Monday, April 16, 2007

Agra and Fatehpur Sikri

We're back in the plains of Northern India. The pleasant cool weather of the mountains has been replaced by the advancing hot season and temperatures are pushing 40C in the middle of the day. In a few weeks they will be around 50C, but thankfully we'll be gone by then.

Agra was once the capital of the Mughal empire. The Great Mughals ruled northern India for around 200 years until the British arrived. They were a flamboyant bunch and are responsible for many, if not most, of India's most notable and beautiful buildings. Agra is home to several, including the Taj Mahal, widely claimed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. We hope to see another 3 before this trip is done, depending on how you define the seven.

The Taj is the work of our ubiquitous friend Shah Jahan, the fifth of the six Great Mughal emperors. SJ was a prodigious builder, even by Mughal standards. His body lies in the Taj beside his wife Mumtaz and his tomb is the only part of the Taj which is not symmetrical - rumored to be because he planned his own mausoleum as a black marble replica of the Taj on the other side of the river. But it's probably a myth. He died imprisoned by his son, his quarters overlooking his monument to Mumtaz.

Fatehpur Sikri is even more impressive in many ways. It is the remains of a new Mughal capital built by SJ's grandfather Akbar, but abandoned after only a short time. All that remains of this "ghost city" are the palace and mosque, but both are stunning. The structures are constructed and carved as if made of wood, but are chiseled from local sandstone. The weight of the beams is all that keeps them in place.

The Mughals were a particularly artistic bunch and a very tolerant Islamic empire, which actively supported and encouraged other religions. Their example has been much studied in India, given the current tensions here between different religious groups.

Sunrise at the Taj. The angled minarettes are not a trick of the photograph. Shah Jahan built them leaning slightly outwards so that if they collapsed in an earthquake they would fall away from the Taj.

And again at sunset. The white marble changes colour throughout the day and if you look closely, so does Mary.

The palace at Fatehpur Sikri. The stone looks like carved wood and the beams, lintels and constructions are essentially the same as those made by English Tudor carpenters.

Indians are generally very happy to be photographed! Particularly when you can instantly show them the digital results.

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