“India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grand mother of tradition. Our most valuable and most astrictive materials in the history of man are treasured up in India only!” Mark Twain
India is my inspiration for this tour of wonder in Agra and Rajasthan but don`t get me wrong. I understand and saw some of the challenges of a developing economy managing 1.3 billion people. There is pollution (Delhi smog-fog), desperate poverty and cow shit around every other corner but that`s not the India that I focused on. That aspect of the subcontinent has it`s time and space in many media forms but I`m dialed into the timeless adventure of travel in a world of people, karmic history and it`s creations, superstition, spiritual conundrums, camels and elephants caught in the rise of a future force in this world`s economic drama.
We start our quest in Delhi where a deep breath of fog-smog gets me choking on environmental consequences for development. Air pollution plagues New Delhi like Beijing and apparently there has not been much progress for years in any acceptable clean up. Choke on that but obviously progress is always complex in any large Industrial evolution as evidenced by the enormous rise of solar power in the nearby Indian State of Rajasthan. Some yin and yang for the environment of India. This is a shame for the history and people watching energy that Delhi offers, but for me it`s only a connection for a short trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal. An amazing site to start an Indian adventure.
A true "wow" moment as I walk through the entrance arches and see this mausoleum in it`s timeless glory. I`ve seen a hundred photos of the Taj Mahal and thought I might still be impressed, but this is a crazy, marble masterpiece. Absolute architectural perfection and I`m going to try and take a photo perspective unique to a million photos before this? Yeah, good luck on that.
The problem with a good photo of something this epic is the people. There are a lot of people, like us, who want a photo of "the Taj". And I can`t afford to rent this place for a photo shoot. So I need to isolate it`s magic without any distractions, as in people? I`m a bit of a photographer nerd who wants a tripod for something this special in early morning light, but no go. No tripods allowed. I`m going to have to do it the old fashioned handheld method and pretend that I can isolate the Taj from the tourists.
I find a spot at the end of the water channel leading directlly toward a distant Taj and bracket 5 exposures of my waking dream. The vegetation and water leading to the distant marble Tomb capture a moment I can invest in the vault of travel memories. A piece of planet-johnson for my personal travel geek hall of fame.
But any photo pales to the true historical significance of "the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage". In a modern dominant Indian Hindu culture "the Taj" is revered as an example of integration of influences from many different cultural influences. The Taj is a masterpiece of design from Islamic, Persian, Ottoman Turkish and Indian architecture influences. It seems that the Mughal Emporers of India could be more open minded than I had imagined.
In the end maybe that`s what makes the Taj Mahal so appealing. It`s history of design perfection may be an example of multi cultural confluences and the magic that can be weaved when different people come together in the spirit of some significant progress. Maybe the Taj is a symbol of hope for mankind? And on that spiritual note we take our travel adventure into Rajasthan.