We had an early morning on the 12th when we started our trip to Agra; however, before we left Delhi we stopped to take pictures at India gate. India gate was built as a memorial to the soldiers who died in the First World War. While we were at India gate we were able to watch some soldiers practicing their marches for the Independence Day celebration, which is on January 26th. We then had to drive 6 hours to Agra, which was only 170km, but because of the back roads and traffic it made it longer. Agra is considered a smaller town in India even though it is home to nearly 3 million people. On our way to Agra we took a short break at a hotel. We then got back on the road where we were able to see the true countryside of India. There were acres and acres of lush farmland. This is the true heart of India since nearly 70% of India’s population still lives in rural areas. The whole time we drove there was not more than three minutes where I didn’t see someone either working in the fields or running through the streets. Once we arrived in Agra we went straight to the Taj Mahal which was built by Shah Jahan after his wife passed away at the age of 39 while having her 14th child. He made a promise to her that he would never marry again and that he would build something in her memory. The Taj Mahal was built in the 17th century starting in 1631 and took nearly 22 years to complete by 20,000 workers working around the clock. In fact the tower is completely symmetrical and looks the exact same from all four sides of the building. The only assemmetrical aspect of the Taj is the addition of Shah Jahan’s body in the main moseleum after his death which was originally unplanned. When looking at the four towers on the corners of the Taj Mahal it is not an optical illusion but they are all leaning slightly outwards. This is because if any of them were to fall for any reason in the future they would fall outwards and not hit the main building of the Taj. On either side of the Taj are identical buildings. On the left one is used as a mosque where muslims can come in and pray on Fridays which is when the Taj is closed to tourists. On the right was a building that was once used a guest house. One of Shah Jahan’s main requests was that the Taj had to be build next to a river. In fact the reflecting pool uses water from the river which is why it is constantly flowing. Another of his requests was that the Taj was isolated from other buildings and other things that could compromise the integrity of the building. This is why today when you visit the Taj normal vehicles are not allowed past a certain point because of pollution from exhaust. The beautiful white marble was Shah Jahan’s trademark and had to be shipped from other parts of the country. Overall the seeing the Taj Mahal in person was surreal and just imagining all of the effort and work put into the monument is collasal.

After seeing the Taj Mahal; we went to a marble factory where decendents of the Taj sculpters still practice the carving of marble. We were taught a lesson on how to distinguish good marble from fakes and given some time to shop around. Inside their store they also had a replica of the Taj Mahal that was not for sale because it took four workers nearly 10 years to complete. From the marble factory we went to a local restaurant where we were able to experience some of the food that is typically served in southern India.

The next day we were able to see the Agra fort which was built 100 years before the Taj Mahal and took four generations of workers until it was complete. It is easy to see what additions were made while Shah Jahan ruled because he once again brought in white marble. He was held in the fort under house arrest near the end of his life by his youngest son who killed his older brothers and imprisioned his father so he could rule the kingdom. After the Agra fort we started on our journey to Jaipur which was an estimated 6-7hrs drive. We stopped for lunch along the way at a restaurant with Indian food from the local state. We also stopped to feed monkeys bananas which we bought from a local street vendor. When we arrived in Jaipur we took a short rest and then most of the group went out to a popular market place with affordable souveniers. Lastly we went to a restaurant that is locally known for having some of the best Indian food in town.

Jada and Nakhila