10/22/2004: 1600 Back in
Our drive from Rishikesh to
The majority of the sugar cane was being transported to
factories, but a good deal of the crop was being moved to smaller family or
community operations along the road side.
The small vendors used hand cranks to crush the juice from the stalk. Once the stalk was freed of its valuable
content the empty stalk and leaves were burned right at the camp site. The result of this sugar cane waste disposal
process was massive air pollution. NASA
satellite images from space can actually see the hundreds of fires and a
massive smoke cloud over
Actual satellite image
The other remarkable thing we encountered on the way back to
About 20 km outside of
Today got up at 4:30 AM and caught the 6 AM “fast train”
The Taj and its surrounding grounds and the structures are a monument not only to Shah Jehan, who built it as a permanent resting place for his wife the mughal Empress Mumtaz Mahal, but also to the artistic, mathematical, engineering and architectural genius of the 1600th century Muslims.
The story goes that in 1612, Arjumand Banu Begam, better known by her other name , Mumtaz Mahal, was married to Shah Jehan (then Prince Khurram), the fifth mughal emperor. This was Shah’s second marriage, but his first true love. They became inseparable companions on all his journeys and military expeditions. She also was his inspiration to perform many generous acts toward and for the common man and the needy. This kindness was later returned in spades by the subjects of the kingdom in the form of labor in the building of the Taj.
Mumtaz bore the king fourteen children, and died in childbed in 1630 (only three years after his accession to the throne). Powered by the grief of loosing his true love, Shah Jehan decided to create a monument to immortalize his beloved wife. 22,000 subjects of Shah Jehan, as well as many imported artist, master craftsman, architects and engineers, labored for twenty-two years, 24 hours per day, to complete the Taj Mahal..
The Taj was built on the shores of the river Yamuna in
It was not sanity or death that stopped this project, but
rather his imprisonment by his son Aurangzeb in
View through one of the entry chambers on the west side of the Taj Mahal
The kings imprisonment in the gilded cage of
The king spent the last seven years of his life living in
one room made of marble, inlaid with precious stones, painted in 23 carat gold and equipped with a
balcony that looked directly across the
King Shah Jehan’s prison balcony
He never saw his dream completed and in seven years he never left his room to set foot in the monument he had created. Even with out the marble bridge and the onyx mini-me Taj, the original still qualified as one of the wonders of the world.
A truly fascinating aspect of the 300+ year reign of the Mughal dynasty was the transition in Muslim attitudes during this time. From 1535 through the reign of Shah Jehan, the Muslim rulers were renowned for there advancements and contributions in the arts as well as their promotion of religious tolerance and social support for all of their subjects.
While Aurangzeb may
have been fiscally responsible when it came to the arts he also marked the
beginning of the decline of Muslim rule in
The real king and
queen sitting on Shah Jehan and Mumtaz’s royal onyx and marble throne.
In addition to getting some culture we also did a little shopping. One of our most memorable stops was at the marble shop. Like the Kashmir Cottage Industry store, the good Indian artisan stores and galleries include a look at how the art was and is being created. Today there are 1,100 working artisans who are direct descendents of the original craftsmen who created the marble inlay unique to the Taj Mahal. Not only do they continue in there ancestors craft, but they use the same techniques, tools and materials developed by the original artists. All of their work is still done by hand without the assistance of any power tools. They use only two hand held tools and a small manually spun stone grinding wheel to create and inlay intricate works that may contain thousands of individual pieces. One of the hand help instruments (not a PDA) is pointed at the end and the other is a chisel like tool that has about a 5mm cutting edge. The templates for their designs come from the minds of men who have worked at the same craft for twelve generations.
The workers at the shop we went to work 8 hours days, but can only work for one hour at a time due to the mental and physical fatigue associated with their exacting craft. Once a design is created the men on the grinders form the individual pieces that will be inlaid in to the marble surface. These pieces are made of precious and semiprecious stone and all have to be exactly 2.5 mm thick. A single flower may contain 100-150 separate pieces and an entire table top may have thousand of pieces of stone.
Inlay craftsman working at the Akbar Gallery
I tried using the fine point etching tool to etch a single line on a piece of marble, but only managed to create an uneven scratch that barely broke the surface. The head etcher, on the right side of the picture above, used the same tool to make elaborate designs in the marble that were exactly 2.5 mm in depth and perfectly fit the newly cut pieces of precious stone. The hand that held the instrument was permanently deformed, but perfectly altered to hold the small metal instruments. I think I’ll stick to my day job.
Our guide finished the day in Agra by taking us to a near
private showing of The Great Master
Shams whose work has been designated a national treasure in India. His embroidery creations hang in the White
House and the
The curator, who is a master jeweler in his own right, brought us in to a darkened room and began to tell the story of Shams. As the story progressed he would illuminate areas of the wall and a curtain would lift revealing the artists works one at a time. Each masterpiece had a story, and each one was more spectacular than the last. Shams had started all of his works at roughly the same time and each one took years to decades to complete. The three dimensional nature of the works was created not with stuffing, but with thousands of repeated stitches, one on top of the other. Even the borders and frames were embroidered and incorporated numerous precious stones.
This is an 8 ft X 10 ft embroidery. Everything on the work is created from individual stitches of thread. I couldn’t fit the border in the picture, but it was a floral pattern with sown in emeralds, rubies, sapphires and amethyst.
After the showing we were taken to the jewelry display. The curator showed us this massive gold,
emerald and diamond necklace, bracelet, ring and earring set that had been
created for a past Indian Royal. The
princess who the piece was created for thought the piece too gaudy and returned
it for something more practical. He then showed us an article in a 1985 issue
of National Geographic that talked about the Moghal Dynasty and the fine crafts
and jewelry that were created in this area of
Not a very good picture, but my hand gives you an idea of the size of the pendent. The green stone in the middle is an emerald carved in the form of an opening lotus blossom. All the white stones are diamonds. The setting is 24 carat gold and the chain is made up of about 300 emeralds strung on three gold cords and separated by lines of three Persian Gulf pearls every couple of inches.
After our visit to the Kohinoor we had a couple of hours before heading to the train station. We had been warned not to go to the train station early, because one, the train is never early, and two, you will be mobbed by beggars and untouchables. We heeded the advice and opted for a small restaurant that the guide had recommended. We entered the restaurant past a seven foot guy dressed like something I would imagine from the Arabian Nights. We had our usual black tea and decided to try one of their specialties, bread. It was, with out question, the best bread I have ever eaten.
We ended up getting to the station early enough to witness one of the more bizarre scenes on the planet, but not early enough to become a part of it. Beggars, Brahmins and bottled water, oh no. As hard as it was to look at, it was as harder to look away. It was near 11 PM and many young children wandered or crawled along the docks begging for food or trying to sell what ever they may have found on or around the trains. If you made eye contact you were guaranteed the undivided attention of one of the children for as long as it took to convince them they were no longer visible. As difficult as it was ignore them, if you gave in to the temptation to give them something you would never escape.
One child of about 8 years old caught our attention because
of his severe back deformity. He had a
prominent hunch back and walked with a limp.
He passed our spot and headed for a public drinking fountain. As he pulled up to the fountain he quickly
looked around and then pulled about ten empty Dasani Water bottles from the
back of his shirt, filled them from the public water faucet, stuck them back in
his shirt, and headed toward the crowd of tourists further up the landing near
the train. As we got off the train in
Will be meeting the heads of Ibex Expeditions, Mandip and Anita, in a little while in the lobby of the Park Hotel. After this we will be off to the airport for the long ride home.