Day 22: Agra and the Taj Mahal
We woke up and were out the door early to catch the 7am train to Agra from Delhi. We organized with our hotel to drop us off.We had second class seats so we found our seats, put our baggage overhead and strapped them in so that they could not be taken easily or discreetly. The train ride was about 5 hours arriving in Agra 1 hour late. We were surrounded by locals for the trip. Because it was Ale's first train ride in India I got some chai from a passing vendor. We arrived in Agra at 12pm. I used a very good site to check the train status at raildb.comWhen we got to Agra we were hounded by tuktuk touts and battled our way through them to the prepaid booth. It was 150 into town. Another older local man went with us in the small white car-taxi. It ended up that he was an agent who traveled around taking tourists to the sights for the day. His name was Munu. He had a book full of written letters from previous tourists. He asked us for 600 for a half day tour to the
'mini' Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and of course the Taj Mahal, plus a few other smaller places. We first went and got our hotel. It was a 5 min walk from the Taj Mahal and the hotel rooftop restaurant and incidentally our room had views of the Taj.We started our tour with Munu and his driver to the mini Taj. It was built 20 years prior and the Taj Mahal was based on the same concept and style, just on a larger more ornate scale. We went into the grounds which featured the white marble building in the middle of a garden grounds surrounded by red sandstone walls. We wandered into the grounds, going along the outside, and climbing up the wall to its corner tower. We also explored the riverside section of the wall before making our way to the mahal. The entire building was white marble with intricate and symmetrical designs all over. The designs were largely floral, but no two sections were identical. Inside was four tomb-like rooms on the corners and four larger entrances or hallways connecting them.We then were driven to Agra Fort across the river. The fort was huge and full of different
palaces built by different kings. We walk up the main ramp into the fort. Apparently the military occupied parts of the fort. It's rather difficult to describe the interiors of the forts given the complexities of the history and the seeming chaoticness of the layout. The first two areas we visited were large open pruned gardens with a few resident macaques in one corner. There were lines of planted annuals and grass lawns. At the end was what looked like a white mosque but was closed to public. There was also an open stone pillared area. On the riverside the fort was more a maze of corridors, stairs leading to various rooms, temples, palaces, viewpoints, and courtyards. Pictures tell a better story here and should be uploaded by March 2013 so check back then. The next area was a viewpoint across the river to the Taj Mahal, with many varieties of birds flying around and perching on the buildings. There were a few palaces and many other viewpoints as we headed from the northerly side to the south. In the southernmost side, the buildings were mostly ruins. We headed out, found Munu and he took us to a 'cheap local'
restaurant that was neither cheap nor local and it certainly was not good food. Afterwards he took us to what likely was a commissioned place where they carved marble. The man showed us some workers doing inlays into marble that would be sold as souvenirs. He then eagerly showed us his store and we ended up buying a couple of immature Taj Mahals made of alabaster for 200 after it was originally 800. He insisted it was marble although I knew there was no way. Marble is difficult to work with.The next commissioned shop was in a jewelry store but neither of us was interested and in any case it's hard to tell the authentic stones and metals from cheaper fakes. Well unless you know your stuff and I don't. No point in needless risks. Finally we headed to the Taj Mahal. He dropped us off and we paid him his fee plus a 10% tip. We walked to the Eastern Gate of the Taj and there was a serious security check. They went through all our bags, checked inside everything and threw away all food and even tried to throw away a deck of unopened playing cards. We were
in and the first area led to a very large red sandstone gate, and all around we're the red walls. We entered the main area and there it was, the Taj Mahal, with a couple of long waterways leading up to it giving that typical 'Taj Mahal' shot you've seen a hundred times from anyone who has been. We waited our turn to take our shots and then walked closer taking shots from different angles as we got nearer. People were split into the "High Importance People" (read: foreigner) and "Low Importance People" (read: Indian). lines going different ways up to the Taj. Now given the price difference, I wasn't offended as foreigners pay significantly more. The only real difference was the local line wound around the base of the Taj and the foreigner line went more directly up before meeting up. The Taj Mahal was a majestic piece of architecture widely thought of as the most beautiful building in the world. It's made of white marble with symmetrical carved inlays all over. Again no two sections were identical, and there was precision with its symmetry and geometric shapes and floral designs.On each of the four corners stood a tall
minaret with the middle being the main building. Inside the Taj Mahal was the tomb of the wife of the king that built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for his favorite wife. I'm sure the other two were a tad jealous. No pictures were allowed and guards were frequently removing cameras and their owners rather forcibly. When we went out, the sun was starting to set so we walked around the building taking photos of the Taj and the sunset. Once it was getting dark, the soldiers with assault rifles started to round people up to kick them out of the grounds. We left quickly. We got back to our hotel and quickly fell asleep after the long day.
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