My Favourite View Of The Taj Mahal

The Magnificent Taj Mahal Mausoleum From The Main Gateway

On a cool hazy Saturday morning, I step into the Taj Mahal estate from the Eastern Gate. After going through security check, the majestic and imposing Main Gateway gradually beckons on my right as I walk towards the center of the square. Built from sandstone, with intricate Arabic calligraphy from the Holy Quran and motifs made by semi-precious stones inlaid in the white marble of entwined flowers, leaves and vines spiraling down and adorning its niches, the Main Gateway is an outstanding piece of architecture in itself, and intimates to the visitor something greater and monumental awaits and lies beyond.

‘Woooooow!’ flash across my mind as I take the first few steps into the Main Gateway and behold the Taj Mahal Mausoleum framed by the pointed arch doorway leading into the Gardens. Lit by diffused early morning sunlight from the east, highlights and shadows accentuate its form, structure and depth of architecture beautifully against a light blue sky backdrop. I am amaze by its simplicity, yet timeless, majestic and pristine beauty, in remarkable condition still after all these years (except for the ongoing restoration works to the front right minaret and part of the rear left section) since its completion 363 years ago, taking 22 years in its construction. The remarkable and (spiritually?) inspired genius of the team of architects led by the court architect to the emperor, Ustad Ahmad Lahauri, in exploiting a symmetrical design and proportion for coherence and uniformity, the exquisite level of engineering and craftsmanship culled from the best artisans and working with the finest and exotic materials at their disposal at the time has magically turned solid ivory white marble into an amazing and timeless work of art and beauty.

I remain at this spot for a good 45 mins or so, to enjoy the view before me and to capture an image that do it justice. Not an easy task as I have to frame/shoot handheld (note that no large (camera) bags/tripods are allowed in the Taj Mahal) while raising the camera slightly above the crowd as visitors keep streaming in to experience the magnificent view before proceeding to the Gardens and the Mausoleum. Out of all the images, I like the final image posted here for a few reasons:  1) the woman’s walk and posture which leads one into the image hints at the spectacular spectacle she is seeing and experiencing before her, corroborated by other visitors within her proximity in various poses with some snapping away  2) visitors further afield hints at the popularity and interest in this architecture masterpiece and gives a sense of proportion and scale of the Mausoleum and  3) a pair of birds flying playfully above symbolises emperor Shah Jehan and his queen, Mumtaz Mahal, undying love and marital devotion to each other lives on to the present day.

Photo: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm

Journey to Agra

Breakfast & Morning Read On The Bhopal Shatabdi Express

After earlier unsuccessful attempts to visit Taj Mahal, I finally made it in February, piggbacking on a work trip to New Delhi. Located in Agra, which is about 200km south east from New Delhi, you can opt to travel either by road or train. With the express trains, a train ride gets you there quicker, and as I am also keen to sample the India train ride experience, I opt for the Bhopal Shatabdi Express (12002) and Gatimaan Express (12049) trains which ply the Delhi-Agra and Agra-Delhi routes respectively. Getting hold of the train tickets myself was not an easy task (if you are a foreigner buying them in advance from abroad) as you need to register with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) at their website and specify a valid Indian mobile phone number to receive an SMS OTP (One Time Password) to complete the registration.

It was chockablock as the hotel car approached the New Delhi Train Station (NDLS) drop-off zone at 5.30am, I actually contemplated getting down and walking the rest of the way as missing my train would be a disaster. Thank god the traffic eased up a little and I arrived minutes later. The moment I got down, a team of porters crowded round offering to help with my luggage. I went with the one who had the gumption to just grab my luggage and asked to follow him, I had no other choice :). He got me to the right platform and coach in no time, it’s all about local knowledge, and I am thankful for his help. After a little bargaining, his service fee was pared down from INR400 to INR100, still an inflated foreigner price but that’s ok. The Bhopal Shatabdi Express (12002) departed New Delhi Train Station (NDLS) at about 6 am.

‘Meals On Wheels’ Tea & Biscuits Entree

The Bhopal Shatabdi Express Executive Class fare is INR1010, with a morning newspaper and ‘Meals on Wheels’ breakfast thrown in as part of the package. You start with a cup of tea and digestive biscuits, followed by a small bowl of cornflakes and local bread coming with side dishes. All good, I enjoyed them all and am pretty pleased with the assortment and quality. Over breakfast, a conversation ensued with a couple seated in front of me (I was assigned a 4 face-to-face seat), they are traveling to Agra to attend a relative’s wedding dinner over the weekend. As it’s a big event and all family members/relatives will be present, they planned to arrive earlier on the Friday to spend more time with them. They could have driven down from New Delhi but preferred to take the train as it’s less tiring and they arrive fresh for the event.

Foggy Landscape At The Crack Of Dawn

The changing foggy landscape outside toward the east is quite a spectacle at the crack of dawn as the train speed along towards Agra. The faint details of the passing wheat fields, trees and villages picked up by the warm glow of the sun permeating through the morning fog … everything look so serene and calm … nature and man, rested, revitalised and all ready for the start of a brand new day. After a brief stop at Mathura, the train rolled into Agra Cantonment (AGC) station at about 8.00am.

Agra Cantonment Station

A Visitor Admiring The Taj Mahal Mausoleum At Sunset

As the Taj Mahal is closed all day on Fridays for prayers, I will visit the following day. Meanwhile, I chartered a tuk tuk to visit the Agra Fort in the afternoon and then onto Mehtab Bagh to catch the Taj Mahal Mausoleum view from across the Yamuna River at sunset.

All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm, XF 35mm, XF 55-200mm and Huawei P9 Lite

Thean Hou Temple (天后宫)

Thean Hou Temple 1

 

It’s the eve of Chinese New Year 2017, the year of the Fire Rooster. Wishing all Chinese and Chinese New Year celebrants Happy Chinese New Year.

GONG XI FA CAI  –  GOOD LUCK AND GOOD FORTUNE

Families will get together for a family (reunion) dinner, to mingle, to celebrate this important festivity and joyous occasion within traditional Chinese culture. Some will choose to host the dinner at home (not a bad choice given the current tough economic times) while others may prefer to have it at one of their favourite Chinese restaurants. Regardless, there will be plentiful of food and  beverages served to celebrate and usher in the new year. After dinner, there will be folks within the Klang Valley who will visit the Tian Hou Temple to pay respects to the gods and pray for good luck and fortune in the new year.

The Thean Hou Temple is about 4km south west of central Kuala Lumpur. Set on a hill, it is one of the oldest and largest temples in Southeast Asia. Dedicated to Tian Hou (The Goddess of Heaven), this six-tiered syncretic temple with elements of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism is a grandiose structure representing a successful combination of authentic traditional design and modern architectural techniques featuring imposing pillars, spectacular roofs, ornate carvings and intricate embellishments.

Thean Hou Temple 2

Dragon-inspired motifs, pagoda rooftops and red pillars in symmetrical configuration feature prominently in the overall design, culminating in an extravagant prayer hall with three altars. A multi-arched red pillared gateway entrance symbolizing prosperity and good fortune welcomes one into this beautiful temple. Funded by the KL’s Hainanese Chinese community, construction started in 1984, and officially opened on 3rd September 1989.

Photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 35mm and XF 55-200mm

Some descriptive text excerpted from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thean_Hou_Temple.