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:

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.

Salzburg: City of music

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Salzburg is a more modern city than the others that we visited. It has a train station, unlike the other towns that we were in, and it doesn’t have nearly as many quaint looking houses or buildings. However this doesn’t mean that Salzburg doesn’t have history. In fact, Salzburg is not only famous for being the filming place of the old musical Sound of Music, but also for being the hometown of the world renowned musician and composer, Mozart.

 

Though the Sound of Music does have its fame, the Austrian musician  Mozart is perhaps even more famous. Nearly every souvenir shop you visit will have its fair share of Mozart decorated chocolates, pens, magnets, and sometimes even plates! You won’t be able to find many other souvenirs that aren’t decorated with Mozart’s face. As for landmarks, you can visit Mozart’s house and even walk on a bridge named the Mozart Bridge.

 

Set in World War ll, The Sound of Music is about a wealthy Austrian family named the Von Trapp family. Captain Von Trapp, father of seven children and a veteran of the navy, hires Maria from the abbey as a governess.  Later, Maria and the Captain fall in love, but have to escape the Germans shortly after their wedding. This romantic musical was filmed both inside the city of Salzburg, and outside. Some of the filming sites are the magnificent church in Mondsee a town outside Salzburg, Mirabella Gardens, and Nonnberg Abbey which lies on a hill above Salzburg.

 

Since Salzburg doesn’t have any breathtaking mountains nearby, the city has to settle for tourism as its main business. That doesn’t mean that Salzburg isn’t worth visiting however. It just means that you get to spend your time having fun through shopping, visiting famous landmarks around the city, and eating at some of the pretty little restaurants nestled near the river. If you do decide to visit Salzburg, I hope you have a marvelous time in this fun, touristy, city!