In Agra we toured the Taj Mahal (photo above shows detail work on the exterior walls) and while I'll post about that experience later, I wanted to share about the marble inlay work. The Taj had approximately 20,000 people working on it for some 22 years and many of them spent almost a lifetime doing marble inlay. Now there are only about 300 families that still know how to do the work and we were able to visit one shop where the tradition has been passed down.
Young men have learned from the fathers, who learned from their fathers, etc. We sat through a brief demonstration where we learned about this amazing art.
All of the inlay here is still done by hand (I don't even know if it can be done by machines - probably somewhere). I asked if the workers' fingers, hands, and arms get tired and the spokesperson said yes - of course - but the other problem is that their concentration wavers and the artists need to take breaks about every 15 minutes. The precious stones that are inlaid are so small (we held the tiny jewels for a minute) that no one can sustain the precision for very long. For instance, the photo of the flower below has more than 50 precious stones that are carved into a shape and will be inlaid. Amazing!