Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Beautiful City of Agra....and the Taj Mahal

Fairly-early on Thursday morning, after a great Indian breakfast at the ITC Mughal Sheraton, we left the wonderful city of Jaipur.  We had arranged to have our carpets shipped to the Deloitte office in Hyderabad, and the clothing and other things we had purchased along the way were beginning to make our luggage stretch at the seams...thank God for the invention of the "expandable zipper" function on the modern suitcase!!  Since we arrived in New Delhi, we had been in the capable hands of our driver, "Raj".  He was a real professional at getting around in the craziness of the Northern Indian traffic!  We were travelling by car in a Toyota Innova (think "mini-van") - one of the two "family cars" one sees around the cities in India...the other being the "Scorpio" (think "part Land Cruiser/part Hummer"!) The back of the Innova was pretty well packed...we had some extra bottled water (something you don't want to be without on an Indian road-trip!) but no extra food.  This meant we would have to take our lives in our hands and stop at a roadside diner between Jaipur and Agra.  I have never been overly concerned about the food here.  Amy Suzanne is much more concerned and probably more careful.  But we have both spent our 12-hours kneeling before the "porcelain goddess" in our first nine-months here.  So - - when you eat you takes your chances.  It's worth it.  I think the food here, for the most part, is simply awesome!!

Before I continue on to the wonders of Agra and the beauty of the Taj Mahal....I feel a need to say a few words about the wonders and beauty of my incredible wife, Amy...  I don't think I have spent nearly enough time in this blog saying just how much our little family owes to A. Suzzanne Brubaker (there...I spelled it with two "z's" like she does at work!!)  We would not be doing any of these wonderful things if it were not for her!!  It's really a brave thing to do to pick up ones' life and move halfway around the world.  It would be brave for anybody.  But I think more so for Amy.  She had a great position as a Director for Deloitte in the Los Angeles Office...she rode horses competitively all over the country (something it was NOT easy to give up, let me tell you!) - and had the habit of winning no matter what horse she was on, what stable she was with, what hunter-ring she was in! 

Now....here she is, at the age of "forty-something" (this year is a BIG birthday...she was born in 1961 - you do the math!) trusting that God still make all of our lives go smoothly, packing up everything we own, and flying to Hyderabad, India.  A place where five years ago, neither of us had ever even heard of, much less thought about living there!!  She has taken to her new position here like a duck takes to water....although she really had to spend the first few months figuring our where the boundaries of the lake were!  She has done so well here.  I think her Indian professionals are some of her biggest fans, because she really sticks up for them and has become their advocate in so many ways.  She has had to learn the Indian style of communication and doing business (books could and have been written on this very subject!) and I think she's really hitting her stride, career-wise.

And she's a tireless worker, too...her shift is 5:30 A.M. until 2:30 P.M. - Tuesday through Saturday....but she almost always works Mondays and generally has conference-calls until 10:00 or 11:00 P.M most nights.  And she usually does it all with no complaints.  I owe so much to my wonderful wife...she is, as the words to The Sweetheart of Sigma Chi says: "The girl of my dreams."  Thanks, Sweetimus Maximus!!  I love you!

So....on to yet another "monument to love" - the incredible Taj Mahal !!  The drive from Jaipur to Agra was supposed to be 4-5 hours...but with a stop at the ancient (and abandoned - they had no real water supply!!  Kind of like Southern California before William Mulholland!) city of Fatehpur Sikri and a bit of lunch (it was a nice place but we really didn't eat much...) it would be closer to eight-hours and nearly dusk by the time we got to the Taj.  We had picked our guide up at a pre-determined spot on the road to Fatehpur Sikri

We checked into the hotel (The ITC Mughal Palace - there is a view of the Taj Mahal - you have to climb a few stairs to see it - but it's incredible...we didn't go up to the roof until the next day...) and - our guide asked if we wanted to do some sightseeing or see the sunset at the Taj.  We said we wanted to see the Taj now...or maybe both days... but - back in the Innova we went.

We parked the van and got our tickets....the guide was such a professional...he knew all the places to go...all of the things to do.  We boarded a small tram/bus for the short ride to the entrance gate to the Taj Mahal  - the gateways are pretty awesome...made of the same carved red-sandstone you see in Jaipur...as I recall there are gates at the North, South, East and West entrances to the actual Taj complex.  It turns our that it really doesn't matter which side you come in on...or what side of the Taj Mahal you see first.  It is a perfectly symmetrical building.  Everybody knows what the Taj Mahal looks like.  There can be no more iconic building in the whole world.  Or, more photographed.

Let me say that there is no photograph you have ever seen of the Taj Mahal that can do it justice.  Even the words "there are no words" fail to say what needs to be said.  It is awe-inspiring, breath-taking.... No.  It's beyond description.  Even though it was a place that I knew we had to see...I really thought I was going to see some touristy place with little marble structure and that would be it.  Not a chance.  First of all...the Taj Mahal is HUGE!!!  And it's perfect!!  I mean...simply...perfect.

The history of the Taj Mahal tells us "why was the Taj Mahal built" and many other myths and facts associated with this wonderful structure. Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan erected the Taj Mahal in the memory of his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Shah Jahan (then Prince Khurram) met Mumtaz Mahal (then Arjumand Banu Begum) at the age of fourteen and fell in love at the first sight. She was a Muslim Persian princess and Shah Jahan was the son of the Mughal Emperor, Jehangir. Five years later, in 1612, they got married. As you read further you will come to know more about the history of the Taj Mahal at Agra…


Mumtaz Mahal, an inseparable companion of Shah Jahan, died in 1631, while giving birth to their 14th child. It is believed that during her last moments, Mumtaz Mahal obtained a promise from Shah Jahan that he will build world's most beautiful monument in her memory. But this has not been proven to be true, till date. However, Shah Jahan did indeed build a magnificent monument as a tribute to her wife, which we today know as the "Taj Mahal". Shah Jahan, himself also, lies entombed in this mausoleum along with his wife.

The construction of Taj Mahal started in the year 1631 and it took approximately 22 years to build it. An epitome of love, it made use of the services of 22,000 laborers and 1,000 elephants. It was built entirely out of white marble, which was brought in from all over India and central Asia. After an expenditure of approximately 32 million rupees (approx US $68,000.00), Taj Mahal was finally completed in the year 1653. However, the history of Taj Mahal of India still has some gaps. For example, there are many theories regarding the architect of this magnificent monument.

As it turned out, the time of dusk was an outstanding time to visit the Taj Mahal.  As the sun began to set, the color of the sky (and the resulting color reflecting the light of the perfect white marble of the dome of the Taj) changed from gray (there was still a lot of leftover cloudiness from the storm that blew through Rajasthan) to orangeish to reddish...to a bluish color ... just as the sun set for the evening.  It was one of those moments in life where you just have to stand and say "Wow.  Just amazing!" and leave it at that!

We probably stood and sat at the West side of the Taj until it was too dark to see anything - maybe 90-minutes.  An interesting fact is that they do not have lights on the Taj Mahal.  The reason being is that light attracts bugs and bugs attract bats and bats make bat-guano (bat poop) by the tons...not something you want to clean off of thousands of square feet of pure white marble every day!!

So that ended our first day in Agra.  Here is a link to our Facebook photo album - which includes most of Jaipur and forward to Amritsar and the Sikh Golden Temple.... Our First Indian Vacation - Part Two

We returned to the hotel to get ready for dinner.  Oh.  Did I forget to mention?  As I mentioned...this was Thursday.  And it was Thanksgiving Day!!  Let me tell you, it was the most memorable Thanksgiving....ever.  Thank You, God.  Thank you, Amy.  And thank YOU, Uncle Deloitte !!!




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