Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Professor Marianne Artusio - Wednesday May 26- Thursday May 27

On the road to Agra and the splendors of the Mughal dynasty. We left early, and as there were only 14 of us, we had plenty of room to lounge in the big bus. The city is so torn up, it looks like an explosion in a construction site everywhere. Delhi will be hosting the Commonwealth Games in October, and the city is in the midst of building and refurbishing everywhere. Sidewalks are torn up, leaving piles of paving stones and debris littered across the roads. There are immense, unfinished elevated highways arching over shattered streets. Construction cranes and bulldozers and gargantuan trucks tower over our bus. In the heat the dust forms a rolling haze so thick that you can practically reach out and grab it. India has 1.3 billion people and probably half of them are working on construction within Delhi: people lowering huge blocks of stone to make retaining walls, drilling with jackhammers, squatting on the pavement laying bricks by hand, carrying loads on their heads back and forth across congested streets. Delhi has a population of 13 million and they are dodging paving machines and dump trucks as the work goes on. It seems impossible that it will be finished in time, but everyone tells us it will be done. An entirely new international airport will open in a few weeks, so maybe it will be so.

The ride to Agra was peaceful, with classic Indian village scenes along the way: women in brightly-hued saris drawing water from the well, dung patties drying in the sun, small roadside dhabas with rows of empty plastic chairs, crowded under a flapping awning awaiting a customer or two. Life seems slow and unchanging in the countryside, and we saw small villages, a huge marble temple and long lines of women with big loads of long stalks of grain balanced on their heads walking along the road. Our guide, Anil, had lots to point out, so we learned a bit of Indian history along the way. We stopped at Sikandra to visit the tomb of Akbar, the third Mughal King. It is set in a beautiful garden, and as you enter through a massive red sandstone gate, you are transported to another time. The 21st century melts away, and you just feel the pomp and magnificence of the Mughal court. Of course, Akbar’s tomb is the plainest of the Mughal tombs, but it overwhelms, just the same.

After lunch in Agra, we were off to visit another Mughal tomb called the “Baby Taj,” the tomb of Emperor Jangahir’s father-in-law. The inlays in jasper, marble and other stones are like a kaleidoscope and you can get dizzy just looking at them. Here’s a picture of the entrance gate, looking back from inside the tomb:

Antelopes roam the grounds and as you take off your shoes and shuffle along the inlaid floors, geometric patterns splashed under your feet, you truly feel the heady excess of the Mughal rulers. Here are more pictures of the tomb and the inlay that covers every inch:

We are tired and hot, but ready to be entranced by the Taj Mahal tomorrow.

By Professor Marianne Artusio, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India 2010

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