj. The left photo is taken from the outside and the right photo is from inside the Taj complex.
As you exit the gateway building you are faced with the most famous image of the Taj Mahal. I even took a photo of where everyone gets their money shot.
Some more photos I enjoyed.
To the west of the Taj Mahal is the red sandstone Mosque...
...and on the east side is the Guest House. Though it was never used as such. Click here for a more detailed explanation of the Mosque and Guest House (large picture of plaque on site).
Some more cool photos from the Guest House (east) side. Just to give you an idea of the scale, the spire on top of the Taj's white dome is 10 meters tall.
The Taj Mahal was built on the banks of the Yamuna River, which when it's not monsoon season allows the locals to do some washing up.
What makes the Taj Mahal so impressive is the craftsmanship the building required. Nothing is painted on the surface. Everything is inlaid into the marble, which took over 20,000 craftsmen over 20 years to complete (in 1648). There's a reason millions of people come to see it every year.
The left photo shows calligraphy made of black onyx and the right photo shows some of the raised plant motifs. The entire surface of the place is covered with semi-precious stones that supposedly make it glow in the evening. We weren't allowed to take photos inside (though many did).
One more picture for good measure.
Because no tour with a guide can be complete without ample opportunities to buy stuff, we stopped at the Cottage Industries Exposition, which had a simple demonstration of how the inlay work was done on the Taj. Supposedly there are only 200 families in Agra that guard the secrets of working the marble.
The white Indian marble is fully crystallized and non-porous making it extremely hard and durable. Not the easiest to work with if you'd like to inlay semi-precious stones. The cutters with the wheels form the pieces to be inlaid out of the semi-precious stones. Then another person uses a couple metal picks to make an impression into the marble. Very slow process, but the result is quite cool. And expensive.
The last stop in Agra was the Tomb of Akbar the Great who ruled the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1605.
We liked the guy mowing the grass since we work for the John Deere division responsible for lawn mowers. I think he needed an upgrade. The above photos just show the outer gate of the tomb. We knew how treacherous and long the drive back to Delhi would be so we declined paying to tour the inside. Therefore, I was relegated to taking a photo of the tomb through the gate's archway.
On our way out of the country through the Indira Gandhi Airport in Delhi, we were greeted by this fine chap. He promises to bring us a world class airport someday. Plastic gun and all. The contrast to the chaos that is the Delhi International Airport is stark when you then get off the plane in the new Beijing Terminal 3 (right photo). India has a long way to go with its infrastructure.
© 2008 Doug Rathburn. All rights reserved.