On the banks of Yamuna River stands one of the world’s most recognizable man-made wonders that has captivated the imagination of people for generations. Its perfectly proportioned domes, minarets, white marble facades with spectacular stone inlays, represent the utmost architectural beauty and splendid craftsmanship of the Mughal civilization. The complex immortalizes the eternal love of Emperor Shah Jahan (reigned 1628 – 1658) towards Mumtaz Mahal, whose marvelous tomb complex has become the most famous national icon of India. This tomb complex is of course the magnificent Taj Mahal, which literally translates as Crown of the Palaces. The Taj Mahal stands out as the single most important monument that draws travelers from all over the world to India. Not a mosque or a palace, the Taj Mahal is indeed the final resting place for Queen Mumtaz Mahal and Emperor Shah Jahan.
It would be absurd if we made two visits to India without seeing the Taj Mahal even once. Fitting Agra into our Rajasthan itinerary and completing the Golden Triangle was easy with the frequent train services between Agra, Jaipur and Delhi. In Agra, we purposely picked a guesthouse at Taj Ganj, the district right next to the Taj Mahal. Though not many good hotel options were available in the area, staying at Taj Ganj placed us just a few minutes of walk away from one of the gates of Taj Mahal. Hoping to experience the golden sunrise at the Taj, queuing at the gate about half an hour before sunrise is a common practice for both foreign and local visitors.
Before the trip, we were a little worry about the restoration work and scaffolding conditions of the Taj. Since 2016, scaffolding were up at different parts of the Taj for a major cleaning work to restore the original white colour of the marble. The process had been painstakingly slow. By October 2018, the cleaning was almost over except the main dome. It would be a woeful view if the central dome was covered in scaffolding. Luckily, the authority had decided to delay the cleaning process until the end of the tourist high season, meaning that the Taj would be scaffolding free from November 2018 to April 2019.
After purchasing the tickets at the gate, we queued in the foreign visitor line for about 20 minutes before going through the security check and arriving at the Jilaukhana Forecourt in front of the Great Gate.
Beyond the Great Gate, we arrived at the starting point of the Water Channel. The channels symbolize the four rivers in the Paradise mentioned in the Koran. A tint of orange gradually lighted up the east side of the minarets and domes.
We slowly walked to the central pool and platform at the centre of the Charbagh Garden.
From the Central Pool, the majestic Taj Mahal looked beautiful and poetic under the early morning sun. No tourist brochure or travel literature could do justice on conveying the true beauty of the marble architecture. We were grateful for not seeing any scaffolding on the Taj, and could see clearly all the major components of the iconic building: four minarets, five domes and an octagonal central structure.
It was a little hazy looking back to the Great Gate.
It was a huge relief to see the Taj scaffolding free. We slowly walked towards the main tomb structure to pay a brief visit of the interior.
No photography was allowed inside the tomb, where the cenotaphs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan were on display. Their actual resting place is off limit to the public below the main deck.
After touring the interior, we stayed on the marble platform to check out the minarets and marble facades.
To the west of the Taj stands a beautiful mosque.
To the east, an identical building was used as a guesthouse.
To the north, Yamuna River provides a peaceful backdrop to the Taj.
From the marble platform, we could admire the details of marble carving on the Taj.
Standing face to face to the exterior marble walls, we were overwhelmed by the marble relief and stone inlay.
From the grandeur of the minarets to the splendid carvings and stone inlay of the marble walls, Taj Mahal is truly an amazing man-made wonder.
The sun get higher as time passed, and so as the number of visitors.
We circled the Taj to examine its beautiful marble walls before heading back down to the Charbagh Garden.
Back in the Charbagh garden, we could once again admire the overview of the Taj Mahal,
Back at the Central Pool, we took a few more shots of the classic view of the Taj once again.
Visitors continued to pour in from the Great Gate as we were about to leave the Taj Mahal complex.
We passed by the Khawasspuras (tomb attendant living quarter) one last time before exiting the Great Gate.
After settling ourselves from a terrifying incident with a stray dog near our hotel in early morning, we were ready to venture out again in Jodhpur for a few more hours before our hired car came pick us up to move on to Jaisalmer. Similar to our visit of Mehrangarh Fort the day before, our tuk tuk took us into the winding lanes north of Pal Haveli and climbed uphill until reaching a bronze equestrian statue of Rao Jodha, the founder of Jodhpur in the 15th century. We soon reached our first destination of the day, the magnificent marble monument of Jaswant Thada. Built in 1899 by Maharaja Sardar Singh, the Jaswant Thada is a cenotaph for Maharaja Jaswant Singh II and the cremation ground for the Marwar royal family.
Standing adjacent to the Deity Pond in Rao Jodha Desert Rock Park, Jaswant Thada is surrounded by the arid landscape of Jodhpur.
From the parking lot, we entered into a garden right by Deity Pond. A short flight of steps led us to the main garden terrace.
At the main garden terrace, the first thing we encountered was a beautiful gazebo.
As a delightful example of 19th century Rajasthani temple architecture, the Jaswant Thada is beautiful in many ways, from the finest ornaments to the overall architectural proportion. The row of chhatri (folly domes) on the roof signifies the wealth and status of the royal family.
The mausoleum presents the splendid marble carving, especially the jali work (lattice) of the Indian craftsmen.
Before entering the building, we took our time to examine the beautiful craftsmanship of the stonework and jali (lattice).
Visitors can enter the cenotaph through a side door.
No shoes are allowed in the cenotaph.
We were greatly attracted by the layers of marble carving.
The interior featured photos and illustrations of the Marwar rulers, and memorial altar for Maharaja Jaswant Singh II.
We loved the fine jali work (stone lattice), which looked like paper art made by laser cutting.
Natural light entered the building through the beautiful jali, providing a soft lighting effect for the interior.
Sunlight penetrated through the thin pieces of marble, creating an illumination effect on certain parts of the wall.
A vivid green is applied to the wooden doors and windows, creating a beautiful contrast to the colour palette of the architecture.
On our way back to the parking lot, we passed by a traditional musician once again.
We stopped for a few minutes to admire the Rajasthani folk music before heading back to the parking lot.
From the parking lot of Jaswant Thada, we had a final overview of the majestic Mehrangarh Fort.
Thanks to various influxes of immigrants from Mainland China in the 20th century, North Point (北角) was listed on the Guinness Book of Records as the most densely populated place in the world at the end of the 1960’s . Today this may not be the case anymore, but this old neighborhood in northeast Hong Kong Island remains complex and bustling with life. While many urban spaces in the area have gone through dramatic transformations in recent years, a number of vintage buildings and old streets remain. From the foot of Braemar Hill (寶馬山) to the Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) along Victoria Harbour, and from the 100-feet-wide thoroughfare of King’s Road (英皇道) to the narrow market street of Chun Yeung Street (春秧街), North Point is always teeming with life. Take a stroll through its old neighborhoods is like meandering through traces of Hong Kong’s urban and social evolution from the early 20th century to the contemporary moment.
The Island Eastern Corridor (東區走廊) marks the northern boundary of North Point along the waterfront of Victoria Harbour. Opened in various phases during the 1980’s, the Island Eastern Corridor is a viaduct expressway built along the Victoria Harbour from Causeway Bay to Chai Wan.
Many dislike the idea of having an elevated expressway along the waterfront. Proposals are being made to enhance the pedestrian experience along the harbour by introducing a seaside promenade.
Many people walk out to the pile caps of Island Eastern Corridor to take in the panoramic view of Victoria Harbour, Kai Tak Cruise Terminal and Kowloon Bay.
Quite often during the week, the pile caps of Island Eastern Corridor serve as ideal platforms for leisure fishing.
Perched above the sloped street of Kai Yuen Street (繼園街) is a peaceful neighborhood of old tenement houses, or tong lau (唐樓).
Isolated from the bustling life of North Point below, the tranquility of the Kai Yuen Street neighborhood is a rarity in the area. Like most of Hong Kong, this hidden neighborhood is changing fast with several 30+ storey apartments are under construction at lower Kai Yuen Street.
Throughout the years, the peaceful ambience of Kai Yuen Street has attracted a number of celebrities, including author Eileen Chang (張愛玲) and painter Zhang Daqian (張大千).
Down at King’s Road (英皇道) in the heart of North Point, the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) has been around since 1972 as the primary venue for Cantonese opera. It was established by the Shanghainese emigrants who came to Hong Kong after the Chinese Civil War in 1949.
The protruding signage of the Sunbeam Theatre (新光戲院) is an iconic feature on the King’s Road (英皇道), a 100 ft wide vehicular road built in honour of the Silver Jubilee of King George V of Britain in 1935. Another feature on the King’s Road is undoubtedly the Hong Kong tramway, one of the earliest public transportation in the city since 1904.
A few blocks away from Sunbeam stands another historical building, the State Theatre (皇都戲院). Its original functions are long gone. In recent months, the State Theater is caught between the controversy of demolition/ preservation.
Converted from a former Clubhouse of the Royal Yacht Club, the Oil Art Space (油街實現) is a community art centre.
Built in 1908, the building served as the Clubhouse of Royal Yacht Club until 1938, when the building lost its waterfront location after numerous land reclamation.
There are a number of street markets remain in Hong Kong. The one in North Point stretches along two narrow streets: stalls selling dry merchandises on Marble Road Market (馬寶道), and fresh produces, meat and seafood on Chun Yeung Street (春秧街).
Chun Yeung Street Market (春秧街) is the most interesting street in North Point. Also known as Little Shanghai and Little Fujian, the street market has a high concentration of immigrants from the Mainland since the mid 20th century.
In late afternoon and early evening, Chun Yeung Street is full of life.
There is so much going on on Chun Yeung Street. While one side of the street is busy with grocery shoppers, the other side is packed with stalls selling clothing and toys.
The most iconic scenery of Chun Yeung Street Market is the moving tram along the street centre. Since 1953, trams have been running through the Chun Yeung Street Market. To remind pedestrians of the approaching tram, the tram drivers often make the iconic “ding ding” horn whiling driving through the market.
The tram terminus “North Point” is located at the end of the Chun Yeung Street Market. Despite slower than other means of transportation, taking the tram remains one of the best ways to explore North Point.
After having a quick lunch, we hopped on a tuk-tuk to reach our next destination, Jama Masjid. The driver dropped us off on Esplanade Road at the east entrance, one of three gateways into the complex. We climbed up a long flight of stair to reach the level of the main courtyard and east gate. At the entrance gate, we took off our shoes and paid a “camera fee”. It was late afternoon and the sun was behind the mosque and its 40m minarets, casting long shadows onto the ground of the main courtyard. It was not the best time of the day for photo shooting but we still found this red sandstone & marble building magnificent despite signs of deterioration.
Built between 1644 to 1658, Jama Masjid is the largest mosque in India. The Mughal architecture was built out of marble and red sandstone, with two minarets, three domes, a prayer hall, three sides of covered colonnade, and an open courtyard that can accommodate 25,000 worshipers for prayers. Because of the afternoon heat, there were not many people staying in the vast open ground in front of the prayer hall. Most people took shelter under the covered colonnade surrounding the courtyard. There was a large rectangular fountain in the courtyard outside of the prayer hall for ablution. Without our shoes on, we could feel the burning heat from the stones under our feet. We followed the path made out of a fabric to reach the semi-opened prayer hall. Without interrupting other people, we picked a quiet corner and sat down on one of the 899 bordered marble slabs (marked for worshipers) to absorb the atmosphere. Sitting by an open bay facing the courtyard, we saw a group of enthusiastic young children helping a senior staff to wash the courtyard floor. Under the scorching sun, the children seemed to be the most energetic people in the courtyard. They ran around the courtyard, chasing each other and the pigeons. It was their laughter and giggling that made us feel more at ease in this unbearable heat.
The magnificent architecture of the east gate, flanked by the covered colonnades.
The south gate and one of the two 40m minarets.
The prayer hall with its three domes and two minarets.
There are 899 marble floor slabs inside the prayer hall defined for worshipers.
One of the worshipers at the prayer hall with the courtyard beyond.
The east gate, fountain and the main courtyard.
People sat around the fountain for ablution.
Worshipers inside the semi-opened prayer hall.
The ground was constantly washed with water by staff.
Visitors with shorts and sleeveless tops had to cover up their bodies with fabrics provided at the entrance gate.
The path paved with cloths leads to the east gate.
Pigeons gathered at the main courtyard where a large patch of yellow grains were scattered. The birds were constantly scared away by children.
We could hear the kids’ laughter as they successfully chased off the pigeons.
A boy running across the courtyard in front of the prayer hall.
Close up of the running boy.
Another boy running in the main courtyard.
The defensive wall and watch towers of the Red Fort didn’t seem to be far away from Jama Masjid.
There were many people gathered around the east gate where we entered the building. When we entered the mosque, there were people offered to safe guard our shoes for a little money.
View of the payer hall from the cover colonnade.
We exited the mosque through the west gate. The grandeur of the steps with the domes and minarets beyond was breathtaking.
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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi