Saturday, January 26, 2008

Review of My Visit to the Taj Mahal

Hi everyone! I am slowly getting back to normal from this jet-lag stuff. Man, it really makes me tired!

I promised to tell you more about my trip to the Taj Mahal and Agra. Here's a recap of my day.

First, Kristin woke me up REALLY early (4:30am) and told me that we were checking out of the hotel in Delhi and going to a place called Agra. She told me we were going to see one of the most famous buildings in the entire world, the Taj Mahal.

Kristin told me is would take more than three hours to get to Agra in the car. I have no idea how long it really took to get to there. I was so tired I slept most of the way.

We brought out guide, Satyender, with us. Just before we got to Agra, Satyender had our driver stop at a place called the "Tomb of Akbar the Great."

I have already seen SO many tombs this week that I've lost count. Kristin says Akbar the Great was the son of Emperor Humayun. I visited his tomb earlier this week. Anyway, Akbar became the leader of the Mughal Empire when he was only 13 years old. Wow...that's close to my age! I can't imagine running a huge country at my age. Anyway, Satyender says Akbar was one of the best Mughal rulers and that's why his tomb is important.

Kristin and Amy really liked the bright colors and patterns on the south gate that leads into the tomb itself.

The colors were nice, but I was too busy looking at something else. Monkeys! There were dozens of monkeys running all around. Actually, Kristin told me they were baboons. OK....I really liked watching the baboons. They have REALLY long tails!

Look...they even wanted to take over the place where the people fixing the tomb usually work!

Kristin and Amy decided to take a few more photos of the gate area before heading back to the car. They were anxious to get to the Taj Mahal. Here are a few more of the photos Kristin took at Akbar the Great's Tomb.

As we were heading to the car, Kristin and Amy suddenly stopped to look at some colorful birds in the trees near the gate.

Can you see the bird? Guess what it is? It's a parrot! Can you believe it? I've never seen a parrot in the wild before. Have you?

I wanted to stay longer and look at the baboons and parrots, but Kristin said we had to go. While she and Amy were taking photos, our driver heard that the Taj Mahal was going to be closing early today. Oh NO! The driver wasn't sure when the Taj Mahal was closing or why, but I could tell Kristin was really worried. We had driven a long way to see it. So our driver tried to get us to our hotel as fast as possible.

But I think King Tut was mad at Kristin again because we ran into a traffic jam. It seemed like it took FOREVER to get to the hotel. At one point our car had to stop for a herd of cattle that was being led through one of Agra's main streets. Can you believe it?

We finally reached the hotel, but Amy and Kristin only stayed long enough to check-in. While they were checking in, they learned the Taj Mahal was going to close at 2:30pm. It was only 11:30am when we arrived at the we still had time to get to the Taj Mahal. Whew!

Our driver took us to a place near the Taj Mahal and then we had to get into a rickshaw to get to the entrance gate of the Taj Mahal. Our guide says most motorized vehicles are not allowed close to the Taj Mahal to try and reduce the pollution around the Taj Mahal. I guess this makes sense. Kristin snapped this photo of Amy in her rickshaw.

Kristin and I could see a large white dome while we were in our rickshaw. Kristin says the dome is part of the Taj Mahal. Cool!

When we got the to entrance gate, Kristin and Amy had to make sure they had NO food and NO extra batteries in their bags. Kristin says this is to help keep the grounds of the Taj Mahal clean. I guess this makes sense. And they are SO serious about this rule, that people inspected Kristin's bag. I was worried they wouldn't let me in, but Kristin told me that she made special arrangements so I could get it. Whew!

Once Kristin's bag was checked, we walked toward this very big building that looked a lot like Akbar the Great's tomb gate. Satyender told us that it was the main entrance gate to the Taj Mahal.

The entrance gate was interesting, but I really wanted to see the main building. So did a LOT of other people.

Kristin took this photo as we were walking through the gate. I really didn't want Kristin to stop to take this photo. It is SO hard being patient.....

....but it was worth the wait. This is what we saw as soon as we made it through the gate. WOW! It is really a cool looking building. And it is HUGE. Now I see why it is one of the most famous buildings in the world.

Kristin said it was "breathtaking." I'm not exactly sure what she means, but I think it means it is awesome! Here are a few photos of me at the Taj Mahal.

And here is one of Kristin and Amy.

Amy and Kristin noticed there were a lot of people pinching their hands and having their photo taken. I thought this was very strange and asked Kristin why people were doing that. She wasn't sure at first, but then she figured out that if someone was standing at just the right spot, it would look like they are actually holding the Taj Mahal. Here's a photo of Kristin "holding" the Taj Mahal.

How cool is that photo? I noticed that just about everyone visiting the Taj Mahal wanted their picture taken. Kristin says that's because this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip for many people.

I also noticed many women wearing colorful saris like I saw in Delhi. Kristin says the photo below is one of her favorite "people" photos of the day.

Kristin and Amy were at the Taj Mahal to take photos of the buildings and the grounds. I guess they weren't the only ones!

Kristin says the Taj Mahal...or Taj for short.... is made of white marble. She also explained that the Taj Mahal is a tomb. It was built by the Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife Mumtaz after she died. He must have really loved her to build her such a grand tomb. Kristin says Shah Jahan was buried next to Mumtaz after he died.

Here are some of the more than 200 photos Kristin took during our visit.

This is the ornament...or spire as Kristin calls it...on the top of the main dome. Kristin says it used to be made of real gold but now it is made from brass.

There are similar spires on the top of the other Taj domes and towers. Satyender told us they are supposed to help keep the building from being damaged by lighting. Who knew?

Kristin really liked taking photos of the towers....or minarets as she called them. It is hard to tell from the photos but our guide told us the four main minarets are actually leaning AWAY from the main building. He says they were built that way so they would fall away from the building if there was ever an earthquake. I had no idea! Here are some of Kristin's favorite tower photos.

In order to climb the steps to get closer to the Taj, people had to take off their shoes....

.....or cover them with these funny white shoe covers. Kristin and Amy chose to cover their shoes. They didn't have any shoe covers in my size, so I stayed in the outside pocket of Kristin's bag (where I could still see out).

Below people are lining up to walk into the main part of the tomb. This is where Mumtaz and Shah Jahan's bodies are interred...or above ground marble tombs that look like caskets. I would show you photos but Kristin wasn't allowed to take pictures inside. But you can see some photos of inside the tomb and learn more about the Taj Mahal by clicking on the colored words.

Here are some young girls who kept waving and saying hello to Kristin and Amy.

This is a view of the Yamuna River. Kristin says the Yamuna river is a tributary of the famous Ganges River. Kristin says the Ganges River is as important to India as the Mississippi River is to the United States.

It is hard to tell from far away, but when you get closer to the Taj, you can see that parts of the marble are decorated with brightly colored stones. Kristin says some of these stones are "semi-precious" which means they are very expensive.

You will also find something Kristin calls "caligraphy" on parts of the buildings. She says the caligraphy includes passages from the Koran and other religious texts.

Here are some photos Kristin took of the interesting people and shapes we saw during the visit. This is the main lawn leading up to the Taj (taken from the first level of the Taj balcony).

Here is a photo of the sidewalks surrounding the base of the Taj building....

...and here are people fixing the sidewalks...

....the sidewalks connect to these buildings on either side of the Taj. One is a mosque and our guide says the second one was built on the other side of the Taj to "balance" the view of the Taj.

After we walked around the buildings, Kristin and Amy decided to walk through the gardens. Amy and Kristin looked at the flowers, but I was more interested in the animals running around. I must have seen a HUNDRED chipmonks running around in the grass and trees. Some would even let Kristin get really close so she could take a photo.

Others would let people feed them. Can you beleive it?! I wanted to feed the chipmonks but Kristin said that it probably wasn't a good idea to let the chipmonks eat human food. Besides, Kristin reminded me that she couldn't bring food into the Taj Mahal.

Suddenly I started to see parrots in the trees and on the ground. This one was playing with the chipmonks!

I like this photo because you can see the reddish-pink color of the parrot's beak.

Here Kristin was trying to take a photo of another parrot when it suddenly flew away. I think the photo is still really cool, don't you?

After walking through the gardens and stopping to take a rest, Kristin and Amy took a few final photos of the Taj and the main gate.

As we left the main gate, I noticed there were hundreds of soldiers and policemen with large guns and other security equipment. That's when Kristin reminded me that the Taj was going to be closing soon. Kristin and Amy later found out that a very important person...or VIP...was visiting the Taj and it was being closed just for him. Satyender later heard the Prime Minister of Hungary was visiting but Kristin says she can't confirm that's who was visiting. Whoever it was...he must have been really important or I don't think there would have been that many security guards.

I didn't dare ask Kristin to take any photos of the security guards. I figured she would get in trouble.

On our way back to the hotel, Kristin had the driver stop so she could take a photo of me outside the local McDonald's. We didn't go inside because Kristin didn't want to eat there. I think she could tell I was disappointed but then she reminded me that I can eat at McDonalds at home any day. She is right.

Whew...I am tired from writing this long post. Plus I still have that jet-lag stuff. So I am going back to bed soon.

More later....