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Taj Mahal & Fatehpur Sikri (Jan. 3)

by Brandon Willis

The night before we visited Taj Mahal and Fatehpur Sikri in Agra, our bus arrived at the hotel late in the evening, around 10 or 11 pm. Dinner was prepared by the hotel, and it was dreadful. To avoid subjecting ourselves to the unsanitary, borderline inedible hotel food for breakfast the next morning, our guide from Sehgal foundation, Arjun, put the team on his back. He stayed up late that night searching for breakfast restaurants and eventually found a delightful little joint right down the street from the Taj. Perhaps the most memorable feature of this restaurant was the server, a skinny 19-year-old civil engineering student with a remarkably positive attitude. He brought smiles to many grumpy faces, which were still affected from the hotel experience the night before. He was by no means a good server, and one might argue that as a waiter, he approached incompetence, but he made us all laugh and eventually got the job done. I thank him for bringing us cheer and wish him and his family good fortune. Perhaps someday we might collaborate on a civil engineering project!

Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632.

Construction of the Taj Mahal began in 1632.

The Taj Mahal was everything we expected and more. Two things struck me: the scale invariance of beauty and the engineering. By scale invariance of beauty, I mean that the site is equally beautiful when viewed from afar as it is when viewed up close. The marvel of the structure when viewed from afar led me to ponder whether mankind has any true limits, or whether limitations to our accomplishments are only artifacts of our attitudes. As we approached the mausoleum, the viewing scale shrunk, and the type of beauty observed changed. The intricate carvings that blanket the structure are evidence of the existence of the soul. The tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal are circumscribed by pristine white marble lattices with labyrinths of flowers carved into a single stone.

Elaborate carved translucent white marble at the Taj Mahal.

Elaborate carved translucent white marble at the Taj Mahal.

The engineering is a masterpiece. Marble is the third heaviest stone known, and the Taj Mahal is built on a Yamuna River, probably 100 feet from the banks. Wells were drilled and filled with ebony wood. The wood absorbs groundwater and forms the footings of the building. One thousand elephants transported the marble and other

The Taj Mahal is constructed of translucent white marble.

The Taj Mahal is constructed of translucent white marble.

stones from around the world.

At the Taj Mahal Jan 3

Our group poses in front of the Taj Mahal.

Following the Taj Mahal, we visited Fatehpur Sikri, an interesting city built by the famous Mughal Emperor Akbar. The history and architecture of this place make a fascinating story. Akbar had three wives, none of whom were able to provide him with a son. At one point, Akbar wanted a son so badly that he sought the advice of a saint in the town of Fatehpur. The saint predicted an heir, and an heir was born to Akbar’s Hindu wife. To honor the saint, Akbar moved his capital city to Fatehpur and ruled there for 15 years until shortages starved the city of a drinking water supply. He is famous for tolerance and bringing people together, and the city’s architecture embodies many different styles with the traditional Indian look of bright orange sandstone. It is kind of a sample platter of different architectural styles, including Buddhist, Chinese, Persian, and Arabic. It is laid out to resemble a central Asian encampment.

We ended the day traveling in luxury in a 40-seat bus that allowed us to sprawl out and get some rest in advance of the demanding week of work ahead of us. Props to Marian for getting that bus!

Last modified on July 8th, 2016
Posted on June 13th, 2016