By Vera Koo, Women’s Outdoor News, Published March 25, 2015

While much of the Western world was celebrating the holidays with festivity, light, family and gifts, I fulfilled a life-long dream of visiting uncharted regions of the Eastern world last fall. My passport has seen many stamps during the last 65 years, but India has, until now, not been amongst them and between the holidays, I joined friends in our quest to see spectacular Eastern architecture, the remnants of a great trading empire, and maybe, if we were lucky, ride an elephant or two!

While once the capital of the spice route, today India’s poverty is overwhelming. As the world’s second most populous country with more than 1 billion people, it also is technically the largest democracy in the world, but there are millions living in sheer devastation. This creates a very unique tourist experience as we toured palaces, temples and extraordinary cities filled with lavish opulence. Prior to our visit, the Taj Mahal was, in my mind, massive and somewhat generically beautiful. But the day we visited India’s most iconic destination, it was misty and the white marble mausoleum seemed to rise out of the fog. It was breathlessly stunning, the sort of awe-inspiring size that is beyond any expectation.

As a lifelong student of the arts, the craftsmanship of the entire city was as moving as the story of the builders and their buildings: Artists created a legendary façade fit to honor Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, as the Emperor invested nearly 2 decades and the entire national budget to remember his wife. After completing the construction, the families and artists stayed in Agra. As such, Agra is the only place where they still have the particular style of art, passed from generation to generation much like the skills in our industry.

We arrived before sunrise to wait in line with a few thousand other eager tourists to take hundreds of pictures and explore living history. We took sunrise photos, mid-day photos, afternoon photos, and, of course, sunset photos, where the colors swirled through the skies, creating art as beautiful as the architecture we’d admired all day. Enjoy a few photos from our trip!

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