Friday, July 08, 2005

The Taj Mahal, Fatehpur Sikri, and a screening of "Bombay" (Day 3)

This morning, we woke early and headed down to grab a complimentary breakfast. We had mango juice, omelettes, bhaji, something like fish sticks, and much more. It was great. Then Lee and I headed out to the pool for a swim. It was being cleaned at the time, and apparently is every day. The pool was oddly shaped, with marble footsteps running across one part of it. Lee and I thoroughly enjoyed our morning swim. He did the whale, and I did the otter (swimming techniques we made up at the time, I think). Staff brought towels out to us, then took us down to show us the health center. It had a steam room, sauna, hot tub, and massage table (I SO wanted an ayurvedic massage, but there wasn't time). We then headed up to pack our bags, and Lee lent me a green korta that everyone said made me look sort of like a prince. We left the exquisite Man Singh hotel, on our way to one of the 7 wonders of the world.

We went to a parking lot, where we boarded some electric cars headed to the Taj. We entered through security, walked through the open courtyard, and through the entry. In front of us, under a grey sky, was one of the most breathtaking sights mine eyes have ever been laid upon. After admiring it from a distance for a while, we made our approach. We walked along the water pool to the marble base of the massive structure. We checked our shoes, and headed up. Cathy, Nikki and I first headed out to the mosque facing in the direction of qibla (muslims face this direction when praying, to face Mecca). It in itself was just a daunting building. I ended up sitting, looking through a dark arch, at the Taj, mediatating and feeling humbled. I feel uneasy and yet complete all at once. I felt alive. I knew it would be impressive, but it really is otherworldly. I'll happily share pictures, but they'll be insulting incapable of capturing the wonder and majesty of Shah Jahan's mosque.

Afterward, I headed over a large expanse of red sandstone, up some stairs, and out onto another level from which you could enter the tomb. We looked at the carvings on the outside, which showed herbs and flowers in beautiful colored marble, along with sanscrit script. I headed in alone, and circumambulated the tombs themselves. Akbar's wife, Nur Jahan, was in the tomb that is directly at the center of the whole complex. During a brighter way, it is said to radiate white, as all light comes to that point. Shah Jahan's tomb is just to the left of hers if looking in from the door. The script on the wall, I was informed, is made of one solid sheet of marble, as were the gates surrounding the tombs. This is incredible to me. Cathy informed us that the basement has several small vaults. Because the Taj is a heavy marble structure on the bank of a river, it is hypothesized that the engineers built a system of seven wells on which the Taj actually FLOATS. In-freaking-credible. After staring in awe at the inside of the tomb, I headed back out, and circled the tomb on the platform outside. The four minarets at each corner were imposing and incredible. Around back, the river was clear to see. The Taj Mahal is one of the most amazing things I have ever seen in my life. I don't know how better to express my sentiment toward this structure.

From there, we headed off to Fatehpur Sikri. Built by Akbar, this was a living center for his mother, himself, and the harem, as well as a meeting place for his nobles. The private audience chamber was aligned with Akbar's open-air bedroom, which was aligned with his personal showing window. The symmetry of the site was just plain cool. Built of red sandstone with white marble trim, this superstructure is one I would be happy to call home. The complex system of waterways moved water along, letting out branches at various locales. Fatehpur Sikri is so large that it is almost mazelike. I really don't know how to describe it much more than this, but it deserves a longer paragraph, Then again, let this be a reflection on just how incredible the Taj was, and we'll call it even.

From there, we headed to the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri, which is not considered an archaeological site. This means that it is free, and thus swarming with people trying to sell things. My basic knowledge of Hindi quickly came to use, as it had a few times before. Necklances for 100 rupee? "Nahi." (No) OK, ok, I make you special deal. 50 rupee. "Nahi. Jow." (No, go away). When you are 6'2'' and 190, you really kind of tower over many of these people. Being assertive in a way they understand is quite effective. Anyway, the mosque was built by Akbar as a thanks to the muslim saint Sheikh Salim Chishti. Chishti had predicted the forthcoming birth of Akbar's heir, after he had lost several children in infancy. After the child had lived for two years, Akbar developed Fatehpur Sikri for Chishti and moved there himself. The mosque was large and open, with a lot of visitors. A guide named Abdar came up to give me a tour, claiming he was a student and not a salesperson (he was telling the truth, more or less, and gave me a very informative tour). It turns out that many of the beggars and merchants at this site are actually descendants of Chishti, and because there are no available jobs, the people stay in his mosque. I ended up paying 200 rupees to buy cloth, flowers and string (knowing that was a hustle, but feeling like he deserved it). I made my offering in the tomb, and then headed out.

Soon after, we were on the bus headed back to Dehli. After a crazy-bumpy 5 hour drive, we arrived back home. We had a delicious supper (the okra was the best), then settled in to watch a movie called Bombay, which we projected onto the wall. The movie is about a Hindu man who falls in love with, marries, and has children with a muslim women, much to the dismay of their relatives. They move to Bombay, where he is a journalist. About halfway through the movie, the love story takes a twist toward reality. The bombing of Ayodhya, an event that actually occurred, spurs rallies and murders. The complex struggle the main characters go through in defining themselves as a family, as opposed to Hindu or Muslim, makes for a tearjerker of a film that is really moving and telling. I spent thirty minutes struggling as hard as I could to keep the tears welling up in my eyes from running down my face. This was a good movie to watch given the context in the real world recently, as a bombing has lead to riots in part of India far from us. The religious sites will be on high alert from here out though, and we really hope we will still have access to them. Honestly, I'm not all that scared, because we will be in safe areas. But bombing and killing in an attempt to bring oneself closer to God is foolish and puzzling, and something that, though we wish we could put behind us, does not seem to be a way of the past just yet.

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