These first few days in India we've been playing the tourist role and the history here is almost overpowering. Luckily we've had a wonderful guide who attempts to paint a picture of what we are looking at or where we are standing. After lunch a group of us went to the Agra Red Fort, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, although a large part is in use by the Indian military and off limits.
One could get lost exploring this red-walled city, with its Muslim and Hindu architectural features that seem so detailed and precise. At one point we were in the middle of a red sandstone courtyard whose walls were intricately carved with base relief images of parrots and elephants and geometrical shapes. On one side are windows looking out onto the river, with the Taj Mahal picturesquely framed, and our guide describes a scene where the royal family is relaxing, enjoying the cool river breeze carrying the aromas of jasmine to those lounging around. You can literally feel the history and life within the walls and one can only attempt to imagine such a life and reality.
Although we caught glimpses of the Taj Mahal throughout the morning, it is difficult to describe the reality of seeing it up close and personal. The scale and symmetry of this structure and the amount of work and time and artistry is mind blowing. It almost felt surreal - as if I could not quite wrap my head around this wonder of the world. From far away you are struck by the silhouette and waterway and surrounding buildings.
As a whole the entire monument is beautiful. But then as you get closer, you are forced to focus in on specific pieces of this whole and the amount of detail that went into transforming this white marble into an intricate work of art is incredible. Inside is chaos, with hoards of people circling the graves in semi-darkness, trying to see the carved marble artwork and semi-precious inlaid designs that make up the mausoleum for a very loved woman. At the end of the day, although we are tired and sore, we are lucky enough to have seen and experienced a piece of India's history that is awe-inspiring and majestic. - Tatyana Venegas Swanson