Hello again. Please accept my apologies for the long gap in my entries. These past days have been extremely busy, much more than usual. In addition, my lovely wife is traveling with me, so it’s much more tempting to talk with her in the evening that write!
That said, I will attempt to get caught up several days at a time.
Monday, we started out fairly early from Moradabad for the six hour drive to Agra, another capital of the Mughal Empire. The countryside was dry and flat. About halfway along the trip we saw several wild nilgai, Asia’s largest antelope. It’s considered a cow, therefore sacred to Hindus, so it may not be hunted. I learned that there is a nilgai population in Texas (a few were turned loose from the King Ranch), of all places, so I’m going to do a little research.
Akbar was a notable Emperor: a talented general (who effectively used gunpowder and elephants among other innovations), a canny governor who attached subjugated rulers to himself by his magnanimity, and the rewarding of talent, hard work, and loyalty irrespective of religious affiliation. He treated Hindus as well as his fellow Muslims, and was tolerant toward Zoroastrianism and even Christianity (Jesuits were allowed to preach freely, at least for a while). He even tried to invent a synchronistic religion that would combine all the greater religions of the time, though it did not outlast his death.
The Emperor united a huge kingdom, extending from modern Afghanistan and Iran to the far south of India.
Shah Jahan, Akbar’s grandson was a great emperor who fell madly in love with his third, and favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal. She died in childbirth in 1631 at age 37, when Shar Jahan set about building her a magnificent mausoleum which became the Taj Mahal, finished in 1653. Five years later Shah Jahan fell so seriously ill that it was assumed he would die. This set off a war among for the succession. When Shah Jahan recovered, his victorious son had him imprisoned for the rest of his life, in an apartment in the Fort where he had a view of the Taj Mahal, thus, the most beautiful prison in the world.
Tuesday morning we were up very early to check out and load the vehicle, so we could enter the grounds of the Taj Mahal as they opened. Many other tourists had the same idea of course, but this is low season because of the extreme heat, so the crowd was not overwhelming. So much has been written about the Taj Mahal and the views are so iconic that I won’t write much other than to say it is overwhelmingly beautiful. Architectural perfection is apparent on every side. One has a sense of the surreal walking through a place so well known, and yet so exotic.
Sometimes to visit iconic places is anticlimactic; expectations are so high that reality cannot deliver. But the Taj Mahal is no such a place. We came away absolutely impressed; it is sublime.
This city is impressive for its scale and the openness of its courtyards. We entered through the Hall of Public Audience, where the Emperor would give justice. An iron ring set in the ground showed where an elephant was kept for cases of capital punishment. Apparently the king’s favorite war elephant was trained to dismember and crush any object of his master’s dislike. Death by elephant would be, I believe, a very effective deterrent to crime; no doubt unforgettable once seen.
Akbar’s different wives (Muslim, Christian and Hindu) each had their own apartments separate from each other, his Hindu wife must have been the favorite; hers were by far larger and more opulent than the others.
The Maharajahs, whether Mughal or not, were fixated on their harems and keeping their wives and concubines compliant and under control. This palace was set up in such a way that the Maharajah could access the apartments of each member of his harem without being seen by the others. So no wife knew where he was except the one with whom he chose to spend the night. His wives and concubines could never meet each other in private, only in group settings where their conversations could be (and were) monitored. Plots and assassinations were always a risk. Uneasy is the head that wears the crown, even when he has every creature comfort available.
Several things struck us at Jaigarh: the largest canon ever on wheels, (we were told I have not verified this), and the long snaking walls around the lower complex which evoke the Great Wall of China in a much smaller version. The scale of the fortifications attest to the wealth and power of the Maharajahs in Rajasthan.
Thursday we drove five and a half hours back to Delhi, through the same parched, overheated landscapes. We stopped briefly in town to pick up some books Dave and I had left to be bound in leather (this can be done incredibly inexpensively in India, a half leather binding added to a book costs less than 10 dollars, and the classic even regal look is worth the cost. I have a particular love for leather bound books and have part of a shelf-full at home.
Then we drove to the Delhi airport where we checked in for our 19:45 flight to Hyderabad, where we landed an hour later. We checked into a city-center hotel where we would spend two nights.
The fort was impressive for its location, the climb was rather steep, especially in the 90s F heat. We then drove to the tombs of the Qutb Shahi dynasty a mile or so away and toured the final resting places of this royal family that finally had to submit to the Mughal Empire.
After a shower and a change of clothes we headed to the Taj Falaknuma Hotel, another palace leased out as a hotel. The Maharaja of Hyderabad was once the wealthiest man in the world, and his palace left little doubt about his affluence. He receive his personal friends King George V and Queen Mary in 1911 when they had come to India for the Delhi Durbar, honoring the English King as Emperor of India. The palace was fascinating, though I’m not sure I’d fancy staying at the hotel during the hot season, most of the public rooms cannot be air conditioned, because the venting would cause irreparable harm to the walls and ceilings.
The guided tour of the palace and the walk through the gardens was transportation to another era. As a history buff (or nerd, depending on one’s point of view), this was fantastic. Dinner was a delight and the whole day wills remain extremely memorable.