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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Agra and the Timeless Love

This city is not to be missed should you ever visit India. It is the site of the famous Taj Mahal and the Agra Fort, two sites each person should see once in their life. I have seen some of the great wonders of the world – The Great Pyramid of Cheops, Machu Picchu, Abu Simbel, Angkor Wat and Ta Promh, The Sphinx, Karnak, The Reclining Buddha, the Great Wall of China and many more, but I must admit to having been completely gobsmacked by the sheer grandeur, size and intricate beauty of the Taj Mahal. Completed early in 17th century, it is a testament to the architectural and engineering genius of the time.
We arrived to line up for entry at about 6:30 am. By this time the lines of tourists were already beginning to swell – women on the left, men on the right. This is done because you are frisked as you go through security. Yes, the Indian people care for this monument with great affection. And so they should. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
As the sun rose over the Taj Mahal, you could begin to see its effect on the fine precious stones inlaid within the beautiful white marble with which it is entirely constructed. You wait your place to photograph from that perfect point in front of the Taj where everything lines up in your frame using the perfect symmetry with which the entire project was intentionally designed. So much so that two mosque buildings were placed beside the Taj Mahal, one on the right and one on the left, each the mirror of the other. However, the one on the right is on the east side of the Taj and was only built for symmetry. It is a fake. The one on the left is still an active mosque. The other thing about this incredible structure is its size. It is an immense construction and its architectural perfection has to be seen to be believed.
Leaving the site about three hours later, we visited a smaller mausoleum known as Idmad Ud Daulah. This mausoleum was built for the Prime Minister of the region and predates the Taj Mahal. It is in fact thought to be the building that inspired the Taj itself, although it is much smaller. Nonetheless, it is quite impressive.
After a rather late lunch, we returned to the Taj to photograph it at sunset. However, we would do this from a more interesting perspective – from a boat on the river behind it. The sun sets beautifully to the right and behind the Taj from this perspective and the photographs of it from here are a necessity for the photographer. Yes, it has to be done. We all fit onto this small craft, manned by one lone boatman who knows the best points in the river to take you to. We left it to him to manoeuvre his craft into each of these places and positions and we simply fired away. As the sun set into the Agra smog, it became a glowing orange ball of such distinction you could look straight at its glowing sphere and photograph with ease. I would say that I have taken some of the most wonderful photographs of my life in that glorious and unforgettable hour.
The following day saw us in the Agra Fort. This seemingly impenetrable stronghold was started in 1565 by the great Emperor Akbar, whose grandson was responsible for the Taj Mahal. It became both palace and fort by the time of Shah Jahan, and he and his wife lived in opulence and unparalleled beauty within this citadel. You can enter their private palace, once described by a British historian who visited there at the height of its beauty as ‘paradise’. Since then, the jewelled walls and golden towers have been looted, but you can stand within its walls and know the love that existed between the two people who lived here, a love whose testament can be seen across the river from the fort in the shape of the Taj Mahal. One can only wonder at the conversations, the emotions and actions that were exchanged by these two famous people within these walls.
Places such as these are never easy to photograph. There are tourists to navigate and manoeuvre out of your compositions, or simply wait patiently for that perfect moment when there is no one within your frame. Then there is the place itself, one which can not really be conveyed accurately in photographs. Nevertheless, we gave it our best shot. Either way, you have to visit these places to believe them. They are really quite magnificent.
That morning, Graham, Nathan and I decided we would represent the Five Minute Photographer family and do another street walk through old Agra. Of the eight of us, we were the only three interested in this activity, and we loved it. So we grabbed a taxi and headed for the old part of town. Arriving found us walking in dirty streets and alleys the nature of which even I had never known. God only knows what we were stepping in as we walked through this 300 year old bazaar, but we didn’t really care. There was so much to see, smell, experience.
Monkeys play and persecute by their dozens on the maze of power lines that crisscross above the streets, the nature of which leaves us wondering how many people die from electrocution in these cities. Bovine creatures of every size, shape and breed amble blissfully unaware through each street and lane, unmolested and unseen by the shopkeepers and their customers. Flies buzz around fruits and meats as they are exhibited in the open sun. Men openly urinate on the walls and spit from their throats into the streets. Beggars bearing a variety of deformities and maladies punctuate the street floor while clean and uniformed school children cycle past them on their way to school. It is not a sight for the delicately minded. But I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  There is a photojournalist in me who loves being here and capturing what he can. It is the same with my son. He has never been to a place like this before and he is feeling the fascination. It is not that we lack compassion or that we are so blind that we don’t see the issues here. We certainly do and our hearts go out. But neither is this a place for judgment or narrow-mindedness. It is a place where you leave those things behind. You simply broaden your eyes, open your heart, close your nose and go walking - camera in hand.

For more images, go to my Flickr site.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are doing much better than I did. India was a little too confronting for me. (Probably the fact it was my first trip overseas did little to help).
I found it amazing that the people actually survive there- the sheer number of people!
Got to love the sunsets though - even if they are due to the pollution.


The Life, Times and Images of photographer, Shelton Muller

Images on this blog are copyright Shelton Muller