Posts Tagged With: Agra

The Agra Fort

Only a few kilometers away from the incomparable Taj Mahal is the Agra Fort, a fortified palace built by the Mughal emporer, Shah Jahan. More than a simple military stronghold, the fort is built with a combination of red sandstone and white marble, and houses a palace of incredible architectural details.

Shaw Jahan’s son, Aurangzeb, eventually seized power from him and he was emprisoned at the palace. From the white marbled palace one can gaze along the banks of the Yamuna River at the incomparable Taj Mahal, where his wife is entombed.

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The Taj Mahal

Agra is home to one of the seven wonders of the modern world: the Taj Mahal. It is India’s largest attraction and is the largest tourist attraction in all of Asia. Built as a mausoleum to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal, by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan in 1631, it was designed by a Persian architect.

One sees countless images of the Taj, and one can read about its details endlessly. What strikes me about the Taj is this: it’s shear beauty is genuinely awesome. It is one of the most beautiful sites I have ever seen. It was described by Rabindrath Tagore as “a teardrop on the cheek of eternity” (Lonely Planet). Well said.

I am also struck by its exquisite craftsmanship, and its utterly immense size — something usually not depicted in photographs. As a reference of scale, note the size of the people walking into the Taj’s front entrance. Stunning. Simply stunning.

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The Road to Agra

Heading southward from Delhi to Agra, we first pushed though the bustling commotion of Gurgaon, the southern most reaches of the Delhi metro. Typical Indian street scenes include countless people making their way to work and attending to their daily affairs amid the innumerable roadside stands selling snacks and wares under tangles of power lines.

On the road we encountered many Hindu pilgrims dressed in orange and carrying shoulder baskets decorated with religious symbols. These pilgrims were making their way home on foot, walking hundreds of kilometers from Haridwar in the north where they collected water from the Ganga to bring home with them.

The city streets eventually give way to rural scenes. Roaming livestock along the roadsides and throughout the villages become frequent, and cars must be careful to avoid the cattle, goats, and water buffalo, else risk the wrath of the inhabitants. Agricultural fields, workers, and field quarter made of mud and manure dot the landscape. Colorfully dressed workers dot the green of the rice fields, a enormous cash crop for India.

Drivers race ahead in the clear, even stretches of road, but these segments of the journey are punctuated by the many steel gates cars must zig-zag through, designed as speed controls. The many toll gates and numerous potholes are equally effective yet, Indian drivers press on at breakneck speeds.

Tax collection points, of which there are many, provide ample opportunity for hawkers to sell their goods. Jewelry, bottled water, illustrated tourist books, and food items are common, especially when tourists are waiting in their car while their driver goes into the office to pay the tax. At one location, a teenage boy approached our car with a basket. Fortunately, the door was locked and the window rolled up because the boy opened his basket to reveal a cobra flaring his hood! He was seeking payment for photographs of his cobra. My wife recoiled at the sight of the cobra, and the boy soon left when he understood I was not interested in paying for a photo. No sooner did he leave than we were startled by a langur on a leash which suddenly hopped up on the edge of the car door and pressed his face against the glass, fogging the window with is breath. His owner was also looking for payment for photos.

Colorfully painted trucks dot the roadway. Truck horns offer a somewhat musical phrase while various cars announce their presence or intentions with an array of sharp tones, from beeps to blasts.

Traveling the highway to Agra is tiring; the surging speeds, fast lane changes, and frequent breaking wears on you, even as a passenger. It must be exhausting for a driver. After a few hours, we welcomed a washroom break (where a tip to the attendant for paper towels is expected), and lunch. The rest-stop owners know they have a captive tourist audience headed to Agra — the charge for a cold can of Coca Cola is 160 Rupees, or about $3.00!

Eventually the roadway reaches Agra, another busy city with clogged roadways, and home to a Mughal Empire stronghold, and one of the seven wonders of the modern world — the Taj Mahal.

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Categories: Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Vote for my Proposal!

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(Image courtesy of Trey Ratcliff at http://www.stuckincustoms.com)

I am passionate about human culture — not for the sake political correctness, but for the sake of understanding the human condition.  Selected by the Institute of International Education, I am a finalist for the 2013 Hilton HHonors Teacher Trek travel grant.

The winners will be selected by public vote and I would appreciate your support of my proposal: a case study of India to share with students and colleagues for a Human Geography course. Voters can vote once per day until 4/30 and some voters will win $250 Hilton Gift Cards.   Please vote for Scott W here! www.tinyurl.com/VoteScottW

My proposal is published on the @HHTeacherTreks site at the link above, but I will repost it here.

My Proposal

What can a trek through India teach tomorrow’s travelers about culture?  Help launch a new course & broaden students’ worldview via a case study of India!

This teacher wants to trek through India; to explore India’s amazing places, to grasp a sense of its scale, to perceive its patterns of varied culture, its regional diversity, and understand its place in our intertwined global community.  An adventure such as this would better enable me to share with my students— tomorrow’s travelers and future citizens of the world— what the human condition is and how we each fit into the global community.

How might that happen?  I have a unique opportunity, a chance to impact students across my district.  Teachers at each of my district’s three high schools will be teaching a Human Geography course for the first time in the 2013-14 school year.  A Teacher Trek to India would enable me to produce and share a case study of India seen through the lens of Human Geography—a discipline that provides a detailed examination of culture in relation to place. My colleagues and their students from across our school district would benefit.  This Teacher Trek would enable me to document and share observations and illustrations of concepts integral to the Human Geography course. Doing so would bear the intimacy of firsthand experience rather than the sterile nature of textbooks.

Where would I go and what would I do? New Delhi would serve as the main hub for an exploration of diverse northern India.  A Hilton property such as Eros would provide a home base for a close examination of New Delhi’s urban landscape, its people, and rich history. Sites to explore in and around New Delhi, such the Red Fort, the National Museum, the President’s Estate, the Lotus Bahai Temple, Purana Qila Old Fort, and the India Gate, each provide alluring opportunities for cultural and historic explorations.

New Delhi is also centrally located to provide easy access to diverse neighboring regions. Daytreks or short overnight trips to neighboring states would broaden my view of India.  A short train ride to Uttar Predesh would reveal Agra and one of the seven wonders of the modern world – the Taj Mahal.  An equally short trip to the southwest of New Delhi would unveil the Rajasthan, “the Land of Kings” and Jaipur, famous for its Pink City and Jain temples. There I would ride an elephant to the Amber Fort, and survey its pastoral land.  To New Delhi’s Northeast are the foothills of the Himalayas that give birth to the mighty Ganges. There I would explore its regional distinctions, its rural agricultural lands, and the history of the people who rebelled from English colonization.

The opportunity to trek through northern India would have an enormous positive impact. This place-based study of the diverse landscape and people of northern India would broaden my world view.   It would improve the educational experiences of students across my district, and enrich my professional experiences in a manner not otherwise possible.

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ScottLike it? Please scroll down and vote for Scott W here! www.tinyulr.com/VoteScottW

I genuinely appreciate your support!

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