April 18, 2016

The Taj Mahal

Boy, do I love my days off.  :)

There's just something about sleeping in, heating up some homemade Masala Chai and watching the light play in the surrounding trees. Making the effort to have nowhere to go, nothing to do.  It's quiet and peaceful here.  It often reminds me of a campground.  As much as I love baking, it's really hard on your body, social life and psyche to get up in the wee hours of the morning and get to bed so early. Therefore, I really try to relish the days I get to sleep in!  

I also have time to remember that work isn't life.  That I've gone somewhere!  I have time to relive the experience though my pictures and imagine I am still there... 

Everything I read about Agra was that the Taj Mahal was beautiful but the surrounding city was really poor and dirty.  "You don't want to spend much time there," the articles said.  And we didn't!  We basically got in the day before, toured the Taj & the Agra Fort the next day and left early the next.  Pretty much one full day there.  And yet, it was one of my favorite places!  

The Taj is beautiful, yes.  It's kind of surreal to say you've been to one of The New Seven Wonders of The World. But it is the people, living in these dirty and poor conditions, that made the experience so rich and lush.  They were beautiful...  We had such fun with them!  That will be one of my next blogs.

As for the Taj... We woke up early and headed on our way.  We wanted to arrive before the swarms and I also wanted to get good sunrise lighting for pictures!

The streets outside of the gate. 
Always very hazy in India.
Folks walkin to work?  Out and about?
Who knows. :)

As we were about to enter the gate, I saw this man walking down the street. With the pollution, the haze and the dirty street, it came across kind of war torn to me.  And yet, this is right outside the gate to the grand Taj Mahal.  This is the juxtaposition of India I talk about that just fascinates me.  

The cattle call!  I'm so glad we went when it wasn't that busy.  I can't imagine how many tourists fill these rails during the high season.  Once you pass through here, they check your bags quick and you're on your way. 

Inside the gate is a series of outlying buildings that are beautiful in their own right.

This is The Great Gate, the building you pass through to get to the Taj. It is primarily made of marble. 

And once you're through that building, this is what you see.
It's very hazy.  :)

I knew nothing about the Taj when I went, except the vague recollection of a love story.  So here's the scoop, all info credit to Wikipedia.  The Taj was built in 1632 as a mausoleum by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal.  Mumtaz was a Persian princess who died giving birth to their 14th child.  (Let the records state, I WOULD TOO!!!)  

The documentation of the period illustrates the love story held as the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.  It's fixed on the center of a  42 acre complex and employed about 20,000 artisans.  It took about ten years to build and cost 32 million rupees, which today would be about $830 million.  I'm just gonna  say the year 1632 again.

I took the below pic with my iPhone, the rest are all the Nikon.

It is surrounded by four minarets that frame the Taj.  They were being worked on when we went. They were used as bell ringers to call the faithful to prayer. AND!  I just learned... that the way they were built, if catastrophe were to strike, they were designed to fall backward away from the The Taj Mahal.  1632, people.  Incredible.  The only time I've ever felt like I was walking through something manmade like this, surreally grand, was Hearst Castle.  I highly recommend a trip there, too!  

The outlying buildings were just as beautiful to me.
Especially with the sun!

So many birds flying about... 

Click to enlarge, by the way!
Little pictures really don't do it justice.  
Well, pictures in general, couldn't possibly.

For scale, you can see the people hiding in the entryway below.  

The sun was too perfect on all of the outlying buildings, so I spent my time there first. 

I walked around the outside for a bit and took it all in.
I loved the light against the red and white-ish gold! 

And then I noticed this man standing at his post.  :)

I just couldn't and can't imagine people building this in the 1600's!  

This is behind the Taj. In this pic you can really see the intricacy and contrast of the floor. The close attention to detail. The symmetry.  

And if you look to the right at this point, you'll see the Yamuna River!

 This is probably my favorite picture of my entire trip to India.  I somehow managed to catch this guy in a jump.  I'm so glad I had my wide angle lens with me.  This picture sums up how excited I was to be there, everything I was getting to see.  If he wasn't going to jump, I probably would have! 

But then the walkers came and ate everybody... Ha!

 This is part of the surrounding, beautiful garden.  The haze really made it feel like a dream. Like Alice in Wonderland!

Below, young American tourists... 

Below, young American travelers...
See what I did there? Cause I'm a snob!!!  Ha!
But this is my Stacer and Lucas!!!  :)

But fo realz, the tourists were FASCINATING to watch...

This guy with the glasses in the middle reminds me of Jack Nicholson.
"So this is the Taj Mahal... you don't saaaaay..."

Everyone toured and experienced in their own way.
These pictures make me laugh.
This one kind of reminds me of a car commercial print ad. 
"I'm the proud owner of this used red sandstone building!"

And I kid, but I really try not to naysay anyone's adventures.  Some people travel to eat really great food and sleep in fancy hotels. To not be working and to be on vacation. Some people carry everything on their back and stay in hostels.  I travel to experience the culture and take pictures to share with the world.  Open to the possibility of experiencing something different and having it change me. My aunt and uncle travel to rock climb and bike and enjoy the outdoor activities that they love so much in new, beautiful places.  None of it is wrong or right.  I think everyone gets something out of it on their journey.  Traveling would have meant something very different to me 20 years ago.  And probably will 20 years from now.  So, hey lady-- take your over the shoulder picture, you know what I'm saying?  

So you'll see this lady has little baggies on her feet.
In order to enter the interior of The Taj Mahal, you have to wear them!
"I once caught traveling hopes and dreams that were THIS BIG..."
Me too, lady.  :)

I love my wide angle lens!  I was so glad I brought it.  I need to watch some tutorials or bug Stace to know how to get rid of some of the warped-ness in Photoshop.  Sometimes, wide angle lenses have a tendency to 'bend' the outskirts of a picture.  Not always what you're going for! You can fix it but I don't know how to do that yet.  Like below, part of the Taj (on the right) got in the picture.  Sometimes I can retouch it and sometimes the elementary editor on my Mac is weird and doesn't let me. Always learning!

Love all the silhouettes and the shiny surfaces...

All the points of the domes..

I would highly suggest looking online for better pictures of some of the intricate details.  Inside the Taj, it's very dark and photography is not allowed.  I thought it was rather hard to see the intricacies in the interior chamber.  With the glare of the sun, you miss a lot!

During the Indian Rebellion of 1857, British officials defaced the Taj and chiseled out the precious stones. (Lovely!)  However, in the early 1900's it was restored by another British viceroy.  Due to pollution, causing the Taj to turn yellow, they've set certain business restrictions in place in the surrounding areas.  The Yamuna River is also drying up rapidly, causing the wooden base of the Taj to rot and create cracks in the mausoleum.  According to Wikipedia, some estimates in 2011 said it would crumble within five years!  Eeks.  I didn't know that before I went in! ;)

A family touring...

The Taj Mahal complex is bordered on three sides by the red sandstone structures.  The Gate and then their are two that mirror each other, I believe.  The complex was constructed with materials from all over India and Asia.  Over 1,000 elephants were used in transportation of these materials!  The scaffolding was so immense it was thought it would take years to dismantle.  But according to legend, Shah Jahan decreed anyone could keep the bricks taken from the scaffold and therefore, it was dismantled overnight.  Hmmm... I love legend.  :)

Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore described the Taj as a 'tear-drop on the cheek of time.'  It is not without it's tragedy.  Soon after it was completed, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and put under house arrest at Agra Fort (another beautiful place you'll see in future blogs!)  Later on we learned through other tour guides, though I'm not sure the story is true, that the son made sure that his father could see the Taj from his jail cell, still being completed without him.  #BURN!!!

Such a sad story and yet such beautiful light!  ;)

A place to put your shoes...

The gardens are just as beautiful.
During the restoration, the British actually put them in.

 One of the birds landing on a nearby tree-bush.

Again, the tourists were just SO FUN to watch!!!  
There were people from everywhere...

And the colorful saris of India!

This is one of my favorite pictures, too.  It was a candid shot but it just looks posed like a wax museum.  Everybody is doing something different.  There was something I just kept revisiting with the tourists I couldn't escape.  This might be a 'means more to Mandi' shot.  Who knows!

A sweet couple holding the Taj in their hand...
I want to say it was their anniversary!

Stacer and Lucas!!!
Always so many exclamation points with them.   :)

Walking back out through the gate, this couple went through before us.  She was dressed in this fiery orange sari, I loved it. 

And THAT, ladies and germs, is the Taj.  If you're ever in Agra, it's absolutely the place to be. If you take the time to really think about the mini details, it will take your breath away.  :)


April 11, 2016

The Journey to Agra

We were only in Delhi a day or two before we hopped the train to Agra.  None of us had ridden a train in India before so it proved to be quite the adventure.  There is a very small window of time to buy tickets in the States online.  We are almost on opposite sides of the globe, so you have to be up in the early hours, when their offices are open, to purchase them. In our Amazon Prime delivery service culture, it definitely makes you a bit wide-eyed you can't just click the thing and be done.  Stace took a million for the team on this trip... She took the train ticket watch and had everything ready for us.  

People ask if I was ever afraid on this trip and I always say no.  I had very easy travel companions that made it very comfortable.  I was never alone.  On a trip that I have to plan myself, or if I travel back to India alone, it would definitely be terrifying. But that feeling of slight stomach turn, a bit of breathlessness, a racing pulse-- the "I am half crying and half laughing"-- is also the excitement of it! The life of it! People that understand that, LOVE traveling.  People that don't, are the ones that probably should have taken the cruise.  ;)

I saw a few women on their own, in their long skirts out and about, looking a bit lost or overwhelmed; I have such friggin respect for them!!! As much as I was soooo grateful my first international trip was comfortable, I also envied them because I know to travel on your own, is to live with a bit of fear.  Or in India, a parallel universe, potentially a lot of fear!  Clearly, this was a trip that meant something to them. And because I know that feeling, I know everything you get out of it.  I just wanted to scream, "YOU GO GIRL!!!"  

Our American culture doesn't necessarily speak to the idea.  We're very, very comfortable and like to live in fear, calling it 'responsible' and 'societal norm.'  But, the more you step out in faith, the more you get in return.  And those ladies got the world.  Don't worry, I stepped out plenty in my own way and got the world in multi-color MandiVision but I'm happy to show respect to these kindred spirits.  

We got in our cab and headed on our way... 

I just snapped pictures all over the place.  For practice, whatever drew my eye, to document my time... 

For my parents, my family and friends... This is what the side of the road looks like when you're in a cab on your way to the Delhi train station.  You don't see this in America everyday!

Below, is a whole line of tuktuks... I LOVED riding in these things.  As a person that gets car sick riding a bicycle, I was certain I was going to yack on a tuk tuk.  I wasn't looking forward to this part of the trip. The stopping, the starting, the heat?  It was going to be a barf fest.  Well, the great, wonderous, miraculous surprise was that it was NOT a barf fest and in fact, I found the experience exihilarting, fascinating and fun!   

Our first ride was on our first day in Delhi.  The three of us piled in the back of what feels and looks like a bumper car.  I have big hips and Lucas is 126 feet tall, so you can imagine...   I had no idea what to expect but I did the mental genuflect and we took off!  

Traffic in India is INSANE!!!  There are these bumper cars, there are regular cars, there are entire families on motorcycles, people on bicycles, scooters, pedestrians walking, horse drawn carriages... And they just make it work.  They don't have blinkers, they honk.  It is always LOUD.  It's-- HOOOOONK, I AM PASSING YOOOOOUUU!!! and we're done and HOOOOOOONK, I'M ON YOUR LEFT, LADY WITH THE BABY... and we're done.  It is just how it is.  It's not angry.  It's not road rage.  It's just how you communicate.

Anyway, our driver actually had a radio in his tuktuk, something we didn't experience again. Bollywood music was blasting in our ear drums, we were weaving in and out, darting between motorcycles and other tuktuks and I seriously had the time of my life.  Who knew!  

Now, I just need the bumper stickers:


I was recently asked the most fascinating thing I saw... And that's a hard question to nail down.  

However, the juxtaposition between what India is and isn't is truly fascinating.  

Businessmen, in full blown suit pants and button down shirts, like you would see here in the U.S., laying down in the middle of the sidewalk taking a nap.  Or peeing on the side of the road. Entire families, traveling shoeless... You just never know what you're going to see. 

Sometimes these fruit carts are pushed by hand, sometimes by horse.  Regardless, it looks like an arduous process.  I can't even imagine. 

The train station in Delhi was a ZOO.  There were so many people there, the driver could only go so far.  So we got out with our bags and walked. All of the signs were in Hindi and we had no idea where we were going.  If I wasn't with Stacy and Lucas, I probably would have lost my shit here, to be completely honest.  There would have been tears and crying, for sure.  Ha!  Which is okay!  Because something else about India, while they really will do anything they can to take your money or get tips, they really don't want to see someone upset.  They love their country and want you to enjoy it.  "Don't cry, Miss!  You come all this way to have good time, right?  I show you.  I show you."  

When we finally figured out where we were supposed to be (and by 'we' I mean Stacy and Lucas), we camped out in a holding room.  We got there early which was good but we were so exhausted and just ready to be on the train.  Stace and I passed the time playing teacher and student with my camera.  

When the camera came out, so did these faces! This father was grateful to have pictures taken of his children.  I keep using the word fascinating but it is!  Because he has a cellphone with a camera on it... 

So why does he or anyone care that their picture is being taken?  Is it because we're American and we get to take back this memory?  Is it because to have your picture taken is a privilege in India?  I really don't know but I really want the answer.  Ha!  

At first they pretended they were shy... 

But then their goofy little spirits came out and it was all pictures, all the time.  :)

I used to roll my eyes that Angeline Jolie feels the need to adopt every child she comes across overseas... But now? I get it.  I getchoo, Angie.  I would take any of these little ones home in a heartbeat.  

As I said before, I took pictures for a variety of reasons on this trip.  Some I'm really proud of, some are just for the memory or documentation of it.  Photographers talk about killing your babies, not getting sentimental when an image just isn't strong enough, etc. This one below, however, is one I really hoped would come out.  When I first downloaded it at the time, I was heartbroken. I was so bummed it was grainy and blurry.    For major contests or world glory- ha!, it is a throwaway picture.  

But for me, revisiting it a few days ago?  Holy floodgates, Batman!  This is the picture I had forgotten all about that got me the other day... These are my babies that I'm NOT going to throw away.  These are babies I didn't realize I took for ME.  :)  :)  :)  :)  :)  :)

I can't tell you what it is... but the children here and their little spirits are SO vibrant, SO full of life, they just fill you.  Your cup runneth over.  And they're soooo goofy and brave. 


This sweet girl really wanted her picture taken but she was way too shy or well mannered to ask.  I could just tell.  She kept playing with her hair and standing in a nonchalant casual-model pose.  Like every young girl at that age would want... Such a sweet family.  This all only lasted a few minutes, so I quick snapped what I could.  Then they were off!  This is the gift of photography.  It's a selfless muse.  It just gives, gives, gives... 

And then a train station worker came in to our standing room, pointed at the sign saying women and made all the men get out.  Apparently, we are supposed to be separated.  Poor Lucas, the total champ, went and sat... somewhere... else.  Ha!  I was grateful to be young and able.  There was an elderly couple that had been together in the room. She was laying on the ground and didn't look well. Certainly, didn't move about well.  He kept sneaking back to check on her.  So sweet.  

With everyone gone, Stace and I kept playing... 

"If that's what you're going for, you want to shoot for the light in the window, not the people..."

Learning, learning, learning...

From the inside of our holding room windows looking out to the platform entry... 

When they got separated, many chose to just sit out in the entry together.  Soooo many people, soooo much color.  People aren't afraid to sit, sleep or pee anywhere in India!  I wasn't thrilled to have my bag on the floor let alone sit on it.  But... that's India!  You just do it and realize how manicured we are in the U.S.  We're 'The Capitol' of the world in Hunger Games speak, we really are. 

One of the trains came and left and everyone cleared out.
It got quiet. 
The crazy was over.

When we got on the train, I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting smells and chickens.  Pretty much all of New York City in the space of one train car.  Stace, however, had purchased some air conditioned seats and you could lay down if you wanted.

"First time on a train in India picture!"

The train took a bit to leave soooo... I took out my camera again.  Ha!  I am so glad I did because I really love the following two pictures. This is out the window of our train to the platform.

And this is one of my favorites from the entire trip.  I love the intense look of the guy on the platform, looking right at me, the yellow of the glass against the blue of the train car.  With our fellow traveler asleep inside the train, it almost looks like an abstract painting.  I have no idea what it 'says' but I'm proud of this one!

And noooooooooow, we're back in Mazamaland... Ahhh... The quiet, the newness of Spring and fresh basil.  I'm lucky.  I love our little home.  In Jaipur we took a cooking class and I'll be spending the day prepping my first attempt at Indian greatness for friends coming over tomorrow.  Wheee!!! Which, cause we be reeeeeal in this blog, WON'T be serenity or fresh basil. Ha! It'll be piles of dishes, pop station pandora to keep me moving and the 'in and out' of the squirrel chasing small dog. Beautiful in its own way.  :)

Stay tuned!  Next up is the TAJ MAHAL!!!  I've been trying so hard to get us there but SOMEBODY took 12 million pictures and has such difficulty not sharing ALL OF THEM.  Because!  Because! But!  Cause! I just... I just... Better luck next year.  :)

(No need to peel by the way!)
(I know! Dare I say, an eye opener!!!)
(For a whole other blog...)  :)

Till next time,