The Taj! And Diwali!

November 12, 2015
Currently: Pondering my next big life goal… Pyramid of Giza? Burma? Petra? Namibia? The world is too big.

Writing this is a little surreal. Have you ever said you were going to do something, but that something always seemed out of reach or improbable in any sort of near future? Well the Taj was always that for me. A distant dream that I knew someday, somehow I would go see. But I did it. I’ve done it. It happened. To know that I’ve completed that life goal, I feel empty not having that almost-but-not-quite unachievable goal lingering in the back of my mind. The planning for this trip began twelve years ago and its culmination was always the Taj Mahal.

We had a jam-packed day in Agra, and it started with a sunrise over the Taj. Waiting in line at the gate was almost torturous! I distracted myself by guessing exactly how many minutes it would be until I realized my childhood dream. “Twelve minutes… no fifteen. Okay, definitely not more than twenty. Twenty minutes until I see the Taj!!!!!” I felt giddy walking through the main gate to the iconic view. When I finally saw it, it took my breath away. The haziness of the early morning couldn’t diminish the dominating presence of the architecture.

The Taj is another one of those tragic love stories. The Mughal king, Shah Jahan, ordered the construction of the Taj Mahal (translation: Crown Palace) as a mausoleum for his favorite wife. I was lucky enough to capture the sun rising out of the haze for some stunning photos. This place is so incredibly photogenic – no bad angles to speak of!

can’t believe my camera took this photo!
the dedication of that stone inlay and carving design boggles my mind
classic reflection shot. and it’s all mine!

After the Taj, we went to our guide’s home where his family had prepared a classic Indian breakfast. In true Indian fashion, it was delish! I don’t know if I can go back to a simple bowl of oatmeal in the morning. The curry was too spicy for me, so I improvised and made curry infused yogurt, which was quickly scooped up with puri. Weirdly enough, white bread with butter (it was seriously good butter) was the most popular part of the breakfast. Typical…

Afterwards, we continued onwards to a marble factory so we could learn why Indian marble is so precious. The marble is unique in that it is both nonporous and translucent. The translucent bit is really cool because if you shine a light on the stone inlays, they glow brilliantly. The process of inlaying stone and cutting and shaping the marble is almost unbelievable. They hand grind each near-microscopic petal for each flower. It takes at the very least months (if not years or decades) to put together any marble artwork. It definitely made me appreciate the work put into the Taj!

 that dot on his finger is a petal he’s shaping

The second big tourist trap in Agra is the Agra Fort. This fort was built by Shah Jahan’s (think Taj Mahal) grandfather, Akbar. Akbar is a really, really big deal. Like three wives and 5,000 porcupines…I mean concubines… big deal. He built five different palaces around India and this was one of them. The building is beautiful and holds so much history. Shah actually was placed under house arrest in this fort by his son for the last eight years of his life. An area within the palace is known as his golden prison.

a room in Shah’s golden prison

We ended our day with a celebration of Diwali! Diwali or the Festival of Lights is the biggest celebration in India. Families give gifts, buy new clothes, decorate their homes with lights and candles, eat too many sweets, and set off fireworks in the night. It celebrates light over darkness, hope over despair, good over evil. And somehow, to top off this already perfect day, we managed to get our foreign selves invited into the home of a jeweler we had visited earlier in the day. His family gave us drinks, sweets, tons of sparklers, and an amazing hour of loud merriment. I found out that I kind of like causing ruckus in the streets. It was so special to have total strangers share their holiday with me. That Indian hospitality is back again!

sparkler frenzy!
no holding back with fireworks

November 11, 2015 is the day I officially fell for India. It began by fulfilling a lifelong dream and ended with a remarkable celebration of happiness, life, and generosity. India, you’ve given me the perfect day and I will forever remember it as one of the best days of my life! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Lots of love,

Lena

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