11/22/2010 Day 7, Agra
This was such an exciting day and it began before daybreak. Our alarms were set for 5:15a.m. so that we could gather at six o’clock in the lobby of the hotel to be shuttled to the East Gate entrance of the Taj Mahal. As sleepily we stood in line, it was clear that we (along with many other international visitors) were anxiously awaiting the opening of the gates. We had been told that there were very strict guidelines for the objects that could be brought into the gates: no sharp objects, food, beverages, electronic equipment (other than phone or regular camera). Camcorders were allowed at a fee but they could only be brought so many yards of the Taj. While we were standing in line, someone called to me to hurry and move, I turned around – just in time to sidestep a cow that was weaving between the tourists in queue.
Upon entering the gates, we were frisked and our bags were scanned, then allowed to enter the grounds. The Taj Mahal is prominent at the entrance with a beautiful garden and waterway as frame to the view. In the first morning’s light, there was a mist around the edifice that gave it a mystical air. We “oooh’ed” and “ahh’ed” as we shot multiple photos of the Taj. It was magnificent!
The hour was spent following the guide as we learned about the architecture and the history behind the building. It is hard to believe that the building is almost exclusively made up of white marble with inlaid semi-precious stones, such as jade, onyx, lapis lazuli, and mother of pearl. Although the gold had been plundered over the years, one could still imagine how luxurious it all must have looked in the 17th century. As the sun came out, we noticed that the Taj Mahal appeared to change color as the marble reflected the rays of the sun. It was beautiful!
Following the Taj Mahal visit, we traveled to Agra Fort where Shah Jahan, the Mughal emperor who built the Taj, was imprisoned for 20 years by his own son. The fort was impressive in its own right with the double moat, drawbridge, and stone walls. It was sad to see that Shah Jahan spent his final years in captivity with a view of the Taj Mahal from his jail cell.
From there, we toured a factory where artisan’s created artwork with marble and inlaid stones. We learned that this was an art that is handed down from generation to generation and is dying because young people today in India prefer to do other work.
From there, we boarded our bus and headed back to the city of Delhi to prepare for our departure on a late night flight back to the U.S. We are already feeling sad about leaving India and each other. We have made good friends among the delegation and also with Indian professionals. We are also looking forward to seeing each other at the upcoming ACA conference in New Orleans. It will be great to see each other again and remember what a fantastic time we had in India as the People to People Disaster Mental Health delegation-2010.
Cirecie West-Olatunji, Associate Professor, Mental Health Track Coordinator Counselor Education at the University of Florida and ACA Governing Council Representatitve, is leading a People to People Disaster Mental Health Delegation to India. She will be sending us regular updates during her trip.