Agra and the Taj Mahal

After leaving Delhi, our next destination was Agra. Today’s excursions included a visit to the picturesque Taj Mahal, followed by the beautiful Agra Fort, and ended in a presentation at the Agra Marble Emporium nearby our hotel.

The Taj Mahal is the world’s most iconic symbol of love. Dedicated to Mumtaj Mahal, Mughal emperor Shahjahan built it after his beloved wife’s death plunged him into an unshakeable grief. The massive mausoleum is made of imported white marble and is masterfully constructed with the intention of preserving its beauty, an effort that required over 15,000 artisans. Mumtaj’s tomb lies directly in the center of the Taj Mahal garden and is in perfect symmetry. The only disruption in this symmetrical design is Shahjahan himself who was placed next to his wife after his death. Visitors from all over the world were present at this historical site, trying to get a glimpse of one of the seven wonders of the modern world. Visitors were also allowed into the Taj Mahal to observe Mumtaj’s tomb. We were told to refrain from taking photographs and to cover our shoes to respect the sanctity of Mumtaj’s tomb. With so many people packed in the mausoleum’s tiny space, the noise of foreign tongues and the sharp sound of the guards warning whistles filled the air. Some visitors were seen throwing bangles and coins at Mumtaj’s tomb, which could be interpreted in many different ways. Having visitors from all over the world and from different cultural backgrounds could suggest different explanations for their actions including the beliefs of longevity, supporting Mumtaj into the afterlife, or that water would spew out from the tomb if one threw the bangle correctly.

Next on the agenda was Agra Fort. Only a few miles away, Agra Fort served as a summer palace for Shahjahan and the royal family. With several palaces encased in the fort, it was apparent that it was once a heavily guarded structure, designed to offer both protection and comfort. Learning about the various components of the fort was fascinating. Visitors would have to bypass four entry ways which were in zigzag formation to enter the palace. At any given position, guards from the fort’s watch towers would be able to view anyone who passes by any of the gates which would help in distinguishing trespassers from visitors. Another interesting component of the fort were the interconnected canals and fountains placed all over the fort which would help the royal family stay cool and comfortable in the summer heat of Agra.

Our last stop included an impromptu trip to a marble workshop located just beyond our hotel. We observed local artisans demonstrating how the stone is shaped using methods unchanged since the creation of the Taj Mahal. It takes a skilled artisan about four hours to produce a small flower motif that they then paste onto the pristine white marble. We ended our day’s adventure with a bit of shopping at the Marble Emporium, which sold the same crafted marble creations that were demonstrated to us earlier.

Today’s excursions included experiences which I knew our class would cherish for a lifetime. My favorite part was visiting the Taj Mahal, though I would have preferred visiting on a weekday where the crowds would be less overwhelming. There was a lot of history and beauty to be absorbed in today’s tours and demonstrations, experiences I feel fortunate to have. Judging by the smiles and gasps at each of our destinations today, it would be safe to say that everyone had a singular and educational experience in the lovely city of Agra.

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