Day 73–Sat. Mar. 19, 2011–Delhi to Agra, India

     We woke up at 4:30 and met in the Hotel Oberoi lobby at 5.  We went to the train station and it was packed.  I’m glad our guide was with us.  We had a long walk to our platform and saw others from the ship there.  We all had assigned seats, ours happened to be riding backwards.  Morning tea and breakfast was served on the train.  Tea was a mint, cookies and tea/coffee and breakfast was cornflakes with warm milk (made it too soggy), Breakfast on train2 slices of bread/butter/jam, and we had what we were told were potatoes but they were brown and very spicy.  Maybe all the cheese omelets were gone.  We saw a lot of poverty all along the tracks.  IMG_0097 We were on the Shatabdi Express in first class.  Everything seemed very dusty and littered.  We arrived on time and were met by our new guides and drivers.  We went to the Oberoi Amar Vilas Hotel in Agra first.Our Room!  This is our room and the view from the window.  It was such a View from our Room!drastic change from what was outside the gate.  The guards did a security check on the car before we entered the hotel grounds.  We checked in and had a lovely bathroom break before setting out on our tour.  Each couple had their own car and guide, so we could each do what we wanted.  We went to the Taj Mahal first.  We took a golf cart from the hotel to just outside the gate.  No cars are allowed up close.  I don’t think I could describe the beauty of this place.  The marble is stunning and the grounds are beautiful.  Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan had this monument constructed in the memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal, with whom he fell in love at first sight.  You have to cover your shoes or remove them to visit it.

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We then went to the Agra Fort and saw amazing things on the way.

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Agra Fort is an impressive Mughal Red Fort made of red sandstone was built by Akbar between 1565-1573.  It has gateways, pillared halls, mosques, marble trellises and geometric gardens.  The Fort represents Mughal architecture at its peak.  It was just not a fort, it was their home.  This is marble inlay, not painted.

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We took a shopping break from the heat at a marble factory  IMG_0284 IMG_0285 and then continued to Itmad-ud-Daulah.  Itmad-ud-Daulah was buried in a tomb that resembles a jewel box and set in a garden  This tranquil, small, garden located on the banks of the Yamuna River was to inspire the construction of the Taj Mahal in the later years.  The Itmad-ud-Daulah Tomb is the first tomb in India built entirely in white marble.  The tomb is also justly famous for the glorious pietra dura (stone inlay) decoration depicting cypresses, wine glasses, and an amazing variety of geometrical arabesque.  The jali (net) screens set in arched recesses are splendid.  It is known now as the little Taj Mahal.

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     We were beat and decided not to take the 45 minute ride out of town to visit Fatehpur Sikri which is a ghost capital and world heritage buildings.  Everyone was getting ready for the Holi Festival tomorrow.  It is a celebration of color and they have bonfires.  To conserve on wood, they burn cow patties.  People put color on themselves and each other.  There was an article in the paper saying how dangerous some of the coloring could be.  We did a little shopping and went back to the hotel.

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     There were dancers for entertainment at the hotel which we watched from our room and then from the dining room.  For a 5-star hotel, the menu was not that appealing and of course very expensive, but we were not about to go outside the gates to eat.  There was a full moon, but there were too many clouds to see the Taj Mahal clearly.

     Thoughts from Ray.  “India is a contrast from magnificent buildings like the Taj Mahal and 5-star hotels to unbelievable squalor.  Driving in Delhi and Mumbai is hazardous to your health, with cows in the middle of the road, wild pigs, thousands of motor bikes, regular bikes, and 3-wheeled taxis called Tuk Tuks.  They say you only need 3 things:  a good driver, a good horn and good luck.  But some how everyone gets to their destination eventually.  I call it Kamikaze driving.  Just seeing the Taj Mahal was worth the trip.  You can never appreciate this magnificent structure until you stand in front of it.  I felt the same way when I viewed the pyramids.  I feel so blessed to be able to travel and see these magnificent buildings and cultures around the world.”

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