Hello, dear readers. Today was another travel day, and now we are safely located in Agra. We left our palace in Jaipur with heavy hearts, but Agra is a new city to be discovered. Agra is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which is the largest state by population with 200 million people.
As the trip is about 5 hours by bus, we broke it up by stopping at a palace called Fatehpur Sikri. The palace is a remnant of the Mughal Empire, and was built by Emperor Akbar in the 1500s. The name of the palace shows a combination of influences. “Fateh” is Arabic for “victory,” and “pur” and “sikri” are Hindi for “city” and “mountain,” respectively.
Today was a hot day to be walking around a palace around noon. Our high was 42 C, which is about 107 F. We all made sure to layer on the sunscreen and drink lots of water. The path we walked was dictated almost entirely by the shadows we could stand in. But despite the heat, we were able to see a pretty spectacular palace.
|The Hall of Private Audiences|
Emperor Akbar was a fairly open-minded guy, so although he was the emperor of a Muslim empire, he was not strict about the influences on his palace. The architecture is a blend of Muslim and Hindu styles. Additionally, he regularly hosted religious debates in his Hall of Private Audiences. The Hall had two levels; on the upper level sat all those who were invited to speak in the debates, with the emperor seated above the center column. The lower level would fill with anyone who wanted to listen, but who were not invited to speak. One of the emperor’s three wives was also Hindu, and she was allowed to practice her religion in the palace.
|Inside the Hall of Private Audiences|
Next to the palace is a mausoleum and mosque. The walk over and back was treacherous. The entire way we were surrounded by street vendors, shoving their wares in our faces and following us down the road. Even within the courtyard of the mosque, there were blankets set up with all sorts of knick-knacks to be sold. It’s sometimes difficult to focus on what you’re looking at when you’re strategically trying to avoid a vendor.
|When you wish upon a mausoleum...?|
The mausoleum was a white marble building with a lumpy bed inside, covered in lots of colorful blankets. I could not make up my mind about what I thought might be underneath. When we went inside, we were asked if we wanted to make a wish. Several of us were given red thread, and the wishes were received when one ties the thread with three knots around the marble screen on the side of the mausoleum. We’ll see if they come true.
After another hour drive, we finally made it to Agra, and headed directly for the Red Fort. This fort was also held by the Mughals, and it was built in red sandstone, which give it its name. The fort was less for an army and more for the royal family. The Red Fort gives a clear view of the Taj Mahal, which we will visit tomorrow. The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, and this man was also responsible for the additions to the fort in white marble. As we were walking through the red sandstone buildings, we ducked through this small, low door, and suddenly all of the buildings were white.
Near the end of his life, Shah Jahan was actually held captive by one of his sons, who wanted the power of the throne. He was kept in his private quarters in the castle, with the best view of the Taj Mahal in the entire fort. His quarters were elaborately decorated, with precious stones inlayed into the white marble. They even used petrified wood to create the decoration. He lived there for 8 years until his death, at which time a boat carried his body from the fort to the Taj Mahal to be buried with his wife.
This fort also originally housed the famous Peacock Throne, which was allegedly captured by the British when they seized the fort, and has never been returned to India.
After a really long, hot day, we relaxed in the hotel and are headed to bed early. We leave tomorrow at 5:15 am to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal!
|First glimpse of the Taj Mahal|
|The Red Fort|