MY EXPERIENCES IN INDIA – 1985 #10
All the government buildings, the parliament house and embassies of various countries are at the various embassy buildings. The president of India lives in a huge mansion behind which is the famous Mogul Gardens. Many visitors go through this formal garden everyday and, although it is just behind the president’s residence, there is only a handful of guards standing casually located on a wide clean street called the Shanti Path, and it was interesting to drive along it and to look around the garden.
While in Delhi I also visited Mahatma Gandhi’s tomb which was constructed of black marble (or what looked like black marble) and on the front of which was inscribed “He Ram – O God”. It was set in a garden with walkways, shrubs and flowers scattered here and there. Approximately a mile away was the newly erected tomb of Indira Gandhi, the prime minister of India who was assassinated in 1984. It was still rough and there was no garden around it, but one could see that it was in the process of being improved. People visit both of these tombs daily.
On February the 21st, Panditji, his wife and I left at five-forty a.m. by city bus to connect with a bus that would take us to Agra where the famous Taj Mahal is located. The main bus depot in Delhi was definitely a very crowded place with buses jostling with each other to get either in or out of the depot, and there must have been hundreds of them in the huge compound. For one who does not know the place, it is somewhat bewildering to try to find one’s way around and to board the appropriate bus. The trip to Agra took five hours covering a distance of 217 km. The bus passed by or through many towns, villages and farms. A frequent sight was small brick-making plants, each with a small kiln for heating the bricks that were made by hand. Another were the piles of dry cow dung which people use as fuel. The weather was very pleasant, the temperature being around twenty to thirty degrees Celsius. Agra was the first capital of India and was initially ruled by the great Mughal ruler, Akbar,
Akbar built a huge fort measuring two and quarter kilometers square in about 1565 A.D. This fort was now in ruins. A constant problem after arriving at a town or city was the constant solicitation by rickshaw drivers, auto rickshaw drivers, peddlers and guides for businesses. At many of these places, and especially at the bus depots or train stations, there were also many beggars. There were many vendors selling sweets and other food articles openly, and the articles were covered with flies, and certainly not fit for anyone who was not native to the area. It certainly will make a tourist sick in no time at all.
We bought tickets and went through the old Agra fort. It would be wise to have a guide as one can get lost in four and quarter square km. of fort with gardens, courtyards, balconies and rooms everywhere, and narrow stairs going up to the second floor. However, it was a pleasant visit.
Shah Jahaan lived in this fort for some time, and he later built the Red Fort in Delhi. This fort is approximately two and a half kilometers square, and houses a mosque and several other buildings. Both of these forts were surrounded by a moat. In the Red Fort in Delhi, there was the Diwan-I-Khas that was used by Shah Jahaan for meeting dignitaries and courtesans. Its pillars, walls and ceiling were studded with precious stones and diamonds. The famous Peacock Throne was also in this building. Unfortunately, the British removed all the precious stones and the peacock throne to England. Shah Jahaan ruled India from this Red Fort when he lived in Delhi and from the Agra Fort when he lived in Agra. Thus, for a time India had two capitals.
Shah Jahaan was deposed from his throne and imprisoned in the Agra fort by his youngest son Aurangzeb. There was a room in this fort where the Shah sat day after day and looked out at the Taj Mahal that was across from a curve in the Jamuna River. The Shah had built the Taj Mahal in memory of his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died in her fourteenth childbirth. It took twenty-two years to build the Taj Mahal between l63l and 1653. The Shah himself ruled between 1628 and 1658. The Taj Mahal houses the tombs of both his favourite queen and himself in a lower chamber, and on the upper floor there is a simulation tomb of each of them. The Taj Mahal is really a work of art and very touching to visitors once they realise the reason for its construction. I felt very touched by the great and abiding love of the Shah for his Queen to make him immortalise that love in marble for years to come. I also realise that the same intense love was also felt by many other people of lesser rank, but their love could not be immortalised in marble but only in their hearts. Such love remained unknown to the world except for a few cases immortalised in poetry, or on the stage such as Romeo and Juliet and Laila and Majnu. The Taj Mahal is a square building constructed entirely with white marble. It has huge steps leading to the main floor, and the interior has a fenced-in area housing the tombs on each floor. There is a hallway all around the central enclosure. The enclosure consists of floral designs cut out from the solid marble. The columns and arches are all of marble. Since marble cannot bend, the central dome is fitted intricately with triangular pieces of various sizes. There are four minarets, one at each corner of the building. You had to leave your shoes outside before entering the Taj Mahal. There were hundreds of people most likely tourists from different places. I believe several thousands of people must go through the Taj Mahal everyday. It is likely the most photographed building in all of India.
To be continued