The Taj Mahal in Agra

taj mahal

I have two recommendations if you ever go to the Taj Mahal. Stay at the Banfi Home Stay and pay for a guide at the Taj Mahal.

We decided to take a camel into the Taj. Here is our camel, his name is Babel.

Sean rode the camel into the Taj.

20,000 workers took 22 years to build it. There are 22 domes on the building behind us. One for each year. The red sandstone came from 40 km away. That was a long distance to carry anything but especially something heavy in the days before the combustion engine.

This line runs through the center of the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is symmetrical, and this is the line of symmetry. It is the line at the center of Mumtaz’s burial chamber.

There it is, the Taj Mahal. It was beautiful. It is three different colors over the course of the day. Taj Mahal means crown of the palace.

The water fountains are on the line of symmetry.

The top of the Taj Mahal was made from gold. The British took all the gold and diamonds that were in the Taj Mahal back to Great britain.

We met this poet. His name is Lalit Maugen, his book of poems is Soul and Salvation. It is common for people to hear us talking and want to know where we are from, and to have them want to take a picture with us. Sean had someone stop him today to tell him that America is a paradise. One thing I have learned in our travels is that America could never live up to its hype, no place could.

It is so hard not to keep taking photos. The Taj Mahal was built by the Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz. She was his 3rd wife. His first two wives did not have any children. Mumtaz, which is a nickname meaning “the chosen one of the palace”, gave birth to 14 children. She died while giving birth to either her 14th or 15th child. Our guide gave us both numbers and then got confused when we wanted him to clarify it for us. Of her 14 children, 8 died, only 6 survived. Mumtaz died before the Taj Mahal was finished, so she never saw it. Either she died giving birth to the 14th, and that child survived, or she died giving birth to the 15th and they both died. She died when she was 39 years old. OMG, 14 or 15 children by the time she was 39!

Our guide was a master with what to photo. He would position us in places and take photos.

You have to take your shoes off or cover your shoes with booties to go into the Taj. I was glad for the booties because it was so crowded in the Taj Mahal that people kept stepping on my feet. I would not have wanted to be barefoot.

This is the mosque next to the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays to non-Muslims. On that day Muslims can go into the Taj and worship.

The Arabic writing around the door is called the Heart of the Koran, in Arabic it is Suriyaseen.

There are no photography allowed inside the burial hall.

There is a honeycomb pattern on the outside of the Taj. The building is marble with precious stone inlaid into the marble.

There are 8 rooms, 4 on either side of the burial chamber. One side of rooms is the men’s side and one side is the women’s side. We are in a room on the women’s side. The honeycomb design of the marble allows men and women to talk to each other without being in the same room.

Photos through the honeycomb.

The Yamuna River is behind the Taj. The workers worked on the stones across the river from the building site. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz planned to build a second Taj Mahal for him across the river. His son said the it wasn’t the Shah’s money to spend like that. He told the Shah the money belonged to the people.

Behind the white tower in the hazy distance is the Red Fort. Shah Jahan’s son imprisoned him there because of all the money the Shah spent building the Taj. The Shah was there until he died. He is buried next to Mumtaz in the burial chamber.

A view from the other side of the Taj.

The building top in the background is where Shah Jahan’s 1st wife is buried.

The white peak in the back on this side is where his 2nd wife is buried. The black peak is a mosque.

Here is a person practicing the art of grinding stones to inlay into settings like the one below.

Here are some photos on the road leaving Agra. Most of the way back we took the Express Way. I actually had to use my Hindi to insist we take the Express Way. The driver wanted to take a “short-cut” like the one we took last night that turned a 2-3 hour drive into 5 & 1/2 hours. There are no photos from the Express Way which is a rather boring drive but much faster.

Don’t you love the old with the new.

Look at how hard some of these fellows have to work. There are 3 carts here.

The 3rd fellow jumped on the motor cycle and away they went.

As we were driving, we saw water buffalo wandering around and swimming in an area where local women were washing their clothes, and then laying them out to dry in the sun.


Do you see the monkeys running along the top of the building. Monkeys were all over the buildings and streets as we drove out of Agra.

That is a monkey from behind, not a dog.

Good bye Agra!

I wanted to show you how close the cars get with the next couple of photos.

We took a tuk tuk to dinner. Here we are.

Tuk tuks are little 3 wheeled cabs that drive around Delhi zipping in and out of traffic.

Even Jim is taking selfies now.

Check out yesterdays blog here and check out the history of the Taj Mahal here.

Delhi Day 6 and on the road to Agra


Today we went to our placement, and then we got on the road to Agra, which is where the Taj Mahal is.

I know I have been saying it every day, but Sean loves his volunteering. We will decide by Monday night what we are going to do, because Sean wants stay and volunteer the entire time we are in India. Jim wants to see Rajasthan for 11 days, and I am easy about which we do.

It took about a week for us to settle into our placement. Sean and Hillary are working with the little ones. They both love their assignment. I am working with Rishi from Children’s Hope with the oldest ones. Rishi’s parents are Indian, and he speaks enough Hindi to converse with the kids. I am lucky to be working with someone who has that ability. Even though we are trying to help with their English, a little bit more than a little bit of Hindi comes in handy. Today I was asked if I would stay an hour later to work with an older group of girls, I think high school age, to help with their English. I was working with a couple of girls today helping them memorize some sentences for a test and had great success, so the teacher thought I could help with the older ones too. My experience acting came in handy, because the wording for the answers to test questions are supposed to be the exact answers given by the teacher in class. The test they were studying for was a health test, but because of this rote method, every test in every subject is like memorizing the lines of a play. They have so many children attending the schools that the schools are divided into 2 sessions of 4 or 5 hours each. The students are divided into morning students and afternoon students. I am working with a group of afternoon students in a program that gives tutoring to lower preformance student from the slum area  we are in. The girls I will start working with on Monday attend the morning session.

Jim and Alecia are working with what we would consider kindergarten age students, I think at least. They make a great team.

Jim is making a Christmas tree for a lesson about Christmas his group is working on.

This story is told to you as it was told to me. The boy here in the foreground came for three days this week. He is a servant boy. He is able to be here because his master is away for a few days. When his master comes back he will go back to work, and can no longer come here, until the master goes away again. He is about 12 years old, Anil wasn’t sure exactly. His academic skills are quite a bit below the other students who are younger than him. He has been a servant boy for at least 2 years. His master is a vegetable seller. This boy is a delivery boy for him. He was working on his math skills, and basic Hindi writing skills, but not English. If he doesn’t get the basic math skills a merchant needs, he will always have to be a servant, so Anil has him focus on his math in order to help him in life.

You might have noticed kohl on the children’s eyes, both boys and girls. It is a belief that kohl on the eyes keeps the evil eye from focusing on your child. People will also draw a cross on the back of their neck or behind the ears to keep the evil eye away. Public health officials have been trying to get people to stop this practice, because drawing kohl around the eye is unhealthy. About 1/3 to 1/2  of the kids still have the kohl around their eyes, though.

Sean was told that he looks like a young Bill Clinton. We found the same thing in Europe, Ireland especially, when we travel, Bill Clinton is really thought well of, even now so many years after his Presidency, outside of the US.

The name Sean is an Indian name as well as an Anglo name. Most Hindi names have a meaning. Sean means my pride in Hindi.

Do you see the two little ones with something in their hands. They are eating a Superfood Bar. Before leaving the states I bought a whole bunch of bars at a health food store. I always do when I travel. I love them. Sean won’t eat them. Jim will, but only if there is nothing else. I brought my phone and a bar to the placement yesterday and left them both on a chair. I came over towards the end to get my phone and noticed my bar was gone. Here is the story Hillary and Sean told me. A group of the little ones noticed it, picked it up, and opened it. They broke it up and shared it. Only one of them liked it, but another one of the children, who didn’t like it, ran around gathering up the pieces. This child refused to share with the one child who liked it. Here are the two of them. The one in the pink doesn’t like the bar, but won’t give it up, and the one with the striped hoodie who likes the bar. By the end of our time, the bar had been eaten. Sean said it was funny to watch.

What follows were taken on the road to Agra. I don’t have many photos because of the speed we were traveling . There was a lot to see though. We saw camels, monkeys, deer, cows, and lots of dogs on the roadside. See the monkey on the sign.

There were also plenty of interesting looking people and buildings.

We hired 2 drivers for the 7 of us. It was comfortable and fun. When we were 10 minutes down the road, the driver told us he had to pick up a carpet along the way. He took us the old way (and longer time wise) so he could pick it up. But hey, the road less traveled…

Our driver found this scene really funny. See the cow next to the blue sign saying this is a police station. The driver started laughing saying it was a police cow.

Here is the carpet we picked up. We were all merry. It was funny, really funny. The carpet was much smaller than we expected. Sean and Hillary bought snacks at this stop. They were expensive and stale.

The fellow on the left is our driver.

Then we had a flat tire. A flat tire on the streets in India is dangerous. You just cannot believe the driving/traffic here. The painted lane dividers are for suggested position only, people pay no attention to them, and everyone honks all the time as they get within fractions of an inch away from other vehicles.

This is the driver of the other car with a flash light. I do not envy our driver at all, changing this tire.

This is a Hindu Temple. Oh yeah!

We are staying at the Bansi Home Stay. A home stay is the Indian version of a B&B. I found it on Trip Advisor. It was the #1 home stay in Agra. We found out why too. It was great. Here are some photos of it. The food was great, the beds comfortable (although Indian beds are harder than ours at home), the shower super, and the people who ran it treated us like family! They are going to get a 5 star rating on Trip Advisor from me for sure.

Last night, 4 men were occupying this area. They were celebrating 50 years of friendship.

A statue of Ganesh.

These are from the little courtyard in front of our home stay.

This is the kitchen and the chef. I always check out the kitchens wherever I go. The chef is from the Himalayas.

These were taken on the morning of the 14th while I waited for the others to wake up. While waiting, a family came down. The wife spoke such unaccented English I thought she was visiting from America. She was not, she was a native Indian. The family party had the husband, wife, a 3 year old, and both sets of grandparents. All of the adults spoke English exclusively to the toddler. They told me it is a common practice in well educated families to only speak English to the children until they are 5 or 6, so that English is the child’s first language. Once the child speaks English well, the family will start speaking Hindu to the child. They expect their child to learn a couple other languages along the way as well.

Check out yesterdays blog here and here and check out the next post here.