Tomb of a beloved wife

How big is the Taj Mahal? Would you believe that it took 20,000 workers and 1,000 elephants to complete it? Or that the construction took workers twenty years to finish? (I wonder how much was left of Mumtaz Mahal by the time her tomb was finished.) Well, believe it or not, that is all true. Although, once you hear how intricate  the mausoleum was, you will probably understand.

Built for Shah Jahan’s beloved wife, Arjumand Banu, the Taj is a beautiful building meant to represent paradise. The name might have come from Arjumand Banu’s name, Mumtaz Mahal, or it might have come from the meaning in Hindi, Crown Palace. It is made entirely out of white marble because, in India, white not only stands for purity, it also stands for mourning. However, the workers also put designs in the marble to give the white marble a little beauty.

From far away, it looks like the designs were painted on, but once you get close, you can see that the designs were actually set in the marble. The flowers, Arabic letters, and other designs were actually made of other stones, such as lapis lazuli, agate, jasper, and turquoise, to name a few. There are four water channels leading from the gate entrance to the Taj Mahal with a fountain sitting half way between. The water channels were supposed to represent the Islamic paradise. Also on the grounds of the Taj Mahal are two other buildings, a guesthouse and a masjid (mosque in Hindi). A cool fact about this beautiful building is that it is symmetric. All the sides are exactly the same.

To enter the area where the Taj Mahal is in, there are three different gates you can go through. All of these entrances lead into one courtyard where there is another larger gate that leads into the area with the Taj Mahal. The railing right after this gate is one of the most popular places to take pictures of the Taj Mahal. In order to get to the front of the crowd, you have to push your way through or people will take advantage of the empty space and push ahead. I was only able to take a few photos before I was shoved out of the way.

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This is the gate where you first see the Taj Mahal.

Being one of the most famous historical buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal was incredibly busy. My dad, my dad’s friend, and I went to the Taj Mahal at about six in the morning to get some good photos of the Taj and it wasn’t really busy, but it certainly wasn’t empty.

Later when we went back in the afternoon with the rest of our families, it was much busier than before. Inside, where the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife are (not the real tombs, the real tombs are in a underground burial chamber beneath the Taj Mahal), we had to push and shove just to stay together.

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This is the line onto the platform where the entrance to the tombs is. When my dad, his friend and i went in the morning, there wasn’t even a line.

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This is the line stretching around the building to enter the Taj Mahal.

When we went inside where the tombs were, the noise everybody was making echoed and made the large room seem almost sacred, or holy. It might have been the tombs too that made it feel that way. One of the tombs was larger than the other. The larger one was the king’s tomb, and the smaller tomb was the queen’s tomb. At first we thought the larger tomb was for the queen since the Taj was built for her, but then again, the king was the most important person in the kingdom.

Destined to become one of the king’s favorite companions, Arjumand Banu (She was renamed Mumtaz Mahal later after her marriage) was only a teenager, when she was married to Shah Jahan in 1612. (Shah Jahan himself was only fifteen!) Imagine, you are only about thirteen or fourteen years old and your father tells you that you are to be married to the most powerful person in the kingdom. The person who could order you killed if he is not pleased with you, or could make you the most envied person in the kingdom. You are probably a daughter of one of the noblemen, but still, being married to the king is kind of intimidating.

The Taj Mahal is one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and for good reason. The construction took massive numbers of workers, and many years to finish, and is one of very few wonders still standing today.

A lot of the information in this post comes from interactions with a tour guide we hired. However, here are additional sources I used as well. 

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Shah Jahan’s Prison

Agra has a lot of history. For example, it was once the capital of the vast Mughal empire. It is a very old and fascinating place. But most importantly, Agra Fort had a huge part in that history.

While Shah Jahan did build many beautiful buildings, he didn’t actually build Agra Fort. His grandfather, Emperor Akbar the Great was the emperor who originally started building it. However, several emperors after Akbar did add onto the fort, including Emperor Shah Jahan.

Emperor Shah Jahan did have another part in the Agra Fort’s history besides just building part of it. Thirty years after Shah Jahan inherited the throne, his third son ended Shah Jahan’s reign. In 1658, Shah Jahan’s third son, Aurangzeb, captured his father and locked him up in the Agra Fort in the beautiful Jasmine Tower. But why was he imprisoned in the Agra Fort?

During his father’s reign, Aurangzeb had been growing angry over the huge amount of money being spent on buildings such as the Taj Mahal. Buildings that were quite beautiful, but also quite expensive. One such example is the Taj Mahal, or the mausoleum that Shah Jahan had planned for himself. This mausoleum was to be across the river from the Taj Mahal, and very similar to the Taj’s design. However, it was to be black. But Aurangzeb captured Shah Jahan before this mausoleum could be built.

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This is Jasmine Tower from the outside. We did not get to see the inside, but it is rumored to be very beautiful.

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This is the view Shah Jahan saw from his tower. Maybe seeing his wife’s tomb was some comfort to him during his eight long years of imprisonment.

The Agra Fort is massive, perhaps even bigger than the Red Fort in Delhi. However, only a part of it is open to the public. The section of the fort that is blocked off is currently being used as a military fort. A funny fact about this fort is that though it’s many rooms are no longer occupied by people, they are full with families of monkeys.
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We saw this monkey hanging out on the fence as we left. Not very pretty, are they?

The section open to the public consists mainly of three courts. The first court was for Shah Jahan and his harem, the second court is where he met his court, and the third court was where the royals, upper class, and lower class could shop for goods that merchants had to sell.

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This is the garden for Shah Jahan and his harem. This picture also gives you a view of the balconies.

The first court is a garden for him and his harem that consists of flower beds separated into puzzle piece like shapes, and a fountain. The entire gardens are surrounded two levels of rooms, and the rooms on the top level have balconies that look out over the garden.

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This is the pavilion where Shah Jahan sat when he made his royal decisions.

The second court is, as I mentioned, where Shah Jahan met his court and made his royal decisions. His chair was set upon a large white pavilion that was in the center of more gardens. However, these gardens are much smaller than the gardens for him and his harem.
In front of the pavilion, there are two things that are slightly out of place. One is a cannon (which, along with the tomb was probably put there when the British occupied India), and the other is a tomb. The tomb is the grave of a British man named John Russel Colvin who was lieutenant-governor during the change of power in India from the hands of the East India Company to the hands of the crown.
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This is the tomb of John Russel Colvin.

The third court, which is reached by stairs at the back of the white pavilion in the second court, was where the upper class and lower class could shop. Merchants were allowed to set up stalls so that the people could look at or buy the goods they had to sell. However, as the upper class would not mix or interact with commoners, they shopped upstairs on the second floor and yelled down to the merchants what they wanted. Behind this court is the Jasmine Tower where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by Aurangzeb.

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This is the court where the upper and lower classes shopped.

I thought it was cool to be walking the same halls that Shah Jahan, his huge family (meaning that he had a lot of wives and children, not that they were really fat), and their descendants had walked hundreds of years ago. A lot of times, just knowing stuff about people that isn’t always true can give you a bad impression of what they might have been like. But I think that sometimes just knowing how they lived or what their life was like makes you kind of respect or understand them more than you might have before.

I got my information from:

How not to look like a tourist in Delhi

If you are a women who likes to travel, then have you ever considered how the way you dress might affect the people who live in the place you are visiting? A lot of times, people will walk into my neighborhood and I can almost always tell if they are tourists by the way they are dressed. I live in a very conservative Muslim neighborhood and the standard rule for women is that you have to cover your bottom, chest, and shoulders. This means that it is not a good idea to walk around in shorts and a tank top.
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This is what I normally wear when I go into the basti

Because of the strict rule about clothing here, when I go out, I normally wear a long shirt or dress that covers my bottom, jeans or leggings, and a scarf that covers my chest. When I go into the basti, my clothes are slightly different, but still very similar. I normally wear what I would wear in the neighborhood minus the jeans. For covering my chest, I wear a dupatta which I drape across my chest and wrap around my head.
Muslim women will often wear a salwar kameez with a dupatta or sometimes if they are more conservative, they will wear a burkha.
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This is a Indian woman in a burkha

The reason I have mainly talked about the clothes women should wear is because there are only a few rules for men on what they can wear. The only rules I know of are that men and boys have to cover their elbows, and when they are at the dargah, they have to cover their head, which for them means that they wear a small, normally white hat called a prayer cap. Other than that, I think they can pretty much wear whatever they want. Most of the time, the clothes I see men and boys wearing are T-shirts, shorts, and
the occasional tank top.
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He is wearing a prayer cap

Another type of clothing that some men and boys wear is the kurta pajama. The kurta pajama consists of a kurta very similar to the kurtas women wear, except less decorative and colorful, and pants. Unlike the women’s kurtas, the mens’ kurtas are normally made up of a solid fabric, which means that the fabric doesn’t have any patterns on it.
Now I am no expert on clothing rules for Muslims (or any of the Muslim culture for that matter), but this is what my experience living in India has shown me. The rules are probably different depending on where you go in India, but I think they are probably generally the same. I hope you visit India because it is a bright, colorful and beautiful place.

Where old meets new in Delhi; Agrasen Ki Baoli

Located near the fairly new Connaught Place is something centuries older. However, while it is old, Agrasen Ki Baoli is not the oldest stepwell in Delhi. It is however, one of the last step wells in Delhi. Built during the Mahabharat era, this centuries old step well was constructed by Maharaja Agrasen, and later rebuilt by the Agrawal community during the 14th century.

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A picture of the arches lining the stairs

Descending down into the red stone step well are roughly 103 steps with small arches lining the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs is a small room with a hallway leading further into the step well. The hallway is blocked off, as is the rest of the well farther in the building. However, the stairs and the room at the beginning of the hallway are open to visitors. An interesting fact about this old baoli is that it is believed to be the home of ghosts. However, when my family visited this baoli, the only inhabitants we found were hundreds of shrieking bats.

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These are the stairs leading down to the hallway

I’ve seen bats before, but normally it’s at night, and so all I see is some black shadows flitting around in the dark. When I first heard the bats, I thought they were birds. But when my dad and I went closer, we saw that the “birds” were actually hundreds, maybe thousands, of screeching bats hanging from the roof. Bats that also tended to leave their droppings in places where people were likely to step. That was something I didn’t expect.

Something that was fascinating to me was that Agrasen Ki Baoli had been built in the 14th century, so about 700 years ago, and it is still in pretty good condition. I thought it would be more run down. But the gate, courtyard, and stairs looked in good condition despite having been built hundreds of years before. It was really cool seeing something so old right in the middle of something so new.

All in all, it was a interesting place. Sure, it was crowded. But my family had a good time there. I thought it was fascinating that Agrasen ki Baoli was built in the 14th century and is still in pretty good condition. I was able to shoot some pretty good pictures of the step well too. My family and I enjoyed our visit there, and if you go, I hope you have a good time. Agrasen Ki Baoli is an fascinating place. Just avoid the bat poop!

5 types of animals in Delhi not see on most streets

Animals make up a large part of Delhi’s population. Wandering the streets are goats, cows, dogs, donkeys, horses, and sometimes an elephant or camel. These are the animals seen every day all over Delhi.

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This is a goat in the basti

In America, probably the most common animals people have as pets are dogs or cats. But in India, goats are probably the most common animal for a pet. Even better, these unusual pets wear clothes! There are lots of goats wandering the basti’s streets wearing T-shirts, pants, tank tops, and even blazers! My Indian friend Zareena had a goat that would wear a blazer in the wintertime, and I have seen lots of goats wearing tank tops.

A lot of times, elephants are seen on grasslands in Africa. But believe it or not, there are elephants in Asia too! They are rather scarce in Delhi, but there are even more in other parts of India. However, even though there are not many in Delhi, my family and I have seen a couple walking down the street in front of Khan Market.

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A painted elephant

Camels are about as scarce as elephants in this city, but every so often they do appear on Delhi’s streets. However, as with elephants and horses, they are never without a rider. If you meet one, you might want to be careful around them because I have heard they spit. I have never gotten close enough to find out, and nor do I want to. And if you ever are considering taking a ride on one, just remember that riding a camel can be very bumpy and will probably make you sore. My dad has ridden one once, and after he dismounted the camel he said it was really bumpy and made him really sore.

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A man riding a camel

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A camel up close

Another unusual animal seen on Delhi’s streets is a cow. Although in America cows are normally found on farms, here they are found on the street. Cows might make up the largest portion of Delhi’s animal population. One time, we were driving through a neighborhood here in Delhi and my brother and I counted up to fifty cows. The reason for this is because India’s population is mostly Hindu, and cows are sacred to Hindus. Because they are sacred animals, it is illegal in Delhi and in many other Indian states for anybody to kill a cow for any purpose. They eat trash, and whatever grass they can find, and sometimes people will milk them.

Another animal that is rather common in India is a monkey. Monkeys are often thought to be cute and nice, but in India, they are the exact opposite. They can be very nasty and naughty and if you’ve ever gotten close enough to see how cute it is, then it’s probably already doing something nasty to you. I have had at least two close calls with monkeys at two different times. However, the first time wasn’t actually in India, but in Nepal at the Monkey Temple. The second time, the monkey just frightened my mom and I. We were at my dentist’s office waiting for our taxi to come, and at one point I heard shouting and yelling inside the gate. Then all of a sudden, I saw something furry fly past my feet. At first I thought it was a dog, but then I realized it was a monkey. Thankfully, it ignored me and didn’t touch my mom or I, but just ran down the road to some trees nearby. My mom shrieked when she saw it, but when it passed, she and I started laughing.

The countries of the world are full of thousands of different species and animals. India is no exception. There are peacocks and parakeets, donkeys and horses, and so many other species. These are just a few of the animals I see in Delhi every day.

Home of a royal madman

The madman I mentioned in the title was Ludwig ll, a German king who lived and ruled in Germany during the 1800’s. Nobody actually knows if Ludwig really was a madman. Some people think the other government officials just said that as an excuse to get him off the throne. Either way, during his lifetime he wasn’t very popular because he spent huge amounts of money on big projects that weren’t necessary to Germany’s economy. One of these projects was a beautiful castle named Neuschwanstein Castle.

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This is a view of Neuschwanstein from the suspension bridge

Inside Neuschwanstein, there are beautifully carved tables, chairs, doorways, and even beds. The walls of the rooms are decorated with beautiful paintings of Jesus and his twelve disciples, forest scenes, or just random men and women eating, drinking, and laughing. Nearly every painting is bordered by miniature painted swans. The swan was a favorite animal of King Ludwig’s and can be seen all over the castle, even on some of the doorhandles! Quite a few of the doorhandles were shaped to look like swans. In one room alone, there are over fifty swans either painted on the walls, carved into door handles, or just sitting out as beautiful decorations. In each of the large rooms, there is a ceramic stove with a life size sculpture of a swan sitting on top. The king was also very fond of jewels. Most of his furniture was built with jewels involved in some way. In his dining room, even the pillars were decorated with jewels!

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These are the towns in the valley circling Neuschwanstein

Outside of Neuschwanstein is perhaps even more beautiful than the inside. Neuschwanstein Castle is surrounded by beautiful mountains and forested hills. Right behind the castle is a river that cascades down the mountains. There is a steep trail you can walk up to a suspension bridge that overlooks the river, the castle, and the beautiful towns lying in the valley below. My family and I went in the morning and it was incredible how many people were crowded onto the bridge. We could hardly move because there were so many people. However, the view was incredible.

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This is the suspension bridge with the waterfall below

 

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Here is the suspension bridge from the trail.

If you are thinking about visiting this stunningly beautiful castle, then I would suggest you go in the morning. There will no doubt be many people regardless of what time you go, but we visited in the morning and found it to be much less crowded. Another reason why you might want to come in the morning is because there are horse-drawn/electric carriages that take you within a five minute walk of the castle. The carriages are pulled by horses, however the driver has controls like brakes that stop the carriage. We rode on one when we went to the castle, and we found it to be very fun. My mom, baby sister, and nanny and I all rode up front next to the driver. There are seats behind the driver where you can sit too.

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These are some of the horses that pull the horse-drawn carriages

If you visit Neuschwanstein, I can guarantee that your afternoon (or morning) will fly. Between taking photos of the beautiful landscape, going on tours of the amazing living quarters of King Ludwig II, and souvenir shopping, there is no room to get bored. And if you do get bored at Neuschwanstein, just take a carriage back down the hill, and go see Hohenschwangau, the castle that Ludwig supposedly built for his parents. I hope you have a fun time at both castles!

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This is a view of Hohenschwangau from up on the hill by Neuschwanstein

City of Bikes

Amsterdam is a fun city full of bikes and canals. We stayed in a small suburb named Volendam that was on the ocean. During our four day stay there, we would eat breakfast, take a walk around the neighborhood, and then go do something in nearby Amsterdam. Almost every day, for lunch or dinner and sometimes both, we  would go to one of the restaurants on the wharf. Mom almost always ordered fish and chips. Everyone else usually ordered a burger or fish and chips. After dinner, we would walk around on the wharf, look at the boats, and check out the souvenir shops.
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This is me on the wharf

One of the days we were there we went walking and discovered a small beach. My brother and I went down and started climbing around on the rocks on the beach. Sammy (my baby sister), got her feet wet, but most of the time she just stood on the sand watching the dogs nearby run around. The dogs might have been her favorite part of the beach.
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This is Sammy on the beach 

 If you ever go to Amsterdam or Volendam, I definitely recommend getting a stroopwafel. Stroopwafels are two thin waffles with caramel in between both of them. They are delicious. The stroopwafels in Holland are the best. One of the days we were there, we went to a market and got some stroopwafels. Mine was half plain, half Belgian chocolate.
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This is me about to eat a stroopwafel at a stand in the market

One of the days we were in Amsterdam we went on a fun tour of the canals. The boat we went in was a long, clear roofed boat with a audio guide. The audio guide told you about the different landmarks in Amsterdam, and about the history of the city. The audio guide told us about the different streets and the history of their names, and about the canals and the history of them and their names.
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This is where you get onto the canal boats for the tours

Overall, I think that Holland my favorite country out of all of the ones that I have ever been to. If you like bikes, stroopwafels ( or waffles in general), and history, then you would probably like Amsterdam too.