Monday, 8 February 2016

Cars, Bikes & The Taj - February 2016


Auto-Expo is one such fair that is most awaited by the Professionals, Experts and the General Public alike. It is a biennial automotive show which takes place at New Delhi during February 1st week every alternate year. It is Asia’s largest & World’s second largest Motor Show (after International Motor Show, Germany).

It was a dream for me & few others in the group to visit this Auto-Tech-Fest. We 6 of us colleagues planned for this year, 6 months in advance. We did our flight ticket bookings as well as stay arrangements in August 2015. We decided to allocate 2 days at the Expo & the 3rd day for sight-seeing (we decided to visit The Tajmahal). Auto-Expo Tickets (Passes) opened in November 2015 on BookMyShow & we could be the first ones to have booked them.

Finally, we started our Auto-Expo trip on February 7, 2015 (Sunday). We boarded 7 pm Indigo flight to Delhi from Pune. We had done our stay arrangements at Greater Noida (near to the Expo Venue). This was to avoid daily travelling from Delhi to Greater Noida which is good 50 kms plus.  We got out of airport by 9.30 pm. We headed for the Airport Metro (Orange line) & reached New Delhi. From here changed over to Yellow Line till Rajiv Chowk. And then to Blue Line till Botanical Garden. It was about 12 midnight & we hadn’t had eaten anything. And we came to know that Greater Noida is still about 30 kms away from here. We searched a Vaishnav Dhaba nearby which was about to close. Requested him to provide some dinner. And then took a cab to our Guest House at Greater Noida. We reached our Guest House at 1 am.

February 8, 2015:
Next morning, after breakfast we started for the India Expo Mart, venue for the Auto-Expo. Botanical Garden Metro Station is the last Metro Stop for visiting Auto Expo & there are regular Bus Service provided during the Expo Time. We took an Auto-rickshaw & reached the Gate at 9.35 am. Opening time is 10 am; however, they opened the gates 10 minutes early.
 Sports Car - Renault
 Sports Car - Hyundai (F0)
Since the first half was Business Hours (costly tickets at Rs. 650), the rush was limited. This would rise in the afternoon when General Hours would start (Rs. 300). The pavilions were arranged in about 3 large halls; the walking distance was less compared to Pragati Maidan (Auto-Expo used to be here till year 2012).
Creativity was at its peak at various pavilions – from color combinations, lights, proms, performances, games, photographs, gifts, competitions, etc. And not to forget, the Racing Cars / Bikes, Concepts, New Launches, Unveilings, New Technology & off course Beautiful Models complementing them all.







Obviously, rush was more at the Luxury Cars Pavilion – BMW, Merc & the Audi. We started with Renault, Tata Motors, Jaguar, Mercedes, Volkswagon, BMW, Datsun & Nissan. By the time we reached Audi, there was extreme rush. There was a queue all around the pavilion. We decided to skip it for time being & come back again tomorrow. We covered other pavilions of Jeep, Fiat, Ford, Mahindra, Honda, Toyota, Chevrolet & Maruti. There was a special pavilion dedicated to the Vintage Cars & Bikes by HMCI (Heritage Motoring Club of India). There were stunt shows by 2-Wheeler Companies & Tyre Manufacturers.
 Scale Model - Corvette
 Scale Model - Rolls Royce
Lunch & Food was available in variety. Name a Food Brand & Type, and it was available – from Haldiram to Dominos and from Pizzas to Punjabis to Chats. Food was available through Token (Card) system.

February 9, 2015:
After a tiring 1st Full Day we returned next day for half-a-day venture. As we entered inside, we headed straight for Audi. We were the first ones to get entry inside. Then we covered the 2-Wheelers - Hero, Suzuki, Honda, Yamaha, Piaggio, Vespa, TVS.
 Audi
 Yamaha Bikes lined-up
 Vespa - The Black Beauty
 TVS - interestingly placed logo
The best pavilion as per me was of Renault; however, Tata Motors got the prize for that. Tata Pavilion was huge with #madeofgreat Soccer Theme. Tata Commercial Vehicles had one unique concept of Electric & Hybrid Buses with a movie running outside; it felt as if Bus is moving in the city.
 Renault Pavillion - one of the best pavillions
Indian Pavillion - unique placements
 Triumph Pavillion - unique placements
 Peugeot - 3-Wheeler Bike
 Unique Car Model - made out of Mobiles
Most rush was in Maruti-Suzuki & Chevrolet Pavilions – Maruti had Live Jazz Performance, while Chevrolet had brought a stunning red Corvette. Ford had bought a Mustang.
 Stunning Corvette at the Chevrolet Pavillion
Post-lunch, we returned back to our Guest House & boarded our taxi for Agra. We took the renowned Yamuna Expressway. It starts from Greater Noida & ends at Agra. This Expressway has made one day return journey for Agra possible. Agra can be reached in about 3 hours non-stop.

Many foreigners visit the Taj Mahal. And there being no dedicated domestic airport at Agra, flight connectivity is very limited. Yamuna Expressway serves as a very quick transport facility. There is a proposed Taj International Airport which will further boost tourism in the region.

On the way we visited Vrindavan. It is the place where, as per mythology, Lord Krishna used to play in his childhood days. It is near to Mathura, his birthplace & Gokul, where he spent his childhood. Lord Krishna performed Raas-Leela with Radha & other Gopis in the Vrindavan forest along with Balarama & his cowherd friends.

Banke-Bihari Temple is the main temple of Vrindavan. However, since it was located inside the old town & it is closed in the evening, we decided to skip this. We also had to reach Agra in time.

We therefore visited other two temples, which are comparatively recent ones & the tourist attractions.

ISKCON Temple is dedicated to Krishna-Balarama, built in 1975. Alongside of Krishna-Balarama, there are Gaura-Nitai & Radha-Shyamsundar. It is one of the main ISKCON temples in India and internationally. The architecture is beautiful with well carved arch in the centre & similarly carved structures on both sides. The temple complex houses a meditation hall, souvenir shop, etc.
ISKCON Temple
ISKCON Temple - Intricate Arch at the entrance
Prem Mandir is another such, but a huge temple complex built at the town outskirts. It is a more recent creation, year 2012. The temple is intricately carved in marble. The quick impression of Somnath Temple is seen in this. It was established by Shri Kripalu Maharaj. The temple took about 11 years & approx. 150 crore Rs. for its construction. The presiding deity is Lord Krishna-Radha & Lord Ram-Sita. A pillar-less, dome-shaped Satsang Hall is under construction at the back-side of Temple. The best time to visit here is in the evenings. As the Sun sets, this temple is fully lit in different changing colors. The view looks mesmerizing. All around the complex, stories on Lord Krishna’s life are depicted in the forms of life-size idols – Govardhan Parvat, Raas-Leela & Kalia Mardan. There seemed to be a Musical Fountain Show, however it didn’t start till we were inside. Not sure hence.
Prem Mandir
Prem Mandir - Entrance
Prem Mandir - Colorfully Lit at the Night
From here we took back to our route to Agra & reached by 9 pm. While we crossed the Grand Agra Fort, we saw the heroic equestrian statue of Shivaji Maharaj just in front. It was an awesome feeling to see our Great Leader honored in this distant land. After dinner, we checked-in our hotel hoping for an awesome tomorrow.

February 10, 2015:
Next day morning after a quick breakfast, we started off for the Most Photographed Structure on Earth. Taj Mahal is located on the southern bank of River Yamuna in Agra. There are 2-3 entry gates; however the most common is the West Gate (Fatehpuri Gate). Other two are Fatehabad Gate (East Gate) & Siddhi Darwaza (South Gate). Fueled vehicles are not allowed till the entry point; vehicle parking is about 200 meters prior. Battery Operated Cars or Camel Carts are available. However, they are not really required. One can easily walk those 200 meters.

There is one caveat – if in case you hire those Battery Cars or Camel Carts, just insist the driver to take straight to the Taj unless you are interested in some shopping. Else, they lie to you & trick you to the ‘so-called’ Meena Bazaar for a possible shopping (which in turn earns them a commission). Our Battery Car driver told us that now Taj Complex is closed for an hour for cleaning & hence he took us for shopping; we in turn insisted for taking us to the Taj instead. The Taj Complex was very well open. Taj Mahal Complex is open throughout the day.

Taj Mahal is open from Sun-rise to Sun-set every day except Friday. It is closed on Fridays for tourists (only open for offering Namaaz). Taj Mahal is also open at night only during Full Moon Night & 2 Nights before & after. There is a limit to number of tourists (400) to enter, on first-come-first-served basis.

Outside the West Gate is the ticket counter. This part of building is called “Saheli Burj” or Tower of Friend (Female). Ticket rate for Indians is Rs. 20 while for Foreigners is Rs. 750. After separate queues for Indians & Foreigners, we entered the Taj Complex. The street in front is called as the Bazaar Street lined with small cells with a verandah & arches. Maybe, the famous Meena Bazaar used to be held here during Shahjahan’s time. The first view of the iconic Taj is seen from here towards left. With Fatehpuri Courtyard in foreground & a walled structure in between, Taj can be only seen as its dome.
The First View
Roads from all three gates lead to an open rectangular space, the Forecourt (called as Jilaukhana). This place easily takes your attention to the mighty & huge structure, Darwaza-i-Rauza (Gate of the Mausoleum). This is indeed a Gate worthy enough for the Gem that remains inside. As we started to enter through this Gate, view of Taj Mahal getting unfolded in front of our eyes, is mesmerizing. Towards the northern end of the Complex stands The Taj Mahal with an expanse of greenery, water body and fountains in between. The entire complex is bounded on three sides by fortified walls while 4th side is the mighty Yamuna.
The Main Gate : Darwaza-i-Rauza
Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan, the 5th Mughal Emperor, in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal (actual name: Arjumand Bano Begum). Construction began in 1631, after she died & the main mausoleum was completed by 1648. The outlying buildings were completed in 1653. 22 years, 32 million Rupees then (today’s 53 billion Rupees = 827 million US$), 20000 artisans / workers, is what it took to create this masterpiece. Ustad Ahmed Lahauri was the chief architect for the project. Artisans were commissioned from all over empire (including Central Asia & Iran). While bricks were locally made, White Marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan. Taj is glorified with precious and semi-precious stones brought from all over the world (Jasper from Punjab, Jade and Crystal from China, Turquoise from Tibet, Lapis Lazuli from Afghanistan, Sapphire from Sri Lanka and Carnelian from Arabia). Just imagine how many animals must have been in use to move all this material – Oxen, Elephants, Horses.

In all, twenty eight types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble. Each stone has cut to the shape, polished & faceted to the requirement & then laid into the marble to create the design. E.g., inside the dome, there is design of a Lotus on the Marble Jali. These Lotus flowers are all over. Each Lotus design is of couple of inches in dimension & it consists of 64 pieces of orange coloured stones, precisely cut & inlaid. Amazing...

Apart from precious stones inlaid in a pattern, another attraction is the Calligraphy. Amanat Ali Khan Shirazi was the incharge. Verses from Holy Quran are inscribed in Arabic in Black Marble. The black marble lettering is inlaid into white marble scroll-like borders that frame the architectural features. It is used to decorate both the south gateway and main mausoleum.

Externally, the main structure is built on a two layers. The 1st stage of Red Stone which houses two symmetric buildings on East & West while 2nd stage of large square plinth of Marble at the centre. The main building is coordinated by 4 minarets at each corner. These minarets are slightly tilted towards outer side. This is to avoid them falling on the Main Structure in place of an earthquake. The dome is one such attractive portion of the structure visible from a long distance & is unique to the Taj. 4 cupolas as well as 16 Decorated Pinnacles (or Guldastas) surround the dome. The Finial is the top-most part of the structure with the shape of crescent moon. It is said that originally it was made of gold, but was replaced by a copy made of bronze later. Towards the eastern side, there is a floor tiling of the exact replica of this finial on the ground.
The Taj is made of Translucent White Marble, which exhibit different color shades at different time of the day.

Inside, is one of the most peaceful areas of the Complex. Intricate “Jali-work” catches the eye as you enter. Inner walls are also decorated with inlaid stones, just like outer walls. There are two Cenotaphs – one at the centre is of Mumtaz Mahal, while by her side is of Emperor Shah Jahan’s himself. Shah Jahan’s cenotaph is the only asymmetric portion of the whole design. The actual Tombs (or Rouza) are in a room exactly below the respective cenotaphs (which are the exact replica of the tombs). While entering the mausoleum, one can see the stairs going down. Entry here is closed for general public. Dome from inner side has a design resembling the Sun with a Brass Lamp hanging down. This lamp was gifted by Lord Curzon (Viceroy of India) in 1900s, crafted on the lines of one such lamp in a Cairo Mosque.

Taj Mahal, indeed, is the monument of exquisite craftsmanship. Seeing is believing that a man can create such wonder. Rabindranath Tagore has rightly described it as “A Teardrop on the Cheek of Time”. UNESCO describes it as the Jewel of Muslim Art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world's heritage.
The Cliche
As we enter through the Main Gate the Taj Mahal unfolds itself to its most clichéd view. This is the photograph we have been seeing all these years. After a brief photo-op, we started moving ahead. The whole area is beautifully maintained with lined-up garden called the Chahar-Bagh or the Paradise Garden. This is divided majorly into 4 quarters by 2 water channels running at the centre & bisecting at right angles. Each of these quarters is further divided into 4 more parts by Sandstone path-way. It is believed in Islam that in Paradise 4 rivers flow which represents water, milk, wine and honey. Also, garden is filled with abundant trees, flowers and plants as in the Paradise. Ran Mal was the original Garden Designer from Kashmir. The gardens what we see today are the renovated version by the British.
Another view - Mehman-khana towards left
Centre of the Garden where two water channels intersect is the Celestial Pool of Abundance (or Al-Kawathar). The image of the Taj Mahal is perfectly reflected in this water tank. The famous Diana Bench or the Lady Di’s Chair is here. It was made famous in 1992 when Lady Diana was photographed as she visited Taj Mahal on Official State Visit. Aishwarya Rai’s such photograph here was also well acclaimed. Everyone visiting Taj whether a Celebrity, State Head or a Commoner gets himself photographed sitting / standing here.

Visitors are not allowed to enter the Garden as well as inside water body. They have to follow the well-laid pathway only. After a brief wandering around, we reached till the Taj Mahal platform. On the extreme right are the steps to reach the 1st stage of Red Stone platform. As mentioned earlier, there are two symmetrical buildings on either side. The one at East is the Mehman-khana (Assembly Hall) actually built to strike a balance of symmetry against the Mosque at the West. Its original function was to accommodate visitors for observing the death anniversaries of Mumtaz. On the West is the Mosque, built again in Red Stone with white domes. As per Islam, a Mausoleum has to have a Mosque to offer prayers. There is an Ablution Tank between the Mosque & Taj Mahal which people use to wash before offering prayers.
View from inside of Mehman-khana
The Corridor - Mehman-khana
The Mosque
Before climbing up the 2nd stage of Marble Patform, wearing Shoe-covers are compulsory. Plastic (use-&-throw) covers are available outside for 10-20 Rs.; while re-usable cloth covers are available here free-of-cost. Once inside the Mausoleum near Cenotaphs, photography is prohibited.
Another View
Opposite bank of River Yamuna is the Mehtaab Bagh (or the Moonlit Garden). Taj Mahal from here looks completely different than the routine view. Reaching Mehtaab Bagh is about 11 kms drive from here. There’s a myth that the black stones seen near Mehtaab Bagh are the ruins of construction of Black Taj Mahal, which Shah Jahan wanted to construct as his own Tomb (out of Black Marble).

After capturing the beauty of this Most Beautiful Wonder of the World, we turned around. There is a Taj Museum in the Complex. It is at the left had side from Celestial Pool of Abundance. It describes the complete history of Taj Mahal & its story.

Guides are available outside at the cost of as low as Rs. 200. Actually taking a Guide along is useful, however since we had very limited time and we had to rush back to Delhi to catch evening flight, we didn’t hired one.

By 11.30 am, we started our return journey. We reached Delhi Airport for our return flight & reached home at 9 pm.

4 comments:

  1. Nicely written Kaustubh. I too visited the Auto Expo, albeit on the last day. It was very crowded and I was unable to visit the BMW and the Audi Stall. This is my 3rd time visiting the expo. Over the period of time, the expo has evolved and is slowly getting to International Standards. I visited the Taj on the 11th, a day after your visit. This was my 3rd visit to the Taj. The monument cannot be described in words ; it is so beautiful. You have covered this in extensive detail. Kudos to you. TIP:- Plan a visit to the Golden Temple and the Wagah border next time you are visiting in 2018. Your trip would be more memorable and you would want to visit this again and again. Keep Writing. All the best... Neeraj Pundlik (Sagar Kashikar's friend) :)

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  2. Thank you Neeraj. And yes, i remember you :-)

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