After taking our 2 hour train ride from Delhi to Agra, we arrive at the Taj Mahal, one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Not to sound cliché, but it’s no wonder! To call the Taj breathtakingly beautiful would be an understatement. Honestly, there really aren’t words strong enough to describe it’s magnificence—like everything else I have encountered on this journey through India, it is something that words cannot adequately describe, but rather is something that must be experienced and felt. India is different for everyone depending on what they have experienced in their life and where their mindset it. If you are not ready for India, you cannot appreciate what she has to offer, but the Taj, oh, the Taj! Not only is she a sight to behold, but her story, just like each of our own, is one to be told!
The construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1631 and took 22 years (1631-1653) and 22,000 workers to complete! Fashioned out of marble and onyx inlay, the spectacular structure was designed as a mausoleum for Mumtaz Mahal, the 3rd wife of Emporer Shah Jahan. (He had 4 at the same time, but she was his fave.) During her 14th pregnancy in 19 years, Mumtaz had a dream that she would soon pass away. She then share 3 wishes with the Emporer:
1) Take care of my children.
2) Build me a beautiful mausoleum
3) Do not take any other wives (Don’t worry about him, remember, he has 3 other wives as well as 500 concubines, so he was not lonely!)
Soon after her dream, Mumtaz went into labor and died during the childbirth. In Islamic tradition, a woman who passes on during childbirth is considered a martyr. The Shah began construction of the Taj Mahal as the final resting place for his late wife. Of all of his wives, she was considered the most beautiful. The name “Taj Mahal” translates to “Place of the Crown.” The marble of the Taj is white; however, depending on what time of day you visit, it can catch the sunlight in different ways. In the morning, the Taj appears pinkish, milky white in the evening and golden in the moonlight.
The beauty of Taj Mahal and the story of Emporer Sha’s endearment for his wife is absolutely exquisite beyond words. The message of the Taj to all mankind is that Pure love is the soul of life.” Rabindranth Tagore described the Taj as a “teardrop on the cheek of time” and, believe me, while in her presence, it is hard not to shed a few of your own. Whether it be the Taj’s story appealing to your romantic side or the feeling of the energy there reminding you of the loved ones in your own life. Either way, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it is impassible to visit the Taj and not be moved. Definitely another of my most amazing life experiences. Until next time…
As I mentioned before, the energy is definitely different in Delhi. The people getting from point A to point B by walking, public busing, tuk-tuks, buses, motorbikes and rickshaws is a bit overstimulating to say the least! And the incessant honking! Oy, vey! It’s constant and is meant as a means of communication between the drivers of the various forms of transportation, but for us Westerners, it is hard not to take offence. Another reminder that we aren’t in Kansas anymore (or South Carolina, Ohio, California or England for that matter!) The craziness of the streets carried with us onto the railways as we caught our 6am train to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. Upon arrival at the train station, we are reminded of how the rails are a significant part of mass transit in India. At the station, there are people EVERYWHERE! They are bustling about like an ant colony on crack yet, others are at a complete standstill laying anywhere and everywhere trying to catch a little bit of rest before their next train. We are seated in the highest cabin possible, yet the accommodations leave a lot to be desired. While the seats are fine, describing the bathrooms as disgusting would be an understatement. We are served water, tea and breakfast on the train, albeit only the bread and the stale cornflakes sans milk were palatable. I am told this cabin is about 1200 Rupees or about $22 for this 2 hour ride. The other classes of cabins went down as low as 200 Rupees; just under $4. Those unfortunate enough to be in the lower class cabins were lucky if they even had a seat. We could see them packed in this metal box like sardines with no A/C. At one train station, we see a passenger on another train being motion sick out the window. Not a pretty sight and I am again reminded to give thanks to the man sitting next to me for switching his seat so that I could face forward in the direction that we were headed, otherwise, I would have my head out the window as well.
The arrival into the Agra train station was my first realization at just how much poverty and despair there is here. Women carrying babies, small girls who couldn’t be more than 10 or 11 years old carrying babies passing them off as their own (or who knows, maybe they were their own) and little children begging for anything and everything: food, water and even asking for shampoo, of all things. This was almost unbearable. The pulling at your bags, your sleeves and your pants as they beg and plead was yet another reminder of the amazing life I lead back in the States and I wonder what my own children are doing at that time—hopefully behaving for Daddy!!! To add to the experience, the number of disfigured and crippled beggars is gut-wrenching and since I am at a loss for words to describe the pain I felt in my heart at that time, I won’t even attempt to try. Until next time…
A 3:15am wake up call roused us to catch our plane from Kerala in South India, to Delhi in Northern India. We were ready! Let the next adventure begin! As we arrive in Delhi, we meet our guide who will accompany us throughout Delhi, Agra and Varanasi. As we navigate the airport to our driver, it is had not to notice that we are definitely in the minority here; as Americans, but as women as well. Many sideways looks from the men, that honestly, made me a bit uncomfortable. This feeling will serve as a reminder to me whenever I may see someone back in the States who looks different or out of place. Rather than balk or stare, a simple smile may serve as a simple gesture that can relieve a stranger’s anxiety. The lessons and reminders have been subtle, thus far, but grow in intensity as our trip progresses, but more on that later! We meet up with our other travel companions and venture out to see Old Delhi. We visited the oldest mosque in India, the India Gate and were given a “private tour” of a Persian rug store. I say “private tour” because we have been informed that the guides receive a cut if the people they bring in buy something.) After an authentic dinner that evening- and the first “adult” beverages we have had in quite some time, I might add—we head out into the streets to shop. The hustle-bustle and energy of Delhi is different from that of the resort-y, beach-y Goa or the relaxing, Ayurvedic rejuvenation of Kerala. You actually feel like you are in a real city much like New York. It’s quite refreshing, actually! In the markets, we find all sorts of different treasures from jewelry to stationery to journals. It is a welcomed change of pace from the retreat center in Kerala. On the move again tomorrow! Until then…