Continuing our Incredible India-Taj Mahal Overland Adventure, we awake very early Saturday morning to board the train, Agra Gatimaan Express, departing at 7:00 am. I must point out that distances in India are all relative. Traffic is a major factor when it comes to getting around. Sometimes, just going 5 miles can take an hour!!!! And so, extra time is built into every schedule. We made it to the station on time and boarded the train. It only took 1 ¾ hours to reach Agra. Using the GPS, Rog clocked our speed at nearly 100mph!! We were in Agra before 10:00 am and immediately headed to the Taj!
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1631 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, to hold the tomb of his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died giving birth to their 14th child, Gauhara Begum. Today, it also holds the remains of Shah Jahan. The Taj is the centerpiece of a 42-acre complex that includes a mosque and a guest house set among formal gardens and enclosed by a crenelated wall on 3 sides and the Yamuna River on the fourth. The mausoleum was essentially completed in 1643, but work continued for another 10 years on other pieces of the project. By its completion in 1653, the project is estimated to have cost the equivalent of $827 million. The Taj reflects and expands on the designs of earlier Persian and Mughal architecture; Humayun’s Tomb being the closest in design. But the earlier structures were mostly constructed of red sandstone; Shah Jahan insisted on white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones. The main chamber, the one that tourists are routed through, contains the false sarcophagi of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan; the actual remains are at a lower level. The Taj Mahal was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1983 for being “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage. It is thought to be the best example of Mughal architecture and is considered a symbol of India’s rich history. The Taj Mahal attracts 8 million visitors a year and was declared one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World” in 2007.
Next, I’ll tell you about our final day of this adventure and our return to the MS Amsterdam in Mumbai.