A FUNERARY MONUMENT WITH MANY VIEWS
When we visit India, one of the places we look forward to visiting is Agra, the Taj Mahal.
This monument is acclaimed for its harmony, for its greatness and for the beautiful love story it contains.
Why not climb to one of its minarets and from a bird´s eye view enjoy its symmetry, immensity and the surroundings with the meandering Yamuna.
This impressive funerary monument, of extreme beauty, recognized by UNESCO as a world heritage site, collects more than one history that makes it unique ... behind all that majesty, a dark destiny for its builders, a coup and what many consider…. almost a tragedy.
In 1593, Arjumand Banu Begum was born into a noble family, being the niece of one of the emperor´s wives. Legend has it that when Khurram, the emperor´s son saw her, he fell madly in love, so much so that the engagement between them was immediate; Arjumand was 14 at the time, so the wedding would take place five years later. For Khurram she would be the love of his life, a woman superior to others, incomparable…. the ties between them would be closer and closer, the affection, from day to day, was charged with true love. When Khurram ascended to the throne (as Shah Jahan) she would continue to be his main companion, his complement, and in fact, she accompanied him throughout the Mongol empire and even in military conflicts.
When Arjumand died in childbirth, Shah Jahan was plunged into sadness and ordered the construction of a unique mausoleum in the world, in it is reflected all the devotion and love that united them.
From its minarets you can contemplate the symmetry, the greatness, and also the Ya-muna river, the gardens and a perfect panoramic view. You can also contemplate the immensity of an incombustible love.
These minarets are 43 meters high and have a slight inclination to the outside, indicating that, in case they fell, they would do so towards the outside keeping the Taj Mahal safe. The ladder goes counterclockwise.
From any point, be it from above or from the ground, contemplating the Taj Mahal is an indescribable spectacle. Its magic is capable of enveloping the environment, moving us from time to time, as in a continuous dream with our eyes open.
Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001
Despite the fact that India is a vegetarian country, in Agra we can enjoy a feast of Mogul food.
Many times, a confusion is created between the Mongol and Mogul empires, the latter came later.
The Mogul empire controlled much of northern India from the 16th to the 19th century. Despite practicing Islam, they played a fundamental role in bringing the different religions closer together to have a united India.
This empire was founded by Babur, who descended from Genghis Khan, who three hundred years ago had founded the Mongol Empire.
Babur conquered the Delhi Sultanate in 1526. This empire gained strength and recognition with Akbar, whose name means The Great!
During his reign the maximum splendor was lived, making India a great power. Forming a bridge of connection with the Hindus, it allowed them to maintain their religion, participate in government affairs, and he preferred to enter into marriage alliances with princesses rather than continue squandering in military battles. Even Lope de Vega wrote about him.
The passage of the Mogul empire left samples of architecture, religion and gastronomy, many of the specialties are found in the Muslim quarter, near the Taj Mahal. Among the specialties, the tandoori chicken is one of the must-sees, cooked in a circular oven called a tandoor and made of clay.
Incredibly, according to some historians, they found the first evidence of a preparation of what looked like tandoori chicken in the ruins of Harappa (an archaeological site in Pakistan), where tandoor-style clay ovens were found. Excavations also found chicken bones with charcoal marks dating back to 3000 B.C.
In an ancient Sanskrit treatise, the Sushruta Samhita, refers to a marinated meat with mustard powder and aromatic spices that are cooked in clay ovens.
Today´s tandoori chicken is owed to Kundan Lal Jaggi, Thakur Dass and Kundan Lal Gujral, who popularized it in the 1940s at the Moti Mahal restaurant in Pes-hawar.
To this day, the recipe has undergone modifications and each house has its specialty. Yes, the flavor that the clay oven gives it is unmatched. Its preparation is not complicated, in addition, in the supermarket chains we will find a mixture ready to marinate our chicken without much effort.
WHEN BUYING BECOMES A UNIQUE EXPERIENCE
This is the most famous bazaar in Agra, in addition to tourists, it is also visited by residents, Kinari Bazaar is located just behind a mosque. It is an authentic labyrinth of streets, almost all decorated with garlands, the stalls crowded with products, each with its specialty.
Here we will find everything, handmade shoes, marble crafts, traditional party dresses, wedding suits, saris, colorful fabrics, and even the most modern clothing.
Indian bazaars are characteristic for the sale of jewelry. Their exceptional designs make them unique pieces. In the case of gold, it should be noted that we are facing one of the countries that makes the largest number of imports of this metal. In India, they feel a certain predilection for jewelry made in gold. It is part of the trousseau of each house, therefore, we will find designs with semi-precious stones and of different purities that are measured in carats. In general, the authentic pieces are counter-marked.
Something characteristic of the bazaars are the stalls of Ayurveda products, infinity of natural remedies of this ancient practice, from shampoo, toothpastes, soaps, makeup, among the most representative brands Patanjali or Himalaya.
Shopping envelops us in an endless show, where bargaining is a way of life and here we will get a master´s degree in this art. Although we do not like it, we will be involved in that inevitable dynamic which is like a dance where buyer and seller must find the perfect balance between the buyer´s desire to take the product and commercial cunning to obtain a fair profit.
There is no written rule that indicates what percentage should lower the price, sometimes we will enter a store and the hospitality of the merchants will make us feel like we are in a merchant movie, they will accommodate us, they will bring a shawl and the display of products. Generally, when we talk about pashminas, or carpets, these will be exposed before us. Sometimes not even the merchant himself knows if he has what we are looking for, but in his affable nature there is that attention to please the buyer and close a good deal to both of them.
Bazaars are undoubtedly a unique experience, wanting to take everything without knowing where to start, living the day-to-day of the city, mingling with passers-by, and letting yourself be carried away by the rhythm of shopping.
Kinari Bazar 52J8+R6 Agra, Uttar Pradesh
THE ENTRANCE TO PARADISE
The most anticipated photo of the Taj Mahal!!
Without a doubt, a complete visit to India includes Agra and its monuments. 200 km from Delhi, in the state of Upper Pradesh is the Taj Mahal and even if it is a topic, we cannot miss the opportunity to immortalize it.
From Darwaza-i-rauza, this great door is a crossing in time, it takes us directly to one of the wonders of the modern world; its arches make a perfect frame for the great protagonist. It is an image loaded with depth; the central channel is like a red carpet that leads to the objective of the photo.
This gate is a fundamental piece of the complex; It is a rectangular building of monu-mental structure and beautiful Mongolian architecture from its earliest period. It is made of red sandstone, with inlaid decorations of white marble, giving rise to a perfect geometric game. In addition to floral motifs and verses from the Koran, its vaulted ceilings create an ensemble loaded with beauty.
When crossing the door, symbolically, we will have the entrance to paradise; This idea based on Islamic texts came from Persia and represents paradise through gardens with abundant vegetation. Its extension is about 300 meters. The central pond is called "Al Hawd al-Kawthar" which represents abundance, a place where those who managed to reach paradise quenched their thirst. The central channel becomes a mirror in which the buildings are symmetrically reflected.
As we know, the Taj Mahal is a mausoleum for Arjumand, the wife of Saha Jahan, known as Mumtaz Mahal. It is said that the emperor ordered the transfer of the mortal remains of his beloved to Agra, to be buried next to the river in a building of small dimensions. Later, he ordered the construction of this great white marble mausoleum with precious and semi-precious stones such as turquoise, sapphires, lapis lazuli, carnelian and even diamonds embedded in the cenotaph, the central part of the entire complex. With all this, Shah Jahan would pay tribute to his wife.
One of the legends says that the emperor left the builders of the Taj Mahal blind and maimed so that they would not build anything that could overshadow it.
282001, Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001
AS IF IT WAS A SKETCH
When we visit Agra, everything is overshadowed by its monumental Taj Mahal ..... no wonder…. But that does not mean losing the opportunity to discover other monuments full of stories, legends and great beauty. It is the first Mongolian style construction; it is also made entirely of marble.
About ten minutes by autorickshaw (tuk-tuk or motorized tricycle), on the bank of the Yamuna, we find a surprising building of small dimensions, but surprisingly beautiful, spotless and symmetrical, it is a treasure to discover.
The Itimad-Ud-Daula tomb is for many what would inspire the Taj Mahal, as if it were a tiny sketch.
Access is through a magnificent door made of red sandstone and white marble, a work of art that when crossing it leads us to a garden with water channels that flow as a constant element. In the center, there is a square-plan building of 21 x 21 meters, and in the corners, the hexagonal minarets are crowned by small domes. Inside, the colors surprise without being overloaded, the geometric shapes, the floral motifs, the inlays of semi-precious stones (topaz, lapis lazuli, onyx, jasper) create great harmony, forming a kaleidoscopic image. Light enters the interior through small gaps in the marble. In the center stands the cenotaph.
Between 1622 and 1628 this white marble building was erected by order of Nur Mahal, to pay homage to his father, Mirza Ghiyas Beg, grandfather of Arjumand (Mumtaz Mahal) and known as Itimad-Ud-Daula which means pillar of the state.
The architect of this magnificent work was the most powerful woman in the kingdom, her husband, the emperor Jehangir fell in love with her while she was still married. There are those who implicate him in the death of her first husband. The bond between them was so strong that she would deal with affairs of state with great courage. Her power was so high that she was the only woman with coins minted with her name.
Other legends say that all her power is due to her husband spending his days drinking and smoking opium while his common-sense evaporated.
Moti Bagh, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282006
WHAT DO I WEAR TODAY?
It is well known that Asian fabrics are quite a show. Women and men have been delighting in the extraordinary fabrics of various colors for centuries. For women, the typical is the use of the sari, for men, the dhoti. The sari itself is much more spectacular, with bright colors and decorations, on the other hand, the dhoti is more functional, its colors are usually white and beige.
The sari, be it cotton, linen or silk, is much more than a strip of cloth. For Indian women, it is a symbol, an identity, and depending on the region, it will be worn in one way or another. On the banks of the Ganges, the weavers of Benares will make designs coveted by brides, especially for their colors, many of them red with metallic threads. For example, in the south, the climate is warm, therefore, the saris are white.
In the Kerala region, saris have labels that represent the geographical area. This indicative marks a sign of identity and is given by the Indian government. Another example is the famous sari used by Mother Teresa of Calcutta, which has been protected as intellectual property since September 4, 2016, coinciding with her canonization. Mother Teresa, before she died, firmly expressed that she did not want her name to be used for profit, therefore, the protection of her clothing prevents it from being sold as a souvenir.
The value of saris depends on the workmanship, the quality of the fabric and the design; A basic, handmade one can be finished in less than five days, however, more elaborate saris, such as those for weddings, can take more than a month to be made.
It must be said that it is an art to wear it, especially to wear it well which is like a magic dress without seams.
3000 B.C. is when we find the oldest reference to the use of the sari. In sculptures from the 1st and 6th centuries, we also see it represented. In the case of dhoti, we are talking about the most typical garment of India for men. Like the sari, it is another of those seamless pieces that requires precision and art when wearing it which is five meters long, three and a half wide and rolled at the waist to later pass it between the legs giving that shape of baggy and cool pants.
A PEARL OF MOSQUE
Here everything is surreal. Jama Masjid with its peculiar architecture and design surprises visitors, the art and precision with which it is made makes it one of the main attractions of Agra. One of the usual comparisons is with Baitul-Mamur, a mosque covered in pearls and rubies that according to tradition is located in the seventh heaven (jannah) and above it, the throne of Allah, which is visited by angels. This mosque was built on the order of Shah Jahan in 1648, and was dedicated to his daughter, Jahanara Begum.
Right in front of the Agra fort we find this wonder, one of the largest in India. To access it, we find a flight of stairs and a large platform. Its dimensions make it possible to contemplate it from a great distance, thus attracting believers not from afar, its monumentality leaves everyone who visits it for the first time with their mouths open.
For its construction, red sandstone decorated with marble was used. It has an incredible patio with a cloister around it, in the middle a fountain of great beauty, with four kiosks inside. Its dome is a clear example of Islamic architecture, in the shape of an inverted lotus and zigzagging ornaments of white marble that are alternated with stripes of red stone.
Another notable feature of this magnificent mosque is its central portal, in white, and crowned with small turrets, consisting of Persian marble inscriptions with black stone inlays.
Inside the walls are engraved with praises in Persian to Shah Jahan and Jahan Ara. The mihrab, of extreme beauty and a white marble pulpit. Also, in the western part a prayer room.
During the British occupation it was taken as a military checkpoint, the imam was forced to flee. Thanks to the requests of the Muslim community, the mosque was returned as a place of worship in 1862.
To access the mosque avoiding the heavy traffic, the metro takes us right inside. To visit its interior, you have to pay an entrance fee which is not a lot of money and by paying another amount you can climb one of its towers.
To enter, the clothing must be worn with decorum, head covered, shoulders and knees also. It will not be possible to access with shoes. Better if you carry a bag, they may try to convince you to leave them outside by paying about 100 rupees, and don’t forget to wear socks to walk around the mosque and not get stained.
Shop No. 2, Gopal Katra, Jama Masjid Rd, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282003, India
TAJ NATURE WALK
Yes, again the Taj Mahal. It is the center of Agra, everything revolves and refers to it, all trips, tours, pass, begin or end in it. It is part of the soul of India, like an absolutely concentrated perfume that exudes mysticism. The stories envelop you, absorb you and take us to a fairy tale.
When it comes to walking, there is nothing like getting carried away from the crowds and enjoying nature. India is a country full of biodiversity, one of the richest in the world. The task of maintaining this natural wealth is difficult due to the population that is increasing day by day, the pollution and the little care that is given to it.
In the case of the Taj Nature Walk, we are talking about a reserve that was officially established in 1998, with almost 9 km of route. Not only part of natural wealth, it is also of great importance at a historical, cultural, and religious level, so much so that it is considered a sacred place for Hinduism. It is claimed that Krishna lived here at some point in his life. Krishna is one of the most revered gods in India, also in Agra, as in almost all places, his festival is celebrated with great fervor. Its name means dark, or black; tradition says that this was the color of his skin, although in the representations we see his skin is blue. The exact birthplace is relatively close, about 60 km in the holy city of Mathura, also on the banks of the Yamuna.
The reserve has a delimited walking area, such as paths that mark the route, and it has towers that allow us to contemplate the monuments in greater detail. It is a space of 180 hectares where vegetation abounds, flowers with dozens of bright colors and full of butterflies. This place is ideal for observing birds such as parakeets or kingfishers; animals such as jackals, hares or nilgai, also known as blue bull.
In addition, from here we will have another angle to photograph the Taj Mahal without crowds of tourists.
East Gate of Taj, Taj East Gate Rd, Paktola, Tajganj, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001
GARDEN OF THE LIGHT OF THE MOON
If a place really surprises, this is it. It is another of the incredible views that Agra provides us and where time stops before us, where the vegetation and the Taj Mahal are part of a series of frames that pass before our eyes, the legends, history and the passage of the years leaves us absorbed and in a long slumber of admiration.
This is one of the last gardens that go on the banks of the Yamuna River. We also have another of the best angles to photograph the Taj Mahal and literally watch the life go by.
Its name translates as Garden of the Light of the Moon; built by order of Emperor Babur at the beginning of the 16th century. The gardens are the same width as those of the Taj mahal, and Shah Jahan discovered that it was the best point to enjoy admiring the mausoleum.
Today there is little left of what was this complex with crystalline fountains, snowy corridors and abundant fruit trees. Since 1900, floods and neglect caused part of the heritage to be lost.
One of the most famous legends refers to the idea that Shah Jahan had to build a “Taj Mahal” in these gardens and that it would be covered entirely in black marble. This theory takes force if we speak of symmetry. Generally, the Mongol tombs place the burial place in the center, and from there the gardens come out in the shape of a cross. In the case of the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum is located in a extreme, but since we took a bird´s-eye view (we included the Mehtab Bagh as a complement), the Taj Mahal would have a central arrangement with perfect symmetry. In fact, the tomb of Arjumand is located in the center and that of Shah Jahan to the side, not in-box with the symmetry…. Many assumptions indicate that he wanted to be buried in the black Taj Mahal, which was never carried out because the emperor fell ill; his son took advantage of this to steal his throne and locked him up until the day of his death.
Although everything seems to be a legend and archaeological excavations do not shed any light on it, the story enamors and captivates the senses.
Near Taj Mahal, Dharmapuri, Forest Colony, Nagla Devjit, Agra, Uttar Pradesh 282001
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