Thursday March 19, 2015

Travelling abroad wouldn’t be half as much fun if it wasn’t for dead people. If long-ago emperors, rulers, princes and pharaohs hadn’t built themselves massive tombs, monuments and burial sites, we would’ve had far fewer touristy things to point our cameras at.

But the mother-of-all-tombs has gotta be the one we saw on our final sightseeing day aboard the Royal Rajasthan

By way of introduction to the city of Agra (home of a mere 4.5 million people), our escort from the train, the ever-smiling Mr Singh, quipped, “I can’t call Agra beautiful because it’s not beautiful. In fact, if we could move the Taj Mahal somewhere else, we wouldn’t come to Agra!”

Be that as it may, we drove through the city’s chaotic streets and stopped first at the sprawling Agra Fort. This immense complex was the seat of power for four generations of Moghul (Muslim) emperors – and has been described as “a perfect fusion of military might and lavish beauty”.

But what came next was what we’d been waiting for …


Following our excellent local guide through an elaborate gateway, we caught our first glimpse of the most extravagant monument that has ever been built for love. An Indian poet (whose name is hard to pronounce) described the Taj Mahal as “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity …” and the squillion visitors who pass through these same gates each year all say, “Ohh, yes! Look at that, George! Isn’t it GORRR-GEOUS!”

The story (short version) goes like this: On the death (during childbirth) of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, broken-hearted Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan built her the Taj Mahal – which was no small achievement. More than 20,000 men laboured for 22 years to create this masterpiece in white marble … inlaid with semi-precious stones creating an art-style known today as Pietra Dura … and designed to be perfectly symmetrical, with each side a mirror-image of the other. Later, with his wife duly honoured, the Shah’s family turned a bit nasty and his career went a bit pear-shaped. But when he died in 1666, he was buried next to Mumtaz in this monument to eternal love.

We climbed the many steps … fought our way through jam-packed crowds to catch a glimpse of the darkened interior … and wandered the ornamental gardens, taking pretty much the same photos of pretty much the same things.

And how did we feel? Well, pretty much the same as pretty much everyone else: STUNNED!

In her wonderful book, “Heaven Hirani’s School of Laughing Yoga” (which most of us have read, are reading, or intend to read) novelist Sarah-Kate Lynch describes the reaction of her character Annie like this:

“As she got closer and closer to the arched opening, the blur of silvery white on the other side started to come into focus. She stepped through and there it was, just as she’d seen it in the pictures, only a thousand times more magnificent: a glorious white-domed palace perched at the end of a long lake like a crown, small yews lining the lawn all the way, throwing their reflections into the pale green water to form a necklace at the throat of this astonishing monument.

“Annie opened her mouth to say something, but the words just weren’t there. Instead, she cried. It was so beautiful, so perfect, so unbelievably special – and she was there, in the flesh, looking at it, for real. She, Annie Jordan, boring old suburban housewife, was there at the Palace of Love, the Taj Mahal, in Agra. In India!

“She felt blessed …” writes Sarah-Kate Lynch, summing it up for all of us.


PEOPLE NEWS: We’ve run out of Wonky Donkeys – so we’re now giving out Yellow Quacky Ducks:

  • Margie got the “Gold Card” Award – for celebrating a very special birthday and shouting everyone a slice of yummy cake. (Which birthday, you ask? We refuse to say. Our lips are sealed!)

NEXT BLOG: We’re in another world, another planet almost, another quite different part of India – the cleaner, greener, tropical state of Kerala (in the bottom left-hand corner of the map). It ain’t over yet, folks – far from it!

Yours bloggedly – JOHN

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