Jewels, Jewels, Everywhere!

NB: Now I know this post is extremely late as I’ve been back in the states for a little while but I will have you know that I took diligent notes the days of the events described here so I can still convey to you how I felt while I was there. So with an apology to those who have been kept waiting (and to those who were lovingly bugging me) here goes:

Trains are perhaps the most well used transportation worldwide. From America to England to India, railroad tracks crisscross the country. As they are one of the main sources of transportation in India, what would a visit be without a train ride? Down the street from the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church  on Abu Road (where I’ve been staying) is a railway station with a few sets of tracks. With an 8:30pm train and tickets confirmed only a short two hours before, Fr. Sajo and I climbed into our sleeper car among hundreds of other passengers headed north towards New Delhi.

I admit, it was a little awkward to be dodging people who were attempting to take a picture of me with their phones but I managed. With intelligent crowd-weaving techniques learned at my mother’s knee, I was able to avoid most of the picture seekers. With that said, if you see poor quality, random pictures of me pop up somewhere on the internet, that’s where they are from!
The train ride to New Delhi was about ten hours long. It was our good fortune that most of the trip occurred while we slept. I wasn’t informed until after the fact but apparently my wonderful hosts booked our train tickets on the most luxurious train available. It was actually pretty nice. There were three levels of beds and sheets and a wool blanket were provided. Comparing this ride to one I took to New Orleans from Memphis, there were only minor differences in breathing room. However, one major difference: the facilities. On an American train, the restrooms are similar to airplane restrooms. You get a seat, some toilet paper and a sink. On an Indian train, you have a hole and a sink. Albeit, there are two ‘platforms’ for your feet with the hole appropriately placed behind them for you to squat. However, at two in the morning when you really have to go, facing that with a mini-pouch of Kleenex in hand was not exactly what I expected. My recommendation? Go before you leave, every time, and you’ll be fine.
We arrived in New Delhi to a much bigger train station than the one we had left behind. With fifteen sets of tracks that we had to cross in an attempt to find our driver. After dodging more clicking camera phones, we were safely in the car and I was free to gape out the windows at the biggest city I had seen in India (excluding flying into Mumbai late at night which doesn’t really count). We got settled into our ‘hotel’ and by some luck managed to have two rooms with king beds (twins stuck together) and televisions. While the beds were little more than wood with a thin two inch thick mattress, it was rather spiffy. The first thing I discovered as Father Sajo and I shared bread and jam for breakfast was NDTV. Now I know of NDTV as Notre Dame Television. This NDTV was either New Delhi TV, National Delegating TV, or a hidden subset of Notre Dame that they keep quiet for unknown purposes. I have my suspicions.
Despite potential nefarious television schemes, we set off a few hours later for the site to beat all sites: the Taj Mahal. From the train station it was about 250 kilometers to the Crown Palace and I saw the craziest thing on the drive: quadrilingual signs! I wasn’t able to get a picture of an actual street sign because we were either driving too quickly or there was another car in the way but I did get a snap of this one. The languages go Hindi, English, ???, and Malayalam. Most signs were bilingual with Hindi and English but there were quite a few that were quadrilingual.

Once we reached the Taj Mahal it was all I could do to contain my excitement. We had to park about one and a half kilometers away and as soon as we stepped out of the car, we were accosted by vendors selling pamphlets, booklets, necklaces and more. We were pushed onto a bike cart faster that you could say ‘the Taj Mahal’ and were scootering our way towards the West Gate. The Taj Mahal is amazing. The Taj Mahal is gorgeous. The Taj Mahal is beautiful. The Taj Mahal is any adjective that describes beauty, amazement, or perfection. I let the tour guide in me speak before I leave you with the pictures that can speak for themselves. The Taj Mahal is over 150 feet tall and is mostly made of marble. The top thirty feet is actually bronze. It is actually a tomb for the Maharaja and his third wife and was made as a symbol of his love for her. The way it was built brings to mind my seventh grade field trip to the Parthenon replica in Nashville, Tennessee as the Taj Mahal was built the same way: to look perfectly straight to the naked eye while in reality slanting. To climb the stairs to actually look inside the building required booties to cover your feet. They were remarkably similar to the foot covers used in operating rooms in the States. Once you got inside amid the press of the crowd you climbed a few more stairs to view the replicas of the two tombs. The actual tombs were ten meters below but because of vandalism or safety concerns (I couldn’t quite understand our guide) replicas were constructed.

Perhaps the most amazing facet of the Taj Mahal is that though it looks like it has designs painted on it, absolutely no paint was used in its or its gates’ construction. It is all white marble and gems inlaid into the surface of the marble. The jewels included onyx, lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite, jasper and mother of pearl! Even though this is a blog and is supposed to be filled with my wonderfully melodramatic words, I can honestly say that I lack the writing ability to accurately depict the beauty of the Taj Mahal without the use of pictures.

The Royal/North Gate
Megan at the Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal from a Distance
Eastern Facade of the Taj Mahal

We also visited several other places along the way to the Taj Mahal including a Jai Guru Dev temple which was built to honor a man that followers believe to have become a god and a gorgeous set of archaeological monuments. The Jai Guru Dev temple was modeled on the Taj Mahal and the lighting around the center of the building was quite… flamboyant. The archaeological site was beautiful and extremely detailed. I took lots of pictures specifically for my architecture major friend but the most stunning monument was the tallest stone tower in India at about 130 feet tall with its alternating rounded and angled columns.

Last but definitely not least, we visited the Lotus Temple. The symmetry of the petals in addition to the shallow pools set below the structure to make it look like a flower sitting in water absolutely stunned me with its beauty. We had to remove our shoes before we climbed up onto the main platform but we were allowed inside the temple itself. I can only imagine the acoustics inside as it is only one giant room. The picture below is actually taken from rather far away if that is any help in deciphering the enormity of this temple.
The trip to New Delhi was absolutely amazing and I had the most fantastic time. I hope you have enjoyed my seemingly far-fetched but very fact-based tales. I will never forget my experiences in India nor the great people I had the luck to meet. Thank you all for keeping up with me and my fiercely delayed posts. Also, cheers for proper formatting! At last Blogger decided to cooperate with me! With a final flourish, tour guide Megan is gone and frantic packing-for-college Megan has returned. Until next time!

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