Taj Mahal, Agra

Upon arrival in Agra, we checked-in to the ITC Mughal hotel. Agra, the city of Taj Mahal was one of the great cities of South Asia. With the arrival of the Mughals in 1526 led by Babur, Agra entered a completely new era during the reign of emperors Akbar, Jehangir and Shah Jahan. Akbar made it a great centre for learning, art, commerce and culture. Its cosmopolitan bazaars and its strategic location on the river Jamuna, was altogether a worthier setting for the focus of an empire.

After lunch it was off to the Taj Mahal, to see its changing hue at sunset. The Taj Mahal, with its lacy white grandeur, perhaps the most perfect architectural monument in the world. To the poet Tagore it was a `tear on the face of eternity'. In memory of his wife, the great Mughal emperor Shah Jehan planned this most extravagant and incomparable monument built for love. Amazingly graceful from any angle, it is the close up detail, which is really astounding. At sunset, the monument appears to change its hue, tinted by the glow of the setting sun.

The building is indeed profoundly beautiful and extremely memorable. It is not just another monument, but something quite staggeringly perfect.

In 1631, Shah Jahan, emperor during the Mughal empire's period of greatest prosperity, was grief-stricken when his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, died during the birth of their 14th child. Construction of the Taj Mahal, her mausoleum, began in 1632 and the mausoleum itself was essentially complete by 1643. A labour force of twenty thousand workers was recruited across northern India. Sculptors from Bukhara, calligraphers from Syria and Persia, inlayers from southern India, stonecutters from Baluchistan, a specialist in building turrets, another who carved only marble flowers were part of the thirty-seven men who formed the creative unit.

Our visit was tinged with one major problem - the boys were not allowed in. The ubiquitous security scanners in India picked them up in Chris' handbag, and they were refused entry. It appears that the Indian Government had heard about the boys, and had classed them as International Terrorists. The boys were very disappointed, as they had really wanted to sit on the bench on which Princess Diana had sat, and employ the same hangdog expression. However, thanks to my photo of said bench completely empty, Photoshop was able to add the boys, and they now have the desired photo for their album

And the next morning we queued up before dawn to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Like most things in India, it never actually happened on time, and in the end we had less than 30 minutes to see the Taj at dawn, but it was interesting how the colours were very different in the morning light.

After that it was the northern highway to Delhi. Where the Taj Palace, set in six acres of in the Diplomatic Enclave of the capital, was our last night. After a few hours sleep, we were up before midnight to go to the airport, and a Businss Class British Airways flight back to London. En passant, I would add that I was not that impressed with BAs's Business Class.

Click on any of the thumbnails below to get a larger photo

Princess Di went to the Taj Mahal too

One enters the Taj Mahal through a series of gardens, then through a dark doorway, with the building itself suddenly becoming visible.
Once inside, it is a question of elbowing off all the other little girls and boys, in order to have your own photo to prove you were here.
Once the formalities were accompanished, we could admire the architecture, and even make a couple of small friends in the grounds.
The detail of the building was amazing, as indeed was the throng of humanity (mainly Indian) wanting to get into the building.
Foreigners pay more for their ticket, but get priority in the queue. Back out through the grounds, which were themselves impressive
There was (just) time to walk round the old fort of Delhi, an impressive red stone building. They closed the doors as we left at dusk.
Next morning up before dawn to queue (again) to see sunrise at the Taj. The colours were very different, but the building was just as ..
.beautiful in the early morning light as it had been at sunset - now a bluish, rather than a red tinge, and the crowds were markedly less.
Mind you security was everywhere, as were the assorted forms of transport. And quite weirdly the plush hotels were in another world
Our final stop in New Delhi was sumptuous. Chris shivered in the dining room, we had our own private room.

So after litteraly two hours sleep, we were up and away to the airport just before midnight for the "red eye" to London, and on to Moraira

Our Holiday from Cairo to India on SS Voyager