Tuesday, August 6, 2013
Outside my hotel room there are trees to which flocks of parrots come home to roost at night. Fascinating! I could sit here watching them for days. This morning they were off and there was a cacophony of parrot calls as they flew from tree to tree. I am crazy about these parrots. The night before we leave I am going to get as much parrot watching in as possible.
Today is India countryside day and I love it. Not a piece of trash in sight. Miles and miles of agricultural land; rice, sugarcane, potatoes, grain. We are on a bus from Delhi to Agra. The highway is new and smooth. There was government will for this. We see people doing hand labor and carrying harvested crops on their heads. There are fields of peacocks, egrets and an occasional crane(they are big). There are ponds filled with water buffalo and every now and then a camel in someone's yard. This is a fantastic and uplifting journey! India is full of contrasts. From here on out we are focused on the wonder. We need it. We have also spent time today sharing with our USIEF guides Shafiq and Meena all of the wonderful things we have done in India. They want us to see the greatness, and we certainly have. We are focused on that now as we make our final journey together to the Taj Mahal.
On we roll through the countryside to the Agra Fort. It is fun! Oh no! Monkey brigades line the city walls as we drive in. We continue to be terrified of Monkeys. Bats, inside every archaeological structure; "cute bats" today's guide will say. Very cute until you get bat guano in your hair. Okay, I've had that and pigeon three times in the hair and once down the arm. Need an umbrella everywhere:).
Wow! Wow! Wow! The Taj Mahal comes into view! It is the wonder we expected it to be. We will visit at 5:30 a.m. Tomorrow morning for sunrise. The lines will be formed even then. Wow! Wow! Wow! Agra Fort - now, I am really amazed. This was Akbar's place. We have this Mughal Emperor visit our classroom in world history. Let the debate rage on; great or not so great. Generally we lean toward great. He built the part of the Agra Fort that is made of red sandstone. Did he ever have military strategy! He had walls built that lined the entrance. At the top of the walls there were men ready with pots of boiling oil to pour down on the intruders. It was a moated fort and the moats were full of crocodiles. Between the moat and the castle walls were Bengal Tigers. Well fortified place. What to do in his free time? Well, we saw Akbar's huge bathtub which held 1700 liters of milk and rose water for his baths.
Later Mughal rulers added palace after palace to the fort. This Is an incredible place. As soon as I get home I am checking out a book with color photos from the library to look at it extensively. No, I am not buying one from the street vendors!!! We saw thirteen of over five-hundred forts included in this complex. The rest are closed to the public. The Indian military uses this facility. It is in a state of faded glory, and no government will for restoration. The British kept it up, but overtime the jewels, silver and gold have been taken. It still has an aura of grandeur that takes you back in time. Queen Elizabeth II has the famous diamond, I think the Noor, that was once housed in this fort. She has half in her crown, and I've seen the other half at the Tower of London.
Shah Jahan, fifth Mughal ruler is probably familiar. He built the Taj Mahal across from the Fort. He built it as a symbol of love for his wife. Sadly, as in much of world history, the stories don't end well.....power grab. His son Aurangzeb, had Shah Jahan imprisoned in a beautiful area of the Agra Fort made of translucent inlaid marble. The son took power and Shah Jahan spent his remaining years looking at the reflection of the Taj Mahal in a mirror as his eyesight was not good enough to see it through his window.
After lunch we set off for a ghost town outside of Agra. As we went we were swamped with an incredible monsoon of grey green water. The driver kept going on while most other people stopped. We got to our yet unknown destination after an hour and sat on the bus as the torrents poured over us. Meanwhile the vendors came under umbrellas to offer us bangles, elephant chains, and of course umbrellas. One boy stripped naked and ran around the parking lot in the rain.
We had five minutes until the gates closed, what should we do? The rain had let up, for me it was nothing. Eleven of the 13 of us opted to go in, what a great decision, this was Fatepur Sikr, a special palace Akbar had built for his three wives when his Hindu wife conceived his son. In this complex the Christian wife had a small palace, the Muslim wife a slightly bigger palace and the Hindu wife the biggest palace of all. It must have been fabulous in its day in its tropical lush surroundings. Akbar even had a giant Parchesi board made in the courtyard and he had real people be the players as he called moves from a balcony. There were many entertainments at this palace and an entire troop of military elephants. He had a special stone in a prominent place and when people were traitors or dangers to his rule he had elephants squash their heads on this stone. Not so great? Or a necessity for power?
Akbar probably laid the cornerstone for modern day religious pluralism in India. He had his three wives of varied faiths, decorated based on those faiths as well as Jainism and Buddhist styles. Kept to his past lineage as heir to Tamerlane/Timur the Lame by decorating in Mongol style as well. Bad, bad Aurangzeb later became a very conservative and intolerant Muslim and gradually eroded this great empire that stretched back to Babur, and even the Mongols. In The Rise of Modern India, author Luce says Modern India is predominately a result of strong Mughal reign and the British rule. Shafique our guide agreed with that premise.
Akbar left Fatepur Sikr after seven years and returned to the Agra Fort because of too many years of drought. It was a great sight and we had it entirely to ourselves because of the rain.
I will post photos tomorrow night! We only brought clean underwear and a toothbrush with us to Agra, no camera equipment for uploading photos.
I finally have a room alone here and then back in Delhi! Huzzah! I have five men in here tonight while I am in my pajamas because they pick 9:30 p.m. To work on the safe. They are gone now, thank goodness.