Rest Day in Agra: Taj Mahal

We spent today being tourists in one of the most popular tourism destinations in India: Agra.

Agra is home to the Taj Mahal – and that is what we were here to see. We also saw a number of other places along the way.

The Oberoi hotel here made it easy for us – with a driver and a guide for the day. It meant we felt rather like royalty – being dropped off in the appropriate spots and shown some amazing places, with the understanding gained by a deep back story around each of the places we were in and the things we saw. It made the experience very full and fascinating, far more so than if we had just bumbled around on our own.

We visited the Taj Mahal first, and learned the story of its construction (and despite having heard of the building, of course, that backstory was new to me).

In summary, it was built as a monument to love, over the course of 22 years, by 22,000 people, in the early 1600’s. If you aren’t aware of its past, please take the time to read about it here, because it is quite a story…

It is built out of what we were told is the hardest marble in the world, a crystalline structured marble that is so durable that this building looks totally new, despite being around 380 years old.

And more than new – the marble is so wonderful a material. It looks soft, despite being made of extremely hard material.

The intensity of the skilled labour used to build this building focussed on this marble, which was chipped away to very precise depth with hand tools and inlaid with thin layers of semi-precious stones.

That technique is still practiced by around 350 families in Agra who use the same marble, sourced from a few hundred km’s away, to create marble objects for sale to support themselves. These, like the Taj, are incredibly labour intensive.

We visited a market where these pieces are sold – all the way from tiny examples of this art form for a few hundred dollars, up to massive table-sized pieces worth more than $50,000. The one I have photographed below took a family over a year to create, and its only about 50 cm across.

This marble is also translucent, and can be illuminated from behind to great effect. Some of the semi-precious stones that are inlaid into the surface glow wonderfully when that same illumination is applied.

Thinking of that, when looking at the photos of the Taj Mahal walls (with extensive areas of this form of marble inlay applied outside and inside), one begins to understand 22 years and 22,000 people… although it is still very hard to wrap your head around.

These buildings were built in an era before cranes, so a ramp was built, two miles long, to bring materials up to the top of the building during its construction.

The Taj is complimented by a Mosque to the left and a ‘dummy’ Mosque to the right. The dummy was built purely for visual symmetry!

The whole complex, its shape, its angles, its construction, are all about symmetry and perspective. Everywhere you look, these aspects are present, in large scale aspects right down to the tiniest of details.

We also visited the Red Fort, and again it is worth reading about it to better understand its history and perspective. It is along the river from the Taj, and visible to it (and vice versa). Its an amazing late 1500’s structure.

It features two moats; one water moat around an inner dry moat that was populated with wild animals, ready to stop anyone who made it through the water barrier.

Its a big structure, and indeed more than half of it still occupied by the military as barracks to this day, with the remainder open to the public.

We also did some shopping on the way back, for some beautiful silk scarves and similar things… there is no shortage of wonderfully coloured textiles here, and they are everywhere.

Here are some images from the day…