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Anyway, at 6am in the pouring rain we arrived at the ticket booth for the Taj. The booth was closed and the only people about were guards with AKs. They told us tickets were not available until 7am. Over the next 45 minutes we hung out with the guards and watched as tourists trickled in. The earliest arrivers were all younger misinformed Europeans.
At about 6:50am the ticket booth opened and we finally got a ticket. At 7ish the gate opened and we queued up for a surprisingly perfunctionary security check. In at last! The entrance to the main Taj grounds, inside the main wall and security check, was quite nice.
Luckily the rain proved to be scared of the light so as it began to brighten it also ceased raining. On passing through the gate we got our first look at the Taj for the day.
Of course making a beeline for the Taj is rather understandable!
To simply work in marble is not enough; it is necessary to carve and inlay anywhere a suitable surface presents itself.
As the sun began to beat back the fog and rain monkeys came out to play.
The Red Fort lives up to its name:
In order to get from the drop point to the paid tourist area of the Red Fort one must get through an amazing gauntlet of vendors. Twenty or so guys mobbed us to sell stuff. Each salesman had one product. There were only four or five different products so people would attempt to sell you the exact same items you'd already refused three or four times. The sheer number of vendors made them into a literal wall of flesh blocking your path to the door. As politely as possible we refused all the vendors and gently shouldered through.
Agra Fort sports an entrance that looks like something out of a video game. Maybe Assassin's Creed III can visit some Indian locations...
In the parking lot of the restaurant there was a snake charmer. Rod wanted to play but Pavan is terrified of snakes. To the point that even getting her to come within ten feet and snap a picture of Rod with a small python was difficult.
Our last major attraction for the day was Itimad-ud-Daulah aka "Baby Taj". Built shortly before the Taj Mahal (completed in 1628, Taj began in 1632 according to Wikipedia) with many of the techniques used in the Taj, it is set next to the river and adorned with waterways though these were dry when we visited.
The edge of the complex looks down on the riverbank. Locals were lounging in the sun below. Children, possibly theirs, were also racing about. Naturally the children all asked for money.
Inside the main structure is a novel combination of inlaid marble - which doesn't fade with age much - and painted work that fades with age a great deal.
The exterior is of course not entirely without decoration.
Monkeys (small in foreground) come to visit!
Our next stop was an "Indo-Persian rug maker". Observing a chap placing the individual knots for a rug with blinding speed was really impressive.
- Wool knots on woolen threads (the vertical strands on the loom to which knots are affixed)
- Silk knots on wool threads
- Silk knots on silk threads
Silk is much finer and thus produces substantially sharper edges. It is also much more expensive. First wool on wool:
We liked the silks so much we actually ordered one. Doubtless we overpaid grossly. It is supposedly to be shipped to us; who knows if anything will arrive or if what we ordered will arrive. Ah well ... being a sucker now and then can be fun :)
After a our longer than expected stop at the carpet shop we got on our fancy train to head back for Delhi. It was certainly better than our train from Delhi to Agra although "fancy" might still be a stretch.
The best part of the train trip was that they fed us. In India cheap vegetarian food is good so it was actually quite decent. And, amusingly, provided labelled "meals on wheels".
Our plan for the next few days was to hang out in Jagroan, visit some of Pavans relatives, visit Amritsar and the Golden Temple, then drive down to Chandigarh before heading south to Kerala and then on to England for the last leg of our tour.