Pt 13 – The Taj Mahal, Lapidaries & The Black Star of India

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

I was absolutely amazed to wake up with no hangover after our late night shenanigans, and I wasn’t complaining! We shared a rickshaw with Jules to head to the VIP gate of the Taj Mahal where we waited in a very long, gender-divided line to get through security. Our tour guide was pretty awesome, and he wasn’t reluctant to name-drop some of the famous individuals, such as Tom Cruise, Mark Zuckerberg, and a number of Bollywood stars, whom he guided through the international treasure.

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After passing through the gateway, the Taj Mahal didn’t even look real. I felt like we were standing before a very large, gorgeous painting. It looked stunning even with all the scaffolding surrounding the columns. There isn’t a photograph I could ever take that would capture how magnificent this marble structure is! It was breathtakingly beautiful. You really must see it in person.

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We took many photographs of the grounds, but photos weren’t allowed inside the mausoleum, although that didn’t stop people from doing so. Before entering, we had to put on little booties to protect the marble. Amelia joked that it was all a gimmick to get tourists to clean the floors.

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The inside of the Taj was dark and felt like… well, a tomb. Which is technically what it was built for. If you make it to the Taj and never go inside, don’t worry, you didn’t miss much of anything!

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After wandering around taking photos to our heart’s content, we were all feeling a bit hangry. Fortunately, Ali was preparing for all of us to pay his household a visit where his wife was cooking us a late, but delicious breakfast of potato curry, breads and chutneys. We enjoyed our meal on Ali’s rooftop while watching kites flying in the distance. We thanked Ali and his wife for the good food and hospitality before heading off to the Marble Emporium.

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The Marble Emporium can be found listed in all the big name guide books (such as Fodor’s and Lonely Planet), as a must-see location in Agra. After the tour, I could understand why. The first part of the tour was witnessing the marble work being done by hand. One individual will use a template to cut into marble with a diamond-tipped tool. Another files down precious and semi-precious stones into ridiculously small sizes to fit in the crevices before it is heated into the marble. The process was incredibly impressive and the people we watched worked with absurd precision and speed.

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The next part of the tour was a walk through the showroom to see some works of art. The guide schooled us on the amount of work that went into certain pieces, why they were priced one way or another, and how to decipher between what’s real and fake, and what’s expensive and inexpensive just by observation. For example, if the “marble” crumbles, it’s not marble at all, but soapstone which would disintegrate in water within 5 minutes. Obviously, not an expensive product such as marble. He pointed out the difference in appearance of fake stones and real ones, and that the price will go up if there are many stones or very small ones. After seeing the work done by hand, this was for obvious reasons.

Then it was time for a game. The winner got a small prize for getting the closest to the item’s actual price and the loser had to buy a table. This guy had jokes. Trevor ended up winning and scored a cute, free marble turtle figurine. One of the guys with us, Rick was to buy a table. Not joking. He actually decided to buy one and had it shipped to his home in Manchester!

We wandered around while the others shopped. We weren’t trying to spend a lot of money to have something shipped home, a fee that would have been more than the product itself. We also weren’t trying to carry any more marble around with us over the next 2 1/2 months we were going to be abroad. At least we had a cute turtle to show for it!

As we waited outside in the heat, we watched people pass by and a couple monkeys balancing along the power lines. We learned a few Hindi phrases that I’ve since forgotten while chatting with the rickshaw driver and watched a funeral procession go by on the street. After a long wait, we finally got everyone wrangled up and headed to the Agra Red Fort. The place was huge!

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The guide pointed out the former purpose of each section as we passed from the commons area, to the jail, to the areas used specially for the royals and leaders to discuss politics. The gardens and architecture abound was astonishing, and you were able to see the Taj Mahal in the distance from some of the windows.

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The Aussies, Trevor and I were all toured out, so we all split a rickshaw, grabbed a few beers, then returned to the hotel until it was time to meet the others at the jewelry workshop that we had previewed the night before. They made a point to get everyone good and drunk with free drinks, naturally to increase sales. I’m not much of a jewelry gal, but I did end up settling on a small necklace with the Black Star of India set in it, also known as a Black Star Diopside. Trevor got two medallions, an Ohm symbol and one of the spiritual guru, Sai Baba. More drinks and some really bad, but entertaining dancing followed before we all went out to eat dinner at Taj Darbar where I ate some really good Mattar Paneer before bed.


Jump Back to Part 12: A Fender Bender, Blondes & Baby Taj

Jump Ahead to Part 14: Human Parcheesi, Pens & Puppet Sex

OR

Start from the Beginning at Part 1: Don’t Forget to Pack Your Anxiety

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