Baby on board

It's the eyes


A bus from Agra to Fatehpur Sikri.

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When no one wants a ride…

Chillin...

The Agra rickshaw wallah chills out. Glamor-shot style.

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Solitary prayer

Worship in your own way

At about 7 a.m., we were in the crowds of people streaming into the Taj Mahal for the glory of sunrise. Most tourists make straight for the Taj itself, to admire the monument as the marble changes in the warming light.

After a quick stroll around the gardens, I made for my favorite spot in the Taj complex, the western mosque. There I sat for the better part of an hour to meditate and pray. Other than a few pilgrims (like the one above), some dying bees and a man cleaning the mosque floor, I was alone.

Peace.

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It’s all in the details

Well-worn door

The Taj Mahal is a serene monument, the apex of Mughal architecture. It stands so much in contrast to the dust and grime that is often India (though I love that in its own way). The marble dome of the Taj is, quite literally, breath-taking. Iconic may be an overused cliche, but the Taj deserves it.

Yet as striking as Shah Jahan‘s greatest accomplishment is from afar, the entire complex is also fantastic up-close, with all its details. See below.

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Old, old lines

Old man

Great face. Fantastic face. Were it not for the stitching of his shirt, this man could be from Shah Jahan‘s era. Perhaps he’d be one of the thousands of hands that built the Taj Mahal.

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The cloistered life of wealth

Flight of the pigeons

An interior courtyard at the palace of Mariam-uz-Zamani, known today as Jodhabai, the Rajput princess who became wife to Mughal emporer Jalal-ud-din Muhammad Akbar, or Akbar the Great. Her palace today is a World Heritage site at Fatehpur Sikri near Agra.

Today, the warrens of Fatehpur and nearby Agra are tourist nightmares. They represent the ghoul that arises when Western wealth and gullibility meet Indian poverty and aggressive entrepreneurship. The touts, the scams, the hawkers as well as the ignorance and self-rigteous behavior (from both sides, mind you). Oy. There are few places in India I like less.

But inside Jodhabai’s haven — and similarly inside the Taj Mahal — one finds respite. Of course, behind the peaceful walls, I’m not unlike a member of the Mughal court of the 1500s, cloistered safely away from the poor, common folk hustling and bustling in the dirt outside.

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Pose for the photo, white people

Photos with ferengi

Last month, I went touring with Joel, Katie, David and Julie. Next to the four of them, it’s painfully obvious I’m not white. I might not look completely Indian, but the touts, crazies and gawkers prefer to stare at and bother the pasty folks.

Fine by me.

Indians also generally get a bit frenzied and/or silly around a camera.

Put the two phenomenon together and I got to laugh incessantly. Enjoy some other weird photos below.

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He put up a good fight

In the throes of death

The eaves at the Taj Mahal mosque are home to bee hives. Hence, the floors at the Taj Mahal mosque are home to worn-out worker bees looking for a peaceful place to die.

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Taj heaven inside Agra hell

One of my favorite spots on earth

Today I’m in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, with Joel, Kate and David. We’re meeting David’s friend Julie there as well. The blog is running on autopilot for a week or so until I’m back in Delhi

As many people know by now, I’m not a fan of Agra and its predatory ways. Of course, Agra is home to a Wonder of the World, the Taj Mahal, so an occasional visit with friends is unavoidable.

Thankfully, inside the Taj complex, I’ve found one of the most peaceful spots on the planet. Especially early in the day. I took the above photo inside the mosque just west of the Taj.

I spent a long, morning hour in prayer there in 2002, before this caretaker came by to splash water on the floor and sweep. The tourist crush showed up soon after to ruin the moment.

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