After clearing security, there were still some lines and gates before being able to see the Taj itself. There are an impressive amount of pictures over on Flickr.
Gate into the Taj inner compound.
Significant haze was still present, making the edges fuzzy even from inside the compound.
More lines lead up to the base of the monument itself, where booties were provided by the guide (required) before stepping onto the marble itself. Having seen pictures of the Taj for years, I (maybe this isn't usual) had always thought the Taj was pure white, but in real life it turns out to be intricately inlaid with writing and decoration and it is much more impressive than I expected.
The scaffold around the column is for cleaning - temporary.
You're not allowed to take pictures inside - but what was humorous is that while this entire edifice is intended to commemorate a specific empress (bore the emperor 14 children then died of TB) after the emperor died they also interred him here and made his tomb a lot bigger than hers.
Out the back, the haze over the river was so thick you could hardly see the other bank.
The detail work was pretty incredible.
The inlay is chiseled into the marble, then filled with smoothed semi-precious stones.
Apparently not much room for slips of the chisel when you have to do hundreds of square meters of this kind of stuff. Guide said it took 50,000 workers 22 years to complete.
Overall I would say this one lived up to its global renown and then some. It's amazing.
After the Taj, the guide suggested a place where they do demonstrations of the inlay process and of course have such goods for sale. While tour guides in India sell you stuff like it's their job, at least in this case the quality was very high. The demonstration included chiseling out the marble for the inlay, shaping stones with a hand wheel to fit the cavity, and the resin used to fix the stones in place. We were initially not feeling the need to buy any for ourselves, but looking at what was for sale we were quite impressed by the quality of the work and ended up buying some (we saw much crappier stuff elsewhere). The marble is actually translucent and if viewed through light the colors of all the stones change - while while not very practical is a neat trick. Didn't really feel like haggling, but this was fairly expensive stuff - basically told the guy if he messed with me too much I was going to walk, gave him a really really low number and then came up a bit to make the deal. As with the weaving from earlier in the trip, I am confident that a US-based producer of such work would have to charge thousands of dollars per piece for comparable work.
Later in the afternoon, we went to the park across the river from the Taj Mahal.
You getting the feeling they don't want people fooling around here?
It was actually possible to get the whole structure in-frame from over here, and it was nice as sunset closed in.
These ladies asked to take a picture with Ana, but she didn't seem to like the fact that I was taking a picture of her taking a picture of them together. I still don't understand the allure of pictures with random foreigners - happened to both of us many times.
Garden itself not particularly spectacular - mostly just plants in lines, few things blossoming, not particularly interesting to look at.
We also observed people gathering reeds and herding animals on the riverbanks. As with other places we'd been, it was clear that very different lifestyles are being lived here.
For dinner, we decided to really mix it up and asked the driver to take us to McDonald's. Now, you might think that McDonald's is not a natural fit for a country that almost never eats beef (and in some places you can get mobs outside for that kind of thing). We were interested to see what was for sale and also to try something we hadn't tried in India so far.
Various veggie, chicken, and fish burgers - note these prices are pretty high for India - you could have a good meal in a non-tourist restaurant for the price of a 'burger' here. Place was jammed with people though - may have been marketed as a high-status place to eat in India? Or else city folk have enough money to pay these prices and don't care?
Vegetarian and meat dishes very clearly segregated in production and sales - makes sense.
The large drinks were American smalls, as might be expected. I got a 'Chicken Maharaja Mac' and Ana got a 'McAloo Tikki Burger', which we took back to the hotel to eat. We watched a heavily censored episode of "Whose Line Is It Anyway" on TV - there were definite cuts within and between skits, and any time tobacco use was mentioned, "SMOKING KILLS" flashed on the screen.
Chicken burger was flavorless. Should have bought one of everything to test.
Ana's potato burger was actually pretty good.
This pretty much wrapped up our tourism - all that was left was the long trip home. We slept in, made liberal use of the hot water and internet at the hotel - our flight wasn't until the middle of the night. The drive to the airport took forever, almost seemed like the driver was dawdling. For once, he didn't know where the tourist eating spots were and as we got close to the airport he was getting kind of desperate and we wound up eating at a local rest stop that actually served up pretty good hot fresh dhosas. When we arrived at the airport we realized why the driver had been dawdling - you can't actually get in until 6 hours before your flight and we were still 10 hours early. We'd known you couldn't go through security that early but didn't think they'd enforce it at the front door. They had a lounge area for people trapped by their flight time, but it looked to be a long several hours.
Airport purgatory lounge
We sent Ana exploring and she found an in-airport short-term hotel which sounded fantastic to us - for long international travel we really like them as chances to get out of the public eye, get clean, and get sleep. The rest of the trip home was uneventful until we learned that Chicago had changed their parking layout and prices and we'd parked in a lot that used to be cheap but we had to pay a FORTUNE for three week's parking there this trip.
The next and final blog entry on this sequence will do some overall and summing up comments, since there are a lot of individual blog entries here which may have more or less context present.