January 6. 2017
The Agra train station teemed with persistent beggars and hawkers. One man, who sat in a wheelchair in the middle of them all, had a lower leg and foot swollen to the size of an elephant’s. To me this came as a wrenching sight, and then I thought of all the homeless people in Toronto and how they’re mostly hidden from my view. Our guide told us not to give them money. Supposedly, many of them are professional beggars.
The glorious Taj Mahal, built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a garden tomb for his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, was our first stop. ( She died died giving birth to their fourteenth child.)
Completed in 1653, it took twenty thousand workers, five hundred kilos of gold and 22 years to build. It looks spectacular in pictures but it’s sublime when you stand within touching distance. Its beauty lies in the harmony of the architecture, how light plays on the surface of the white marble and its placement at the far end of an elaborate entrance with its back to the Yamuna river.
But as much as I enjoyed the Taj Mahal the afternoon trek to the nearby Agra Fort engaged me more. The giant complex with its imposing red sandstone ramparts was built between 1565 and 1573. This is the palace where Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal and many other monuments, lived and died. Sadly, in 1666, Jahan died a prisoner in a wing of the fort—within view of the Taj Mahal he had built–to honor his wife–after a war of succession among his four sons.
Then we hustled into our waiting coaches to take us back to the train station for the return trip to Delhi.
January 7, 2018
Back in Delhi, I fell into bed exhausted. The following morning at 8 a.m. sharp we got a tour of Delhi. The highlight was a visit to the Qutub Minar, a 72-meter minaret, in Old Delhi. Built in 1193 after the defeat of Delhi’s last Hindu kingdom it sits among the remains of the city’s oldest mosque, which was once part of an ancient complex. The craftsmanship they display is beautiful.
Then it was off to the airport for our return flight to Mumbai. The coach trip from the airport to our ship, which was docked in Mumbai harbour, took two, long hours–longer than the flight from Delhi to Mumbai.
While I slept the ship wended it way to Goa.