The last two days have been spent touring two of the most beautiful buildings on the planet. The first one you’ve never heard of, a brand new Hindi temple called Ashokram just outside Delhi. Brand new is a relative term in a country that has structures dating back millennia. But this one really is brand new - it fully opened a few months ago. Imagine a huge area the size of a large theme park literally covered from top to bottom in intricately carved stone. The theme park metaphor isn’t far from reality. It even has a two and half hour animatronic ride that explains the Hindu pantheon of Gods. It turns out it’s not such a small world after all. The sprawling multi million dollar complex was started only five years ago and employed ten thousand craftsman and stonecutters. Our favorite part was the 136 elephants (each carved from a single stone!) depicting various themes and folktales. The money spent and the attention to details was made even clearer by the contrast of poverty and squalor that this country seems to have a monopoly on. We saw this on the drive to the city of Agra, the home of the world famous Taj Mahal. Our new guide in this town was much less friendly, but still quite knowledgeable. He had a peculiar way of apologizing for and insulting his own countrymen. We called him a self-hating Indian. The Taj itself was breathtaking, even though the experience was marred by an overzealous photographer/huckster who insisted on following us around and taking pictures that we would then be obliged to pay for at the end of our time there. The geometry and precision of the building and grounds was truly unreal, considering the only tools they had three hundred years ago was a piece of string. The marble and inlay work was nothing short of stunning. Some interesting facts about the way it’s built was they used huge teak boards between the stone foundation to act as shock absorbers during a potential earthquake. So nervous about earthquakes, that the engineers built the towers at a two degree angle away from the building so that they would fall away not towards the main structure. There is nothing built behind the structure, further adding to it’s magnificence as a world monument. Unlike other places we’ve been, there has been a effort to close the tourist shops around the area to keep its mystique. In the States, these things would be made out of plaster, Styrofoam and chicken wire. They would look grand, but wouldn’t feel grand - like Vegas. Touching solid marble buildings that have stood for centuries is an experience I have only felt in Israel, and it can’t be matched anywhere in America. Overall, it was worth the trip just to see these two wonders.
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