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India: A country of contrasts

Here a cow, there a cow
The first clue that I was outside of Delhi was the appearance of random cows wandering the streets. Hindus believe in the sacredness of cows, and the people let the animals wander pretty much wherever they like. Despite knowing this, it was hard not to do a double take every time I saw one of those holy cows strolling down a busy street.

In the city of Agra, I learned how the wealthy Mughals lived at the Agra Fort. This seemingly never-ending fort is more like a walled city encased in huge ramparts that are visible from all over town.

“The forts that we see in India are fort palaces where the royal families would live,” said Bahal. “This fort had great defenses with a moat that used to have crocodiles. Unfortunately for the rulers, all you had to do was pay someone to open the fort’s front door, and you could easily attack them.”

The 16th-century fort, originally built by Akbar the Great, showed off the Mughal Empire’s wealth with a marble palace, decorative pavilions and a maze of rusty red sandstone rooms. It was easy to imagine the Mughal emperors looking out over the surrounding area with pride from this impressive fort.

At sunrise the next day, I climbed onto a horse-drawn carriage to see the Taj Mahal in the early morning light. I had eagerly anticipated this day since I first learned of my trip to India.

“I assure you that no photographs will do it justice,” said Bahal as we prepared to enter the gates to the Taj Mahal. “The Taj Mahal has to be felt and absorbed. It was built by an emperor who was in love with beauty and art.”

At once daintily graceful and extremely powerful, the Taj Mahal requires time to gaze at its magnificence. I watched in wonder as the morning sunlight brightened the luminescent mausoleum more and more, causing inlaid precious stones to sparkle in a dazzling effect. Eventually, I slowly walked up the lengthy path to the Taj Mahal while admiring the mirror image of the mausoleum reflected in the site’s pool.

The Taj Mahal’s dark interior reminded me of the love story that was responsible for the grand structure. Sha Jahan memorialized his beloved wife with this white marble tomb as an enduring sign of his love that would last long after his death.

That evening, I left the land of the ancient Mughals for the Rajput-ruled city of Jaipur.