Tuesday, 31 October 2017

21st - 22nd October - New Delhi and Agra, Utter Pradesh, India

It is not very often that we return to locations we have visited before, but this year we returned to Costa Rica once again, and this month we were going back to India.  We had visited four years ago, spending time walking in the Himalayas, and finishing up in Jim Corbett National Park where we failed to see a Tiger.  This time we were returning to Delhi, but from there travelling to Agra and Jaipur, before finishing up in Ranthambore National park, with Tiger once again the objective.

We left London on the Friday evening, flying overnight and arriving in Delhi just before 11.00 local time.  It was then into the immediate Indian administration bureaucracy.  A visa is required, and they now have a very efficient electronic way to apply.  However when you arrive you have to go through special desk that then process the visa.  The queues were very long, and it took us well over an hour and a half to get through, and then when you leave the hall, you have to show someone else that you have the visa, and they are sitting ten feet from where you had just been processed.  On the plus side there was no standing around waiting for bags to arrive on the luggage carousel.

The journey to our hotel re-acquainted us with the chaos that is Delhi traffic, and of course the thick air pollution which is a feature of Delhi, but made worse following the Dewali firework celebrations during the previous week.  Once settled into the hotel, we decided to decline the afternoon city tour as we had done this previously, and instead elected to spend the afternoon relaxing around the pool.  The pool was covered with a net to keep out the many Feral Pigeons that were about, but equally impressive were the numbers of Black Kite circling, and using the lift from the high rise buildings.


There must have been over fifty in the air visible at any one time, and it was good to be able to relax and study the differences between the more familiar Red Kites we get in Four Marks.  The Black Kite being more broader and substantial in appearance, lacking the more elegant wings of the Red Kite, a less pronounced forked tail, and of course the dark brown colouring where the Red Kite is, well, red.

We spent the evening in the hotel, and managed a good night's sleep despite the time difference of four and a half hours, and were on the road with our driver Vinod just after 8.30am, our destination was to be Agra, and an afternoon visit to the Taj Mahal.


At this time of the day the traffic in Delhi is much better and of course it was a Sunday.  We stopped briefly to view the Swaminarayan Akshardham complex which is a Hindu mandir, or temple and a spiritual-cultural campus located near the banks of the Yamuna river, and close to the 2010 Commonwealth Games village which are now residential properties in eastern Delhi.


The main attraction for the many tourists that visit the Swaminarayan Akshardham complex is the Akshardham Mandir, or temple which rises 43 metres high, and over 96 metres wide, and 109 metres long.  It is intricately carved with flora, fauna, dancers, musicians, and deities.  The word Akshardham means the abode of almighty Lord Swaminarayan,
(who was a yogi, and an ascetic whose life and teachings brought a revival of central Hindu practices of dharma), and believed by followers as a temporal home of God on earth.

You can see the haze in the air associated with the air pollution.


Leaving Delhi we travelled along the Yamuna Expressway which is a 205 kilometre toll road that has recently opened and has cut the time to Agra by at least an hour.  Despite it being a toll express way there were still tractors, motorbikes and in places these could also be seen heading in the wrong direction on the carriageway, in India rules are there to be broken.

The countryside was flat, and very hazy to start with, Brick kiln chimneys spread out across the fields, and the green of rice growing in paddy fields could be seen along with many Cattle and Great Egrets plus a few Spoonbill feeding in the flooded fields.  On arriving in Agra we negotiated the madness that is city traffic and arrived at our hotel.

Our tour to the Taj Mahal was not until mid afternoon so we had time to check in and explore the hotel.  A rooftop bar gave us our first view of the Taj Mahal across the greenery of the trees in the city.


With the Dewali celebrations lasting into the weekend, the complex was very busy.  There are rules around what you can take into the grounds, no bags, no food water is provided and you have to wear shoe covers when walking on the marble.  These were the rules and the Indians did their hardest to try and break them.

The only vehicles allowed close to the Taj Mahal are electric or CNG powered so we waited for bus to take us, having climbed on to one the driver decided to go away so we had to get on another, this entailed a mad rush, but our guide held back the locals and allowed us on, this was to become a theme.

On arrival at the entrance there were two queues, one for the locals and one for the foreign visitors, for this though you do pay more.  The lines though merge into one, and then split by sex, men and women not being allowed to be in the same line to be searched.


Helen moved quicker, and as I stood watching a Macaque monkey appeared on the roof with an apple.



This was as a result of some women trying to smuggle in a whole picnic, being discovered and then having to throw it away.  Apparently they were allowed to keep four biscuits.  The monkeys meanwhile had the pick of the thrown away food!

Having finally been allowed in after being searched we walked to the East Gate, a very impressive building with Islamic script running around the archway.


As we walked through the gate we started to get the first glimpses up close of the Taj Mahal, first one of the towers.


Followed by the all too familiar dome.


The grounds were packed and as we came through the gate we encountered crowds of people all taking photographs and the now popular selfies.  I didn't know what to expect, you are so familiar with the building that you wonder if it will be as impressive in real life, well I shouldn't have doubted it, the Taj Mahal is very impressive, and is something you have to go and see.


The Taj Mahal stands majestically on the banks of River Yamuna, and is synonymous to love and romance.  The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Shah Jahan in 1631, to be built in the memory of his wife Mumtaz Mahal, a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child.  The name "Taj Mahal" was derived from the name of Shah Jahan's wife, and means "Crown Palace".

For its construction, masons, stone-cutters, inlayers, carvers, painters, calligraphers, dome builders and other artisans were requisitioned from the whole of the empire and also from the Central Asia and Iran.



Positioned in at the edge of the square around the palace are four towers.  These have been built leaning slightly away from the main palace to ensure that if there was an earthquake the towers would not fall on the palace but away from it.



Its recognised architectural beauty has a combination of solids places and open voids, concave and convex shapes and light shadows.  The arches and domes further increases the aesthetic aspect.


As the sun moves so the appearance of the white marble changes.



Different types of marbles were used in the construction of Taj Mahal and were brought over from many different regions & countries, namely Rajasthan, Punjab, China, Tibet, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, & Arabia.  More than 1,000 elephants were employed, in the transportation of the material





The uniqueness of Taj Mahal lies in some truly remarkable innovations carried out by the horticulture planners and architects of Shah Jahan. One such genius planning is the placing of tomb at one end of the quadripartite garden rather than in the exact centre, which added rich depth and perspective to the distant view of the monument.


As we walked up to the main palace, the Black Kites were circling the main dome, they are never very far away from man in India!


To enter the palace and main chamber house we had to put on the shoe covers, once again the local Indians were rebelling, trying to get away with no covers or maybe one, or just removing their shoes.  Many had walked from the main gate with the covers on completely defeating the idea of the covers keeping the marble clean.  

The line to enter the main chamber snaked all the way around the main palace, but we were able to go straight in  Their are signs calling for silence while at the same time the guards are blowing whistles to ensure the right behaviour and everyone is talking, typical Indian madness once again.

The whole palace is constructed along the lines of impeccable symmetry, there is, however, one exception. On his death, Shah Jahan’s cenotaph is positioned west of the central axis, throwing off the equilibrium from the tomb of his wife Mumtaz Mahal. The odd placement has led many to believe he never meant to be buried there at all.

The main chamber houses the false tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual graves are at a lower level.  On the sides of the actual tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, 99 names of Allah can be found as calligraphic inscriptions.  Originally the Princess was buried at Agra Fort but brought to the Taj Mahal following its construction.

Photography is not allowed in the main chamber, and coming out on the north side the sun was bright on the marble.  This overlooks the river, and on the far bank a cleared area was to be, according to local lore, where Shah Jahan wanted to construct a shadow image, an identical, but opposite Taj Mahal constructed from black marble, where he would be entombed, and connected by a silver bridge. It was said that construction came to a halt after Shah Jahan was deposed by his son (ironically, a child of Mumtaz Mahal) and imprisoned at the nearby Agra Fort, eventually being entombed along side Mumtaz Mahal in the main chamber.

We walked around the palace and to the east side there is a guest house that is a replica of the mosque on the west side to ensure the symmetry.


And coming around to the front of the building, once again the light was changing the appearance of the building.  the mosque being in the distance

 
As referred to earlier, the whole complex has been constructed along the lines of complete symmetry, according to the doctrines of the period’s style. Minarets flank the domed tomb, and a central pool reflects the main building. The gardens, which considered to be an earthly representation of paradise, are divided into quadrants, and twin red sandstone buildings (the east-facing mosque and west-facing guesthouse) give the mausoleum complex a balanced harmony.

Looking from the main palace over the pools you can see the symmetry of the gardens and main entrance.


We walked down from the marble and removed the shoe covers, then walked down into the gardens.  The lawns are supposed to be kept free of people, but of course children and adults could be seen running across them and sitting in groups below the trees.  

Our guide, who was excellent by the way, pointed out some positions where the Taj Mahal was framed perfectly for photographs, this through the trees.




And this framed by the arches of the corridor that runs either side of the main entrance.

Finally a little more central.


We sat talking for awhile, taking in the majesty of the site, our guide explaining a little more about the construction and the history.  Black Kites soared overhead, and the loud calls of Rose-ringed Parakeets filled the air as they flew over, adding to the spectacle.  We then left by the main gate and headed out of the west gate.  Looking across the domes were always visible contrasting with the red Sandstone of the outer buildings and walls.


Rather than catching anothjer electric bus, we walked to meet Vinod and the car on the opposite side to where we had arrived.  On the side of the road macaque monkeys sat on the fences and in the trees watching for any opportunity of a free meal.  This one particular Macaque had manged to snatch an ice lolly from someone, and sat licking it by holding the stick, had they learnt to eat it this way?


It wasn't too happy with it though, and seemed to find it a little too cold, by the expression on its face as it licked the lolly.


Our next stop was to be the Agra Fort.  The Red Fort of Agra is one of the finest Mughal forts in India.  It was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till 1638, when the capital was shifted from Agra to Delhi.


We entered through the Amar Singh Gate the southerly point of the fort, and the sole entry point to the fort today.  In doing so we crossed what was the first line of defence a crocodile infested moat. 


The path is of a dogleg design which was meant to confuse attackers who made it past the first line of defence, up a slope down which is understood large stones could be rolled to defend from invasion.


The ear-shaped fort’s double walls rise more than 20m and measure 2.5km in circumference. The Yamuna River originally flowed along the straight eastern edge of the fort, and the emperors had their own bathing tubs here. It contains a maze of buildings, forming a city within a city, including vast underground sections, though many of the structures were destroyed over the years by Nadir Shah, the Marathas, the Jats and finally the British, who used the fort as a garrison. Even today, much of the fort is used by the military and off-limits to the general public.

I was taken by some of the arches in the public areas, the shapes and scalloping along with the late afternoon light creating some interesting images.

 


Where the fort looks out across the river there was a stunning view of the Taj Mahal as the sun began to fall in the sky.  The scene added to by the flocks of Parakeets that flew across the river calling.



With the light failing quickly huge flocks of House Swifts congregated in the sky above the Fort's domes.


We left the fort to meet the car once again, and standing by the side of the road we were totally immersed in the chaos that is Indian city traffic.  A bus passed with people gazing absent mindlessly out of the window.


 While the Tut-tuts stream past amidst the endless noise of the car and motorbike horns.  There are millions of these three-wheeled scooters that are basically taxis within the city.  Nowadays they run on CNG to help reduce the air pollution, and are decorated elaborately by their owners.
 


Following a short stop at a local craft outlet we were back in the hotel.  The light goes quickly just after 18.00.  Tomorrow it was another early start, we were heading for the city of Jaipur, but with one or two stops along the way.

2 comments:

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  2. India is big country and there are lots of tourist place. Get the list of famous destination in India, Taj Mahal, Hawa Mahal, Golden Temple, Mehrangarh, Gateway of India, Lotus Temple, Jaisalmer Fort, Jaigarh Fort, Chandni Chowk, Victoria Memorial, Kolkata, Qutb Minar, Jantar Mantar, Jaipur. These places are so famous and these are suitable for holidays tour packages. This blog has useful information about tour package.

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