The Early Birds are Busy Bees
This morning our wake up calls for 5:00 am came very early for us, but our destination was well worth it! Our group was on the road by 5:30 am to go discover one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal! The Taj Mahal was built by Moghul King Shah Jahan in 1630 for his queen Mumtaz Mahal. As we got our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal, our tour guide was quick to point out that the king had perfectly planned for everything on the property to be symmetrical; left to right, front to back. There was a centerline that started at the front entrance of the property and ran all the way through to the back porch of the Taj Mahal. This symmetry even included the gardens, the towers, and the other buildings on the property. A mosque was built on the left and the king went as far as building a replica of the mosque on the right to keep the symmetry aligned. The Taj Mahal’s beauty comes from white marble with in-laid colored stone and gems (nothing is painted). The construction of the Taj Mahal was no easy feat; it took 20,000 craftsmen and 22 years to complete.
Although we had a very early morning, we were so glad when we noticed we were some of the first people to arrive at the Taj Mahal. This was very helpful when it came to the hundreds of pictures we were all so eager to take! As we were laughing at the shower caps we were required to put over our shoes, we walked up the large marble stairs to enter the tombs. The queen’s tomb was perfectly placed in the very center of the Taj Mahal. Now comes the one unplanned and non-symmetrical addition to the Taj Mahal. The King had plans to build his own black granite tomb across the river from the Taj Mahal. These plans came to a standstill when the king’s third son thought his father was wasting his fortune. This third son wanted to become king so he killed his two brothers and arrested and confined the king (his father) to the castle jail. After 8 years of confinement, the king’s last wish was to be buried next to his wife. His daughter respected his wish and the king’s tomb lays to the left of the queens. Since this was not in his original plans, this is the only non-symmetrical piece of the Taj Mahal. After viewing the tombs, we exited through the back porch of the Taj Mahal. From here we could see the foundation of where the king started to build his black granite tomb (an exact replica of the Taj Mahal). However, because of his son, it was never completed.
After parting ways with the magnificent Taj Mahal, we had the fun opportunity to take a camel carriage ride back to our bus! Teagan, Dr. Springer and Brielle actually got on the back of the camel and rode it back to the bus. We then did a quick stop back at the hotel for breakfast.
We couldn’t get enough of the Moghul King and his family, so our next stop was to visit Agra Fort, which was the king’s castle. Agra Fort was constructed in 8 years. It had double moats and a sloped, zig-zag entrance for extra protection. If enemies were able to make it past those two feats, guards would then pour hot oil down the slope to defend the king and the property. Unfortunately this tactic failed during the rule of the eighth Moghul King when the British were able to overtake India and claimed the castle as their own. The British then sadly stripped all of the gold from the walls, ceilings, and roof of Agra Fort and the roof of the Taj Mahal. They then randomly moved the king’s bathtub from his bathroom at Agra Fort to the outdoor garden.
We left feeling more knowledgeable about this Moghul King and his family and were astonished by the beauty within the castle and the Taj Mahal. We were then able to make a pit stop at a marble in-lay shop of the ancestors who constructed the marble and in-lay work on the Taj Mahal. They showed us how they carve the marble, shape the stones, and then in-lay them into the marble to create their masterpieces. The shop owner also showed us how the marble and stones glow in different lighting. We were amazed to learn that one simple piece could take as short as 2 weeks and more intricate work up to 8 months. After this visit we were then able to visit a jewelry store that showed us more of the colorful stones and the unique black “Star of India” that were used in the Taj Mahal. We also learned that the black stone is very rare as it is only found in India (it is quite beautiful).
After this morning full of adventure, we were amazed that it was only lunchtime! We had a delicious lunch and then set off for another 5-hour bus ride to begin the last leg of our adventure…New Delhi!
After arriving in Delhi, we were able to check into our hotel, freshen up. We decided to send Manjeet home for the night to so he could see his family and pregnant wife for the first time since our arrival in Mumbai! With that being said, we were now on our own. We didn’t realize how much we relied on Manjeet as he typically translated for us when ordering the local cuisines. Over the last few days, we have been ordering in small groups to let everyone try to build cultural confidence when ordering in foreign restaurants. Tonight’s ordering group was really put to the test, as we ordered from a menu entirely written in Hindi. We have to give a lot of props to Sarah for stepping up and getting us a delicious South Indian meal. The quality of the food was phenomenal, but the quantity was somewhere lost in translation as we had enough food to feed an army! After stuffing ourselves, we had a great conversation about how we are going to process our experiences, about what we have learned from our opportunities, and what we are going to take away from this trip.
The Busy Bee’s are ready to catch some Zzz’s…
Shannon & Brielle