Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Taj Mahal - a Quick Trip in India

at Taj Mahal (1999), one of the true (man-made) wonders of the world!

(1999). I had this business trip in Mumbai for 2 days and had experienced India for the first time.  Mumbai, and the rest of India have so many interesting historical monuments and wide variety of things to do or places to visit.   
In Mumbai, I  stayed in Taj Mahal palace hotel, a huge hotel built in early 1900s with several hundred rooms.  (Of interest - In 2008, a terrorist group attacked this same hotel which left almost 40 people dead, and total 167 including other parts of Mumbai).  

My trip in Mumbai was primarily for business so I only did a quick tour.  But I  took the opportunity to know the country better so I extended my stay to about a week. My primary tour objective was of course to “verify my history book”, and see if Taj Mahal was for real ;).  I took a plane to New Delhi instead of the long haul train ride.  Delhi is to the north of India and shorter train ride to Agra and Jaipur.  The area of the 3 cities is more popularly known as the ‘Golden Triangle’ as it forms a triangle in the map.   Tourist will almost always follow this path in different sequence, but the same 3 cities anyway -  with Agra as the highlight, as it’s where one would find one of the famous wonders of the world - the Taj Mahal.


Women in traditional clothes walking the streets with their 'packs'.

I just have to try it ;)  Elephants were used by Asians, Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians in their ancient battles - and with primitive weaponry then these magnificent animals (sadly) represents a good 'tank force'.

Like any newly renovated cities in Asia, New Delhi was quite neat and spacious (I am not sure today).  It’s still in India, so the temperature was at 39s or 40s (Centigrade).  Lots of things to see and visit, but back then, given my limited time,  I’ve decided to just breeze through this city, and focus on the more interesting ones… 

It was just day 3 or 4, and I was already fed up with curry food.  Unfortunately, there was only one McDonald’s in the entire Indian state (at that time), it was somewhere in Delhi, but nowhere to be found. Argh!  And so I tried hard to swallow some more curry food, and then headed for the station that will bring me to Agra.  The train place was a nightmare, no signs on which train to ride, hundred or so people scattered everywhere – some are lying in the dirty floor, dogs-cats-&-rats running here and there, a familiar foul smell emanates from ground-holes and wash-rooms, and there was always this weird feeling that I was being closely watched and will suddenly be mugged (my imagination at least haha).  I spent 2 hours waiting for the train, carrying my pack on my shoulders the whole time for not wanting dirt to stick on it. 

Luckily, I got a (not-so-) executive-class ticket so ride was bearable.  I slept on the train bunk-bed with my boots on, using my pack as my pillow.  I went straight to Taj Mahal – my primary objective. True to the letters of my travel and history books,  it was really there!  (Of course!) Traveling hundreds of miles to see an object you were merely browsing in a postcard or guidebook offered an instant feeling of ‘completion’.  It’s somehow similar to climbing where you spend most of your time sweating out, then there’s that small moment of triumph and joy as you start taking pictures of yourself standing in that summit goal. So it was something like that.  I spend a few hours taking pictures, taking more pictures, and yes… taking some more pictures.  There is so many shot-angle opportunities and subject-background combinations that you can easily lose off a roll of film (this was a way back before digital cameras became the norm).  The structure was made of marbles and some ornamental colored stones.  Everything was built symmetrically… interior designs, doors, windows, minarets… 
far and away,  it's difficult to get a perfect shot with no people in your frame

Like lake Pinatubo (but maybe for a different reason), the color of Taj Mahal seems to vary throughout the day (or depending on the weather).

As I entered the monumental monument – I was asked to leave my shoes before we could take a peek at the queen, rather, the queen’s tomb. Ah, there she was, the reason for this great splendor!  If the emperor wanted a lasting symbol of his love – this piece truly worked for him.

There is just one thing that seemed to be out of place... Apparently, after the king’s death, it was decided to bring in the king’s sarcophagus lying beside the centered piece of the queen.  A tolerable interior glitch anyway.

The place was enormous just to be a simple mausoleum.  It was built in the 1600 by Emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz.  I learned that it required a labor force of 20,000 (from India, Syria, Persia) working for 22 years.  As with other majestic architectural wonder, some dark legend persists – it was rumored that the workers’ arms were cut off so as not to repeat the same architectural feat (a dark piece of history that was never proven). 

Outside, as I took my last (photo) shot, and did my ‘last look of awe’,  I  concluded that Taj Mahal was indeed a wonder.  And all that cost and many sacrifices for the king’s dear and beloved queen.  And of course, for us – the queen’s modern visitors.

After Taj, every other wonders somehow became ‘secondary’ and like a visitor-in-a-tight-schedule, I went on hopping  from one site to the next.  The next destination was the desert city of Jaipur or the Pink City.  I’ve visited the Fortress Palace in Amer, then there was this City Palace tour, and the Jantar Mantar art exhibit  displaying gigantic instruments used in observatories, possibly to tell the positions of Venus and Saturn planets.  I did my tour in a fast-forward manner as I was running out of time.  I soon crossed out the primary items in my to-visit, or to-do checklist and veered home.  I missed my ‘normal’ food so much, so finally, I waved my good-bye, ditch out my remaining curry-flavored potato chips, and boarded the plane that will take me back home…

loving the ride. I almost did a Camel ride as well (in Jaipur I think) but noticed that the poor dude was in bad state.

Maybe I took this shot in the Monkey's Temple in Jaipur (I may have mixed my travel photos)

The Black Messenger?

As the Suharto crisis in 1998 when I was in Jakarta in the middle of the chaos, my friends back home got worried when they heard the news of a train collision in the north of India, an accident that killed 280 (but rumored to be a lot more).  They said that I am a disaster magnet.  Luckily I was a hundred miles off that route when I was taking the train to and from Agra.  But 2 years later, I was at risk of being stuck in Northern Pakistan (tribes were connected to the Taliban), a few days after the 9/11 incident.  4 years more, I’ll be in Caucasus during the Beslan school hostage crisis, it ended in a military siege killing more than 350 .  Late the same year, I was in Argentina when a disco house burned down and killed 194 people.  I swear – these incidents have nothing to do with me.  =)

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