A Brief Look at the Taj Mahal-Fatehpur Sikri and a Visit to Jaipur
There has to be an occasion to venture out. This time it was the visit of my kid sister along with two of her children that made us venture out. She has come all the way from California and we wanted to show her the very beat. The obvious choice was the famed tourist triangle of Delhi-Agra-Jaipur.
From Delhi we took the Yamuna Expressway. It cut our journey by an hour we were told. The smooth ride on the Expressway did brighten our spirits. The by-lanes of Agra are like any other town. The road leading to the Taj Mahal was relatively good. An electric car dropped us o the ticket counter. There were camel carts and tongas or horse drawn carriages too. I was just a bit excited as I had never seen the Taj. We were inundated by guides whoi wanted to show us around. It was difficult to ward them off. I finally hired a guide Mohammad Reza to show us around. It was a good decision. Reza made our visit to the Taj a smooth one and told us some rudimentary history of the monument. The visibly old architecture around us as we moved to the ticket counter was a prelude to the things to come.
The huge gate to the Taj with Arabic inscriptions and eleven domes on the outside was a sight to behold. We were overawed by the beauty of this red sandstone structure that stared at us. The hot oven like pathway found us sweating profusely. The Taj was nowhere to be seen. I clicked around furiously. I did not want to miss anything at all. Reza told us about how it took 22 years to build the Taj and how the progeny of the artisans of those times still can be found in the back lanes of the Taj.
We walked through the huge gate and the Taj seems to appear out of nowhere. It was like a rising sun as we walked towards it. The first sight of this beautiful monument of love was unforgettable. The famed domed structure ensconced in the middle and the minarets flanking on both sides.
It is true that the Taj is a cemetery of Emperor Shahjehan and his wife Mumtaz Mehal, but there is no gloom surrounding the place. On the contrary this is a place of joie de
vivre. Perhaps the Emperor wanted it this way. The Taj is a celebration of love and that is how he wanted it to be.
It is truly an architectural marvel.The calligraphy intricate and the carvings deserve a closer look. This is not painted but stones carved to the exact precision and inserted into the white marble. This is craftsmanship of the highest order.
At the back is the Yamuna quietly flowing down – her serenity a contrast to the audacity of the Taj – perhaps the right foil to the majesty of the marble structure.
Flanking the Taj on the left is the Jama Masjid where the faithful still pray on the day of Juma or Fridays.
A similar structure flanks the Taj to the right, to maintain balance, our guide Reza told us.
As we headed to the back of the Taj we could see the Red Fort from where Emperor Shahjehan used to watch his beloved Taj when he was imprisoned by his son. We were engulfed by history around us. The walls of the Taj seemed to be whispering to us. The Red Fort seemed to beckon us. It was the serenity of the place that subdued us a bit. The heat of July was another reason for our sobriety.
Having seen the Taj up close and around we finally entered the magnificent structure. It was dimly lit inside and there was an unmistakable stench.
Was it the stench of the milling crowds or of death, I never could discover. What I did realize was that the two tombs in front of us were those of Shah Jehan and Mumtaz Mehal. The grander one was that of the Emperor and the lesser one that of his beloved wife. The intricate carving of the marble mesh was the one striking feature of the Taj from inside. The crowds inside drove us out and the fresh air that greeted us was rejuvenating.
An hour and a half from the Taj is the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri that was built by Emperor Akbar.
A city bus took us to the gates of this famed but desolate city. A Rs 20 ticket got us through. I had heard a lot about Fatehpur Sikri. The place did not disappoint us at all. There are some 42 structures in this abandoned city which once was a hub of activity. The palace of Jodhabai, one of the wives of Akbar stood proudly. There were courtyards upon courtyards with beautifully carved lawns in the middle. Ponds and water storage tanks which sustained life gave the lace an aura of its own. The red sandstone structures were delightful. The Diwan-e Aam and the Diwan e-Khas made us imagine how life would have been in times past. I must compliment the Archaeological Survey of India for maintaining the place so well. Fatehpur Sikri was a delightful experience.
We had limited time on our hands and we tried to make the best of it. It was clear to us that exploring the whole of Fatehpur Sikri was well nigh impossible. Jaipur beckoned us and we had to move on. We got on to the city bus and to our car. Another few hours and we would be in Jaipur.
An uneventful ride to the Pink City till the rains lashed in. And then there was tedious search for our hotel in the dirty by-lanes of Jaipur when we finally reached Umaid Bhavan (http://www.umaidbhawan.com/) This little period haveli (small palace) of the Rathores was such a beautiful refuge from the heat and dust of North India in the month of July that nothing could have been more welcome.
The ornate architecture of the hotel with each room having a unique ambiance was a respite. Th
e food in their restaurant was just right – not too spicy and neither was it bland. We could do little else. We hit the sack.
Come morn and rains greeted us again. The ladies of our group could not care less. They headed for the bazaars of Jaipur. A few hours later while we lazed in Umaid Bhavan they came back with tons of clothes and ethnic stuff that they thought was dirt cheap. But then when have I heard women complain about the prices. They always get the best deals, don’t they. Sightseeing was the last thing on their minds. We were too tired to venture out. The rains did not help either.
By evening we decided to have a look at a village resort called Chowki Dhani. It was miniature Rajasthan. There were tribal dancers, there were magicians, puppeteers, food stalls, ethinic clothes and footwear and a lot more. The Rs 500 coupon entitled us to a typical Rajasthani meal. We sat down for dinner. We had expected a spicy platter but were just not ready for what was served. It was authentic Rajasthani fare but just a bit too spicy and oily for our taste. What stood out was a churma (sweet mishmash of a crushed wheat ball with jaggery and lots of clarified butter) which was just right. A quick getaway and we were back to the comforts of Umaid Bhawan.
A hasty breakfast (tariff includes breakfast) of curd, milk and cereals, an omelet, fruits, pancakes and some luscious lemon drink saw us back on the road to Delhi. The seven hour ride to Delhi was nothing to write about except that it was extraordinarily tiring. We were happy to be home. Would I do the Delhi-Agra-Jaipur tour again? Oh! Yes!! But will make sure we have more time at our hands.
Acknowledgement: Most of the photos were taken by my 15 year old niece, Avni Vaid with a rudimentary Nikon Coolpix AW100.