Location/Culture Reports

Culture Report – India

The racers begin this leg at the Taj Mahal. The Taj Mahal, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, is located in Agra in northern India. This mausoleum was constructed by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth in 1629. Construction of the Taj began in 1630 and was not completed until 1653. It took about 20,000 workers to build the Taj Mahal. If you're planning to visit the Taj, don't forget that it's closed on Friday to all non-Muslims.

According to tradition, the Taj Mahal was designed by a Turkish architect. It is made of white marble and rests on a platform of red sandstone. At each corner of the platform stands a slender minaret (prayer tower). Each tower is 133 feet high. A dome covers the center of the building. Passages from the Muslim holy book, the Qur'an, decorate the outside along with inlaid floral patterns. A central room contains two cenotaphs (monuments). Semiprecious stones were laid into the marble in elaborate designs through a process called pietra dura. Visitors can see the monuments through a carved alabaster screen. The bodies of Shah Jahan and his wife lie in a vault below.

After admiring the Taj Mahal, the racers are then off to Jaipur. Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, is the third corner of India’s Golden Triangle. It is located 300 km SW of Delhi and 200 km west of Agra. Jaipur, a showcase of Rajasthani architecture, is known for its 18th and 19th century palaces and the salmon-colored facades of its buildings.

Jaipur is also famous for its bazaars, which are among the most vibrant in Asia. Among the items available are hand-dyed and embroidered textiles, jewelry, and the best selection of precious stones and metals in India.

The main tourist attractions in Jaipur are the Palace of Winds or Hawa Mahal, Jai Singh's City Palace, Jantar Mantar Observatory, the Ram Niwas Garden, zoo, and Albert Hall (Central Museum). March is marked by the celebration of the Elephant Festival, one of India's most flamboyant parades.

The racers are then on their way to Bikaner, which has a spectacular fort and an old city dotted with havelis and surrounded by 7km of high walls. Other highlights include the famous rat temple at nearby Deshnok and the government camel-breeding farm which is10km south.

Bikaner was founded in 1486 as a link in the overland trading route by Bika, one of fourteen sons of Rao Jodha, the Rathore king who established Jodhpur as the centre of the state of Marwar. He had sent two emissaries in search of a site for his new capital and they met a shepherd called Ner, who claimed to have watched one of his sheep fend off seven wolves under a khair bush. The spot was selected in the belief it would inspire courage in the people who lived there. Under Rai Singh, who came to the throne in 1573, Junagarh Fort was built and closer ties were forged with the Moghuls. Later, during the fifty-six-year reign of Ganga Singh in the early 1900s, new agricultural schemes, irrigation work, town planning, and the construction of a rail link with Delhi helped Bikaner's economy. Bikaner’s population has tripled in size since 1947 to almost half a million.