Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Taj Mahal

The sun was low in the sky as we arrived at the Taj Mahal. We came directly from the Red Fort of Agra, and I had been overwhelmed by it. I was worrying that the Taj could not live up to that mellow redness and the overwhelming patterning.

We entered through a red archway amazingly reminiscent of the Red Fort. I guess that was hardly surprising when they were only about half a mile apart.

And there it was - framed in the entrance.


I have a quilt in my mind that I will make one day. It is an image of the bits of the Mona Lisa that you can see when standing on your toes in the Louvre for that split second - and almost completely blocked by other people's heads. For just a moment here I thought that seeing the Taj Mahal could have a lot in common with seeing the Mona Lisa.


We had a very clever guide who took us to the best places for photographs.

IMG_5117.JPG IMG_5124.JPG

Framed in an archway and then through the trees - both were beautiful and as I was rushed from one point to another for compulsory photographs something of the peace and stillness of the building was creeping across the lawns at me. It seems to hover almost weightless above the water.

As I took the final 'guide-directed image' I realised that the scale of it was quite different to what I had expected. From a distance the people seemed to disappear. The building really is not that big, but you can hardly see the crowds. There was an odd feeling of walking into a stage set. There is a petrol station on the way here from Delhi which has copied the Taj (with white paint and concrete instead of marble) and I kept thinking that this just was not real.

I expected people to be still and quiet and reverential - it is, after all a tomb. It was built out of a huge love and standing and looking at it put a lump in my throat.

The people however, were running around and posing for photographs, and calling to each other. The women have the advantage over men here. It is amazing that the peacock came from India and the male is so spectacular, the female so quietly dull. Here the women in their saris are glorious, and the men - well - they seem to wear western dress most of the time - even jeans in 37 degree heat.


Looking along the colonnade on the entrance - one lady had just re-arranged her hair, and on a narrow bench in front of us a young woman in a soldier's uniform was apparently examining the ear of another young soldier. A young recently married couple were posing for photographs in beautiful costumes. I requested a photo but they refused. The young brides wear a traditional heavy set of bracelets for up to six months so it is obvious who is recently married. They looked wonderful. She wore richly embroidered and layered turquoise and jade, and was bejewelled with gold. He was elegant in a long tunic with a high collar and tight trousers in deep textured cream silk, with the pearly lustre of a really luxurious fabric.



I realised that the most wonderful thing about having the pool in front of the building is not that it reflects, but because it provides a location where absolutely no-one can stand in front of you - hence the number of really perfect photos of the Taj.

The patterning is stunning on the building itself - these are finely carved floral reliefs with exquisite inlay set into the marble above.





I was moved by the building but I have always liked people better.




At this stage of the day I knew exactly why this lady had taken off her shoes. I would have sat with her but knew she would be able to get up again more easily than I would.

The crowds were slowly clearing as the sun set as this is when the building closes. The view across the river was unbelievably still and silver as a mirror.



And as the sun dipped and the sky turned gold this little pavilion in the corner looked perfect against the sky. It seemed the perfect place to leave the day - with a sunset.


Saturday, June 06, 2009

Agra Fort

We drove from Delhi to Agra. For me this was fascinating. The traffic felt much like Cairo's - cars weave and slice into different lanes with no warning and there were frequently up to seven lanes in areas marked for four. Unlike Cairo there were a lot more animals. In Cairo you get an occasional donkey cart. In India it was donkey carts, carts drawn by horses, even some carts drawn by cows. Then as we left Delhi there were even large carts pulled by camels - and I had never seen that before.


There was a constant stream of interesting things to see - our maximum number of people on a motor bike was five but I actually think that was beaten by the man who had a small goat in his arms, two more wedged at his feet on his scooter, and one tied behind. Truck after truck passed filled with groups of women in gorgeous saris - and they seemed to travel quite often with a sari pulled across their faces - I am not sure if that was modesty or sun protection. Fair skin is highly valued in this country.


We planned to see Agra Fort in the afternoon and as we were earlier than we expected and trying to fit more into our time than my tour will (we had eleven days to do what they will do in eighteen) we decided to see Agra Fort and then to go straight over to the Taj Mahal.

Our hotel was gorgeous, very much a relic of the British occupation.


We settled our gear, ate and went straight to Agra Fort.

I knew it would be red. I had seen a similar red sandstone building in Delhi and been a bit disappointed that we would not actually look at it but I had been assured that Agra was better.


I had never realised how red it would be. The sandstone from a distance was a dark terracotta, pinkish where the sun hit it. But once across the drawbridge and inside the fort the high red walls towered above our heads and wrapped us in warmth. It is rich and dark and curiously soft and comforting - like being wrapped in soft rich velvet. It is so easy on the eyes - like looking at smooth suede. It is a seductive colour and as we walked into the long ramp that took us up to the main door I was shivery with excitement.



The main entrance was magnificently inlaid - and I warn anyone not into patterning that you had better stop reading right now. This post will have a lot of patterning.


The only warning Bob had given me as I left was that I was not to pat monkeys. Well - he went on to add "or dogs, or cats or any animal." Monkeys were everywhere.



We were told that these platforms - which were well above our heads - were for passengers to load onto elephants, and that the howdah would reach to this level.




I did not expect to be moved by gardens in India but the original formal patchwork layouts with sandstone edges were unexpected, and they are beautifully maintained.



Every door was different. Every surface had patterns somewhere. I was intrigued and starting to take so many photographs that I worried that I might not have enough left for the Taj Mahal.
IMG_5055.JPGwhich was just across the way.










If all of this does not have quilters reaching for their pencils I will be surprised.

I mentioned a tour in the last post. I will be leading a tour to India in October. It is a time when it is cool. You can watch this blog for the next few weeks as I attempt to blog the things I saw, and if you are interested in coming please contact me. If you click on my website link there is an email link on that. It is a textile oriented tour, but there are things in India that should not be missed and we will see a lot of these as well. It is a small group - I take sixteen to twenty.

I did not expect to be drawn to this country - and I was. Come with me and see why.
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