The Final Hoorah!
What a weekend it has been! On Friday, Aubrey and I hopped on a plane and flew north to Delhi. We had big plans to see the Taj Mahal and experience a new part of India.
Upon arrival, we had to get ourselves a taxi, which proved to be quite a struggle. No one spoke English or understood where we needed to go. We went in a few circles but finally found ourselves in a cab. We had paid extra to have a car with air conditioning, but to our surprise the cab we got in had no a/c and it was about 100 degrees out. We were both very sweaty and very hot by the time we made it to the hostel. We checked in and were very happy to discover a bug free air-conditioned room. Our hostel is very close to a major shopping area in Delhi, so we decided to check it out. One side of the street was filled with street vendors selling everything from clothes, to toys, to tourist souvenirs. The other side of the street was like a strip mall, packed with stores such as; Adidas, Lacoste (which we forgot existed still) and Levis, and about every restaurant you can imagine. Aubrey and I got slightly overwhelmed by it all and ended up having dinner at the most American restaurant in the entire place, Johnny Rockets. We felt a little silly about eating there, but the food was good so we were happy. We were both exhausted from traveling all day, and we had to be ready by 6:00 am the next morning so we fell asleep pretty early.
The next morning a driver came to pick us up to take us to Agra, a city about 3 hours away from Delhi where the Taj Mahal is. Our driver was very nice, and spoke enough English to have a conversation which made the drive much more enjoyable. We discovered a coffee shop along the way that only served purified ice, which meant the first iced lattes in over a month for us! Our driver hired a guide to show us around the Taj and give us some information during our visit. Thankfully, we got to the Taj early enough before it was super busy. We bought our tickets, which cost 25 times more for tourists than locals, and got in line to have our bags checked. To our surprise, the security guards told us that we weren’t allowed to bring our backpacks in. Apparently, as of a few months ago, only purses are allowed inside the grounds now. There was a moment of panic before our guide came to the rescue. He had a friend who owned a shop right outside the entrance gate. We got our cameras out of our bags and he took them to his friends shop for safe keeping until we left. The Taj and its entire surrounding area is absolutely beautiful. We were immediately in awe of the size and pictures don’t even begin to do it justice.
Here’s a mini history lesson on the Taj Mahal for all of you: a very long time ago, one of the Indian kings had 3 wives. The first and second wife couldn’t have children, so he married the third and had 14 (be careful what you wish for people). Unfortunately, his 3rd wife died during childbirth with their 14th child. Because she was so special to the king due to her fertility, he decided to honor her. He had the Taj Majal built so that she could be buried properly. It took 22 years to construct and is made entirely of white marble and precious stones. All of the colorful flower designs in the building are stones hand placed into the marble. If someone wanted to build a Taj Mahal today, it would cost them multiple billions of dollars, so basically it’s a super expensive building. Not only was the king so obsessed with his third wife, but he had a serious case of OCD as well. The Taj itself, as well as all the buildings surrounding it are perfectly symmetrical. There is an identical mosque and guest house on either side of the Taj, the tombs of both his first and second wives on either side of the courtyard area (which might I add are very simple plain buildings, clearly this guy played favorites), and 4 pillars one on each corner of the Taj. Each of these pillars stand at a 94 angle so that if there was an earthquake, they wouldn’t fall on the building and ruin it. There is a fountain that runs in front of the building, perfectly down the center. The wife’s grave is placed right on the center line in the very middle of the inside. The only thing that is off center is the grave of the king himself. It is placed just slightly to the left of his wife.
Aubrey and I spent quite a bit of time taking in the beauty of this wonder as well as taking lots of pictures. Our guide was so kind and basically became our photographer while we were there. We got to sit on the same bench that Princess Diana sat on when she visited the Taj, which may or may not have been my favorite part of the day (Aubrey would probably roll her eyes at me if she was watching me write this). We never thought we would be able to get so close to a famous building, let alone go inside. We had to put these funny shoe covers on that made us look like elves in order to protect the floor of the inside. The only thing that’s on the inside is the graves of the king and his wife. The real ones are on the basement floor, but closed permanently to visitors. However, they built replica graves directly above the real ones for tourists to see. Despite being hotter and sweatier than we ever have been, it was one of the coolest experiences of our lives. The building was more beautiful than we could have ever imagined and it was incredible to get to see a piece of history like that.
After exploring the Taj and its surrounding courtyard, we went to a few shops. The first one we got to see how they made the marble and stone designs in the Taj. It is all done by hand and an extremely tedious process. Next, we got to see a jewelry shop where one man was making hanging rugs entirely by hand. His family is one of the last Persian families in India to still do this work, so the government pays for the work to be done. The owner of the shop also showed us some gems called, Star of India, which can only be found in Agra. They are used in the Taj and when the sun or moon light hits just right the entire building sparkles with tiny stars. I got very distracted by all of the gemstones and ended up buying a very expensive ring made of a black Star of India stone. Aubrey had much more self control than I did and didn’t spend any money. We had an incredible day exploring the Taj Mahal and it is definitely a memory we won’t ever forget.
We tried to be adventurous at dinner and order Indian food without Prem and Rita, which ended up being a huge mistake. We told our waiter that we didn’t want our food spicy at all, however the first bite Aubrey took had a ghost pepper in it and she almost died. 3 pieces of bread and a lot of water later Aubrey survived and we decided that were gonna stick to Johnny Rockets when we go out on our own.