May 1, 2008 - Around The World, Day 6 - Agra

India, at last.

After what amounts to basically a short nap at our hotel in New Delhi, we head to the train station to catch the Shatabdi Express to Agra.

There is a lot going on while we wait on the platform, but check out the baggage handler on the right. Some guy is putting his suitcase on the head of a porter.

Here comes our train...

Leaving the station, we get a taste of the Delhi suburbs.

This is a bad illustration of the burbs, but I had to wait until the train slowed...
For miles before and after this, the people's 2x2 meter hovels, most with only two walls and 1/2 a roof, are so close together and with no running water, the only place to relieve yourself is along the train tracks.
It makes for a nauseating odor and distressing scenery for a solid hour outside Delhi.

Leaving the burbs behind, we get more into rural areas. It certainly smells cleaner. To be clear, the people are just as poor; there are simply fewer of them.

They pull the wheat together and build thatch-rooves over them so they don't rot in the monsoons.
In the countryside, they use mud.

Just outside Agra now, we stop for a train to pass and see kids swimming with cows in a retaining pond.

When we get to Agra, we jump on a tourist van to get closer to the Taj gates.

You can only go so far before armed guards (with rusty, automatic weapons) and a roadblock stop all automobiles.

The Taj gates.
As you approach them, you're accosted by merchants, a la Summer Palace or Egypt.
When you go in, there are separate security-check lines for men and women. That was unexpected.

Through the gates, all the accosting merchants fade away.

Our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal.

Satish, our handler (picture later) is nice enough to take a picture of us.

It is really amazing to see!
Notice how it isn't exactly white... Keep that in mind.

As we approach, I see something that reminds me of my childhood. There was a brahma bull farm across the street from the back entrance to our neighborhood in Tifton.
I remember being told a question I asked about them one day - "Are those camels with horns - or bulls with scoliosis?"

Some of the flora in the area is amazing. These remind us of royal poinciana from the Florida keys and Caribbean islands, but this is something else...

We are supposed to take our shoes off, but it is about 110 degrees out (because it is about 10am), so we just cover our shoes. We walk up on the platform where a temple was built to the left of the Taj (as you look at the river).

Speaking of which, behind the Taj is a river.
You may have heard that the Taj was built by Shah Jahan for his wife who died in childbirth, delivering her 14th child.
Shah Jahan was overthrown by one of his sons (who in Greek style killed all of his brothers), then imprisioned within line of sight (barely) of the Taj Mahal.
Straight ahead (just to the left of dead-center) is the room in which Shah Jahan was imprisoned.

Here's a close-up. He was in the two-story 'apartment' just under the dome.

Some of the least sickly wild(?) cows we see on the trip sip from the some of the cleanest water we see on the trip (only yay-much trash in the water).

See - rather healthy.

Painted storks.

Looking up the river for some scenery.

OK, back to the main attraction.
The minarets are divided into three sections, each taller than the one below.

I like this shot.
I also liked the shade.

To be symmetrical, there was a temple one one side, then an identical building on the other.
This served as guest quarters for rich guests who traveled to see the Taj (or visit the Shah).

Another cool view of a minaret.

Getting up close, you can see why none of it is white... They carved out grooves, then filled them in with semi-precious stones.

The picture above just happend to have a break in the stone.
This is more indicative of the Taj - HUGE pieces (4'x6' or more) that have no breaks.
You f-up carving one of these, you waste a lot of time.
Below the inserted stones is an embossed piece of marble. Another huge, solid piece.

Looking down at the main gate from the Taj platform.

If you feel like a little light reading...

Original itinerary:
5/1/2008 - Agra