Tag Archive: Shah Jahan


Agra: Soundscapes

The Taj Mahal: From the Western side

Main Entrance to the Taj Mahal

Main Entrance to the Taj Mahal

We had rented a SUV to take us to Agra for the day from Delhi. We got on the expressway and found ourselves there within about three hours. A guide was there to meet us and give us a tour. We entered through the East gate and passed through security. I was stopped because of my recording device but our guide helped me negotiate getting through. We walked toward the main entrance gate and stopped under a tree to hear the history of the Taj Mahal and then proceeded into the main entrance way.

When we first entered it was dark and cool inside compared to the heat of the day. As we walked forward, the Taj slowly came into focus -a glowing white brilliance before us. I distinctly remember the first time I visited the Taj, I saw her beauty and immediately thought, “I can go home now. I’ve seen India.” Now almost a decade later, I know how naive that thought was because over four visits India’s many facets have slowly unfolded before me.

The Taj Mahal

The Taj Mahal

Once you’re out of the main entrance foyer there were a thousand people trying to get their picture taken with the Taj as a backdrop. We patiently waited and did the same before proceeding down the right side. Our guide pointed out how the fountains in the pools of water were the original fountains. I am not sure if that is true but I would like to believe that back then they made things to last.

I was quite ill this day so as we approached the Taj I elected to not go in. I had been there 3 other trips and knew how crowded it could be inside. The sun shone brightly and seemed to beam down on us with its penetrating heat so I chose to sit in the shade on a bench to the left of the mausoleum with a clear view and few people. Birds zipped along from tree to tree as children ran past me. Looking back over the garden area, people moved in crowds it seemed, stopping to take pictures every few feet. It was a new experience for me to be inactive at this amazing wonder of the world. I clicked on my recording device and closed my eyes to hear the expression of the Taj.
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The Taj Mahal: From inside the guest house (Eastern side)

View of the Taj from the guest house

View of the Taj from the guest house

I did not see my friends come out of the Taj Mahal after completing my soundscape recording, so I walked over to the eastern side to the guest house building. On my way there, there were hundreds of shoes piled high around signs asking people to place them on the racks—clearly there was no order to this chaos…and yet, I’ve never had my shoes stolen in India…not so far, anyway! I walked up the red steps and into the guest house. Immediately the temperature dropped about 10 degrees inside and I enjoyed watching and listening to tourists call out to hear the echo of their own voices. The structure of the building is such that there are repeated arches the length of the interior of the building and facing outwards, framed in multiple arches is the mausoleum in all its glory. I decided to record here in hope that I could capture the contrast of the red sandstone against the brilliance that bounces off the white marble stonework; the difference in quality sound and the potential absence of a guide talking. This point of view of the Taj Mahal and the calmness of the guest house is my favorite location within the whole complex.
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Map of Agra Soundscapes

Here is a map that shows the two locations soundscapes were conducted in the Taj Mahal Complex. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience.
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New Delhi: Soundscapes

We had hired a driver who took us to several locations for the day.  His name was Prakesh and he gave us a cell phone to call him when we were finished at each site.  It was up to us to find a tour guide if we wanted one at each location.  It was an all day tour that lasted a total of 9 hours with much congestion as the local people prepared for the new year holiday, Diwali.  Below you will find one sound map that encapsulates all four places visited.  Once you click on the location, you will need to click on the play icon as well.  Enjoy!

Jama Masjid

Jama Masjid is a muslim temple that was built between 1644 – 1658 by Shah Jahan. It is located in the old city in the heart of Chandni Chowk.  We had arrived there on a Friday and our guide told us that 5000 people were expected that day. We removed our shoes and placed them on the pile already formed just outside the entrance way. We were cloaked in brightly coloured over garments and then led inside the main courtyard which was filled with prayer rugs and as we walked around, our guide pointed out a small section in the back for the women devotees and explained that most women will pray at home.  Beyond the northern walls of the temple lay the Muslim shopping area and to the south the windy streets of Chandni Chowk.  In spite of these overly populated shopping areas, the courtyard seemed somewhat peaceful inside. There was an abundance of pigeons and children ran freely laughing and enjoying the open space. The red arched walls and inlay work seemed in perfect condition after hundreds of years of weathering. I separated from the guide and sat in the centre of the courtyard to capture the soundscape of Jama Masjid.  The smell of curry wafted by as some people close to the fountain sat having a picnic a few meters away.  Others people walked along the fountain edge or sat enjoying the open space.  The heat of the sun warmed my face as I closed my eyes and turned on the recording device.  

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Raj Ghat

Next we visited Raj Ghat, the final resting place of India’s leader, Mahatma Gandhi. This location is the place where Gandhi was assassinated and cremated in 1948. By vast contrast, the area around Raj Ghat is a park.  People are somewhat herded to stay on the cement pathway (understandably) and most respect this direction.  We decided to walk the perimeter of the sight first which was along the edge of a wall.  Once we arrived at the western entrance and walked down, we removed our shoes and stood before the dark marble slab that has the inscription “Hai Ram” meaning “Oh God” – Gandhi’s last words.  Indian and international tourists alike surrounded the area and most people spoke in hushed tones while photographing their friends and loved ones in front of the eternal flame that is lit on one side of his burial place.  There was a sense of stillness, sacredness, and a deep respect that resonated in this historical place. We eventually turned and walked away , collected our shoes and made our way back to the driver.  

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Lotus Temple

The Lotus Temple is located in the central part of New Delhi on 26 acres of land and cannot be missed from the street. It is giant 9-sided 27 white-marble petaled lotus flower that was designed by Fariburz Sahba in 1986 for the Baha’i faith. The Bahai philosophy embraces all religions and fundamentally believes in universal peace. No sermons or music can be played while chanting is allowed.

When we arrived there were hundreds of people there and as we approached the temple, we were given a bag to put our shoes in. In turn we had to hand over this bag to an underground holding place. Uniformed school children gathered around to remove their shoes too, giggling and enjoying their field trip.  We climbed the stairs and soon found our way to one of the 2 doorways they were allowing people in.  A short explanation of the temple was given in both English and I assume Hindi, explaining that we were not allowed to wear shoes or speak once inside.

The marble floor was cool against my feet and as we sat down the wooden framed bench was hard yet comfortable.  We chose to sit fairly close to the front and center to enjoy the quietness of this sacred, beautiful structure and the 9 pointed star above that was shaped from the lotus petals allowed sunlight to stream down in rays that cast themselves around the room. Suddenly a man began to sing in a language I assume was Persian, Arabic or Farsi but I am not sure.  To listen to these chants simple click on the map below.

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Qut’b Minar

Qut'b Minaret, qutub minar qut'b minar, soundscape, delhi, ruins, sandstone, muslim, qu'ran, sultan, iman zamin, moghuls, IndiaQutb Minar is an extraordinary site that captures the foundational Hindu temple architecture that expresses itself through small Shiva statues to kama sutra positions to inlaid baskets and pillar shapes typical of Hindu architecture.  In 1193 the Moghal sultan Qutb-ud-din built over and destroyed the Hindu gods by defacing them and knocking structures down. There are many Moghal sections to Qut’b Minar including 2 tombs – one for Iman Zamin and one for Altamish who died in 1235; a minaret which is 73metres high and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; an iron pillar; mosques; gardens; a school in ruins and even a summer palace.  Most of the structures were built in red sandstone and have Qu’ran scriptures carved into the surfaces.   the pavilion and tombs were all built with white marble and prayers are also carved into them.

When we arrived at Qut’b Minar, we rented an audio guide which turned out to be a cartoon like guide that soon lost our interest.  We decided to experience the ruins in an anti-clockwise fashion from right to left and wended our way through all of the monuments.  It had been a long day and we were tired and perhaps rushed through the structure instead of taking our time.  The sun was shining and the birds were chirping everywhere.  Unlike Jama Masjid, the birds were not pigeons but instead small  black birds with orange beaks.  Many people were there with their families and as we made our way to the tomb of Iman Zamin we couldn’t help but to stop in the southern grand entrance way, Alai Darwaza,  to admire the sandstone architecture in all it’s glory.  There were a group of school girls all dressed in sarees and sarwal chamis that passed us and I decided to enter into the Iman Zamin tomb.  Inside it was quiet; the prayer wall in the direction of Mecca with the tomb placed right in the centre of the chamber.  The marble was ornately carved and allowed for light to illuminate the small structure.  I began to record and suddenly found myself surrounded by Indian tourists.  All in a day in the life of Iman Zamin’s tomb!

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Map of the Soundscapes of New Delhi

Here is a map that shows all the points of the soundscapes of Delhi. I hope that you have enjoyed listening and sharing in my experience:
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