Off Season Tourist - India Indian Institute of Management, Calcutta
Two weeks in India, 2003 Notes from the Off Season Tourist
It's Friday! Things to do in Agra when the Taj Mahal is Closed.
The Agra Mini Taj and the views from the Red Fort

outside the Mini Taj
Marcus at the Mini Taj.
It is Friday and the Taj Mahal is closed to non-Muslims. However, the Mini-Taj is open. The name is a misnomer. This no replica at small scale used to help develop the engineering of the Taj Mahal. Rather the Mini-Taj was built using the same marble that covers the entire Taj Mahal. The marble is special. It is translucent rather than opaque. When light shines on the stone it actually shines through it. In the sunrise and sunset hours the translucence dramatically lightens the Taj Mahal and entrance fees are increased accordingly (even for the natives!).

The Mini Taj, aka Tomb of I'TIMAD-UD-DAULAH

The Tomb is that of Mirza Ghiyas Beg and his wife Asmat Begum. He was the Lord Treasurer for Akbar, the 3rd Mughal Emperor, and more importantly, was the grandfather of Mumtaz-Mahal, for whom the Taj Mahal was built. At the Mini-Taj we notice, for the first time, two things that we will continue to see throughout the trip. The first is that the people hired to cut grass are using sickles. There are three men, squatting in the quite lengthy grass, reaping huge chunks of it down to millimeter lengths. Even when we see a lawnmower in use, later in West Bengal, it still requires three men, takes just as much time, and yields less complete results because the areas around trees cannot be reached because they don't have trimming sickles with them. The second is that all bricks have the name of the company that made them written into the wider side of the brick. As we drove into the city we saw numerous kilns by the side of the road; these numerous kilns appear to be personal enterprises for a small family instead of being owned by huge brickmaking moghuls so the names that appear are common names like SILVER, MILAN, RUPAN, RANA, MONI, and SON. At the Mini-Taj the brickmaker of choice is Vijav.
View through Mini-Taj stone latticework
View through Mini-Taj stone latticework

We learn from our guidebook that, as with all tombs, there is a tomb for public show and then the actual tomb (complete with entombed remains) is directly under the public tomb. Rarely do people go to the actual tomb because there is no natural lighting and many living beasts that like the dark (think bats...then think of the smell of bat guano). The Mini-Taj is designed so that it is easier to access the underground passage to the actual tomb. We walk a long corridor, the cool stone soothing our bare feet, and arrive in a circular room with a great dome. A man breaks into a song of prayer to show off the acoustics, something he does for everyone who comes in. There is no sign of money being left and he makes no move to request any. Like the self-proclaimed preachers on the New York subways, there are those who choose to share their glory to god with others. Some flowers have been left on the tomb by some of the visitors.

Detail of marble carving
The marble insets created in the videos.
Through the stone lattice work of the upper tomb we can see one of the four gates to the Mini-Taj. Only one gate is currently used for access and three of them are under construction. The construction workers are on-site and inside one of the gates a marble carving trio is set up. Inset to the red stone architectural detail at the top of every gate is more of the transluscent marble, and the trio are shaping replacements of all the marble that has fallen out. They are using the original techniques of marble carving, using a bow shaped blade that is constantly wet down by the free hand of the carver. The only thing that is modern is the fact that the template that they stick to the marble, to ensure that the shape they cut is correct, is made out of tin. Making a video of one of the workers makes the other two want some attention. Therefore there is a second video in which another worker is more interested in the camera than the work at hand.

Agra's Red Fort

Courtyard at Agra's Red Fort
Courtyard at Agra's Red Fort
The Red Fort in Agra is one of Julie's favorite Indian buildings. After all, there were monkeys galore, and green parrots flying from tree to tree. Any place with wild animals is automatically on her list! The Red Fort is first mentioned in 1080 A.D. and would be occupied and fortified generation after generation by all six Mughal Emperors. Each would add his mark; one would reinforce it with the red sandstone, common in the region, another would add three white marble mosques during his reign. This fort is also notoriously famous for one historical story -- one which at least a dozen Indians would proceed to tell us over the course of three months, convinced that we wouldn't have heard the information before!! Shah Jehan, the 5th Mughal Emperor famous for building the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned in the Red Fort by one of his sons.

Unbuilt Black Taj
Construction site of unbuilt Black Taj Mahal
In 1658, Aurangzeb imprisoned his father and had himself crowned the 6th and last Emperor. The unofficial rumor is that Aurangzeb wanted to stop his father from spending so much money on buildings, specifically the "Black Taj Mahal". Behind the Taj Mahal, on the other side of the Jamuna River banks, Shah Jahan had started construction on a building that would be the mirror image of the Taj Mahal, except it would be built with black marble instead of white. The Mahal (means "palace") would never be built, as Shah Jahan would be imprisioned in the Red Fort, forced to spend the rest of his short life (8 years), looking across the river at the Taj Mahal - the memorial to his wife and mother of his 14 children.

Below are just a few of the Taj Mahal views that the imprisoned Shah Jahan would have had from the Red Fort.

Marcus looking lovely at the Red Fort Yet another view of the Taj Last view of the Taj Monkey's View of the Taj

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