2009 World Cruise – Mar 24 – Day 78 – Mumbai, India (Taj Mahal)

2009 World Cruise – When we looked at the shore excursion brochure to plan our tours before taking this cruise around the world I was very excited to see a tour out of Kochi to Agra, where the Taj Mahal is located.  Like China and Southeast Asia, I have never had a desire to go to India – except to see the Taj Mahal.  But, when I read the description of the tour it was an overland where you left the ship in Kochi and rode for two days on the train up to Agra before taking a train to Mumbai to re-board the ship the second day it would be in port.  Well….there was no way I was going to ride a train in India for two days!   I don’t care if it was first class.  I set aside the dream of visiting the Taj.

Then, after we chose our Alleppey Backwater tour in Kochi I began to read the tours available for the two days we would be in Mumbai.  Lo and behold, there was an excursion available the first day called Taj Mahal in a Day.  Yeah!  Turns out it was ALL DAY and half the night as well, but we would be able to see this iconic monument.  Don’t look at the price, just book the tour!

The day began very early.  We had to be up at 5:15 to pass through a 6 am face-to-face passort check before we left the ship at 6:45 for the one hour drive to the airport.  Due to the heightened security measures after the terrorist attacks in November 2008 the port access nearest the ship was closed and our bus needed to drive the full length of the port to a secured exit. This meant that we drove through many more of the streets of Mumbai than we otherwise would have done.  It was unbelievable the number of people we saw sleeping on the street.  But we also saw them brushing their teeth and washing and sweeping the litter away from their little space.  Albeit they just swept it into the street but it all spoke to a sense of pride of place that I found touching.

2009-03-24_2082 2009-03-24_2083 2009-03-24_2085_edited-1 2009-03-24_2088 2009-03-24_2092 2009-03-24_2094 2009-03-24_2095 2009-03-24_2097 2009-03-24_2098 We also drove past the most amazing piecemeal shanties; some of them two and three stories high.  They were made out of a total hodge-podge of materials scraped together and held together with ropes and nails and wires.  As we crossed one of the big overpasses on the highway to the airport we could see shanty roofs extending for blocks and blocks – if there had been actual blocks.2009-03-24_2099 2009-03-24_2100 2009-03-24_2101 2009-03-24_2102 2009-03-24_2105 2009-03-24_2106You cannot just go to Agra by air.  There are no regular flights, only military and charters.  We had a one hour wait at the airport and a two hour flight to Agra.  There were 97 people from the ship on the tour. We landed at the Agra Military Airport – there is no public airport.  We boarded our buses and then when we got near the Taj we had to change to electric buses as no gas or diesel burning vehicles are allowed.2009-03-24_2107 2009-03-24_21082009-03-24_21112009-03-24_2112 2009-03-24_2113 2009-03-24_2114 2009-03-24_2115 2009-03-24_2117 2009-03-24_2118 2009-03-24_2119 2009-03-24_2120 2009-03-24_2122 2009-03-24_2123 2009-03-24_2129 2009-03-24_2135 2009-03-24_2137 2009-03-24_2139 2009-03-24_2140 2009-03-24_2142The group gathered outside the North Gate of the complex and then we walked through to see one of the most, if not the most, beautiful building in the world.  It literally took my breath away.  I couldn’t believe I was really there.  Many things about this trip made us look at each other and say, “Are we really here?  Are we really doing this?”  The Taj was one of those incredible moments.  My friend Lynn actually pinched my arm and said, “Yes, you are really here.”  She was feeling as overwhelmed as I.2009-03-24_2145 2009-03-24_2146 2009-03-24_2150 2009-03-24_2151 2009-03-24_2153 2009-03-24_21552009-03-24_2156The best way to truly appreciate the Taj Mahal is to arrive before sunrise and stay until sunset because the white marble is translucent and changes colour with the light.  We were not able to do that obviously but we spent over three hours on the grounds and were able to roam wherever we wanted.  I think I took a hundred photos of that mausoleum from every angle I could think of.2009-03-24_2159 2009-03-24_2162 2009-03-24_2163 2009-03-24_2170 2009-03-24_2174 2009-03-24_2176 2009-03-24_2181 2009-03-24_2185 2009-03-24_2186 2009-03-24_2190It took 20,000 workers and artisans 22 years to completely finish it (1632-1653) although the main buildings were built by 1643.  Designed by a noted Persian architect the 72 hectare (42 acre) site also contains a mosque and a guest house.  It is estimated the cost at the time of construction would have been about 32 million rupees which translates to US $827 million today.   All of the Arabic lettering and floral designs in the building are semi-precious stone inlay.  Not painted!  It is some of the most intricate and detailed inlay know to man.

2009-03-24_2196 2009-03-24_2197One of the most fascinating aspects of the Taj Mahal that we were told was that the minaret columns at the four corners of the Taj are not vertical.  Each one is off-kilter by two degrees outward.  They were constructed that way so that in the event of an earthquake they would topple independantly and away from the building, creating the least possible amount of damage.2009-03-24_2198 2009-03-24_2199 2009-03-24_2213 2009-03-24_2207 2009-03-24_2214After our time at the Taj Mahal we boarded the buses and were taken to a lovely resort for lunch.  A young lady spread rose petals on the carpet for us to walk upon and a group of musicians played music at the door.  A nice welcome for our lunch break.   2009-03-24_22202009-03-24_2225 2009-03-24_2133 2009-03-24_2222 2009-03-24_2223After lunch we went to the Agra Fort (1565), a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  There is only about 10% of the original fort remaining – and it is still huge – because the British demolished much of it to make barracks during their 150 year of colonial rule.2009-03-24_2227 2009-03-24_2229 2009-03-24_2231 2009-03-24_2234 2009-03-24_22322009-03-24_2235 2009-03-24_2238 2009-03-24_2239 2009-03-24_2240 2009-03-24_2242 2009-03-24_2246 2009-03-24_2248 2009-03-24_2249 2009-03-24_2251 2009-03-24_2252 2009-03-24_2254 2009-03-24_2256 2009-03-24_2264 2009-03-24_2265 2009-03-24_2271 2009-03-24_2272 2009-03-24_22782009-03-24_2274 2009-03-24_2282The Emperor Shah Jahan, who had the Taj Mahal built, was betrayed and deposed by his third son.  His son killed his two older brothers and imprisoned his father at Agra Fort where he was under house arrest for eight years and rarely left the corner apartments from which he could see the Taj Mahal.2009-03-24_2266 2009-03-24_2267 2009-03-24_2279After his father died, the son had him entombed beside his wife in the Tah Mahal.  They say that was the only nice thing his son ever did for him.  Although Shah Jahan had never planned to be buried with her at the Taj (plans were underway for a black marble mausoleum to be built on the other side of the river for his final resting place).

The Taj Mahal was a perfecty symmetrical building and complex – broken now by the tomb of the former Emperor, which sits just to the side of the centrally placed tomb of his wife.

2009-03-24_2296 2009-03-24_2298 2009-03-24_2300 2009-03-24_2305Rhesus Macaque Monkeys – they were all over the place at the fort entrance.

2009-03-24_22842009-03-24_2290              Lapwing

2009-03-24_2286 2009-03-24_2292When our tour of the Agra Fort was completed we made a short stop at a shop where saw a demonstration of how the inlay is done. 2009-03-24_2309 2009-03-24_2310 2009-03-24_2312 2009-03-24_2313 2009-03-24_2314 2009-03-24_2318 2009-03-24_2492 2009-03-24_2319 2009-03-24_2320 Then we got back on the buses, back to the airport, back to Mumbai.  Even though it was late at night the traffic was horrendous.  We sat at a traffic light – a functioning one – that changed from red to green to red to green for 45 minutes and the traffic never stopped to let us go.  Amazing.

We boarded the ship at 12:10 am.  What a long day.  What a fabulous day!  Off to bed immediately because we had a 8 am tour the next day.


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