Dadu Aur Madak

As I have mentioned earlier, we had lost our camera just two days after our visit to Agra. I can't begin to tell you how depressing is the thought of losing photos of two of the most incredible places we have ever seen, Khajuraho and the Taj Mahal. The truth though is that none of the photos I have ever seen capture the qualities of the Taj Mahal. It cannot be blamed on camera equipment, and it is not even the fault of my meager camera skills. The Taj Mahal is simply a place that has to be experienced in person. First of all, video cameras are only allowed as far as the platform right inside the gate. You are allowed to take video from a distance of about one-and-a-half football fields away, and then you have to return to the gate and put your video camera into a locker. No tripods, camera stands, or monopods whatsoever are allowed into the grounds. The best photo time--or so every guide book says--is at sunrise when the translucent marble changes colors as the sun rises. Unfortunately, that post card quality photo remains elusive, sullied by the hundreds and hundreds of tourists who jockey for position to have their unattractive selves included in the photo. Those pristine post-card photos are taken when nobody else is present with the best of large format cameras and filters. Another thing that fouls the early morning shot is the pall of diesel-fouled air that veils Agra as it does all Indian cities. Agra has taken measures to ameliorate this by banning vehicular traffic near the complex, but this barely constitutes a Band-Aid on a gaping wound. For all of that, the Taj Mahal has faired very well, and it's milky whiteness and semi-precious inlays are remarkably well preserved in spite of being pawed mercilessly by hordes of tourists.

Above is the southern of the three gates that enter the Taj Mahal grounds. The massive sandstone structure is over one-hundred feet tall, and has the same marble with its semi-precious gemstone inlays surrounding the arch as is on the Taj.

The early morning haze masks the milky blue quality of the translucent marble in the photo above. Below, as the sun warms and the haze begins to dissipate the changing light begins to give the building a rosy hue. Unfortunately, on the day of our visit the reflecting pools were empty.

An even more dramatic depiction of the Taj's changing hues are the two shots above. The Taj is flanked east and west by identical strucrures. Both photos were taken with the same point and shoot camera with identical settings. The photo at left was taken from the eastern structure, an exact replica of the western side's mosque. You will note the golden hue of the early morning sunlight. In the photo at right from the western mosque the sun pouring in the mosque's arch puts its glow on the archway while the side of the Taj itself that is visible has the sun behind it and is in the shade. It is decidely bluer. The photos also reveal the Taj's perfect symetry and even the eastern structure, the jawab, was constructed to maintain that symetry.

The photo above is of the western mosque. Either of the structures would be marvels in their own right if not overshadowed by the beauty of the Taj Mahal

The mosque's main portico is of a massive size. Inside the main archway it is flanked on both sides by open galleries like the one at right.

All around the base of the the entryways and porticos of the Taj are these marble carvings surrounded by inlaid garlands of semi-precious stones. (left) The photo at right shows the carving. The carving is not applied to the marble, rather it is the field that is removed leaving the design raised. The photo below at left shows the detail on one of the leaves, while the one below right shows some detail of the inlaid garland. The garland is almost seamlessly inlaid into the marble and includes stones of carnelian, Indian jade, jasper, lapiz-lazuli, malachite, and onyx. Just the scope of the undertaking is phenomenal, not to mention the uniformity of the workmanship.

By far the most beautiful part of the Taj Mahal has a prohibition on photography. The interior houses replicas of the tombs of Shah Jahan and of his second wife Mumtaz Mahal in whose memory the Taj was erected. She died in childbirth, her fourteenth. The tombs are viewed through chin high marble screens. The "screens" are an intricate floral lace carved in two inch thick marble. The inlays that border the screens are simply indescribably beautiful. The inlays challenge the imagination and are said to contain forty-three different types of semi-precious stones.

The Taj's four entryways are bordered with Urdu script. So much attention is paid to detail that the lettering at the top has larger letters to adjust for the longer distance from the eye at a normal viewing angle. (left) At right is the obligatory tourist photo. We resisted the traditional motorcyclists' need to somehow get the bikes into the photo.

Agra also has a pretty impressive fort, but let's face it, we were here for the Taj Mahal. The fact is that in Northern India almost every major town has fortification of one sort or another, but more on that later. We did enjoy one other experience of note in Agra though. Our most entertaining evening in Agra (maybe our most entertaining evening in India so far) did not involve the Taj Mahal at all. One evening we visited a brand new western style shopping mall in Agra. It was a four-story building surrounding an atrium complete with a Cineplex on the third floor. The entertainment was at the expense of local India women who had come to the city but had never seen an escalator. It was fucking hilarious. Invariably the husband would get on confidently and proceed to the next floor while the wives would wait at the bottom contemplating the endeavor. Occasionally they would touch the hand railing tentatively, quickly drawing their hands away when they realized it was moving also. Then they would muster the courage to approach, usually trying to coax the children to try it first. All the while the husbands would be at the top shouting encouragement. After a while they would get close enough to perch a hesitant foot hovering above the ever retreating steps. Then they would begin to sway the foot forward and back trying to get a sense of timing. Those of them who finally got up the nerve to place the first foot were ultimately drawn into the beginning of an involuntary "splits" before they would finally snap the back leg forward to catch up with the rest of their body. The dismount was no less comical. As if that wasn't enough, almost as though on cue, Agra experienced one of the daily power blackouts that occur everywhere in India on a daily basis. It seems as though it never occurred to the unwitting victim that the escalator had simply turned into a flight of stairs. We had come to this mall on the outside chance that they might have a movie in English. They did not, but we ended up with entertainment that you couldn't purchase at any price.