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January 29th 2012
Published: April 25th 2012
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Bannerghatta to Fatehpur Sikri

As we prepared to depart Bannerghatta, I look back over our week here and feel some sadness that we are leaving. This was a pilot program and as such disorganised at times, the accommodation wasn’t perfect as we were confined to the lodge compound between 5.30pm and dawn which meant no visits to Bangalore or anywhere else for that matter in the evenings. The food was not bad and there was plenty of it, but at times it was a little boring and I tired of it by week’s end, still after all that we both had a great time. These Sloth Bears have been around human’s all their lives and as such are less aloof than the Sun Bear of Cambodia and often friendly despite their suffering at human hands. Finally the weather here is dry like Adelaide which we much preferred to that of South East Asia and we had a large group of volunteers to socialise with whereas at Phnom Tamao we were alone.

On our last morning we were woken by screaming kids at around 5.30am, asking the teachers to quieten them down was just a waste of time. Sue and Keith left at 9.30am to return to Sydney we followed at 11.30am due to the horrible traffic congestion we headed straight to the airport arriving around 2pm while the others who were staying another week went into town to shop and have dinner. The airport is modern and has clean toilets, check in was efficient but strangely they have separate departure gates for men and women, still we were on the bus to our aircraft by 4pm and arrived in Delhi on schedule even though our flight was delayed departing.

The climate in Delhi was much cooler so it was fortunate that our driver Jitu and his boss Asif were waiting for us at the arrivals gate; Asif speaks French with an English accent which is very peculiar. It took quite some time to find our hotel but eventually we arrived around 8pm and enjoyed the buffet dinner before Ruth had herself a hot bath. I woke early and headed to the gym to work out in the little exercise room, it always makes me feel better, then off to breakfast, where we gorged ourselves silly because it was included in the room price and we had no idea when we would eat again.

At 9.30am we loaded up the car and set off for Agra, after nearly four hours of chaotic drivers, rubbish, more rubbish, animals wandering everywhere while enshrouded in a smog cloud hundreds of square kilometres in diameter we finally arrived. The first think of note we saw when entering Agra was the wonderful red sandstone and marble tomb of Akbar, the greatest of India’s Mughal Emperors. It was a stunning compound which included beautiful gardens, stunning gate houses and the tomb itself made of red sandstone and marble inlay was spectacular. There were also some very cute chipmunks and a small heard of blackbuck antelope living in the gardens.

The hotel was our next port of call Jitu suggesting one that was average but clean enough, they bragged of the great views of the Taj Mahal from the roof so I went up to have a look and was attacked by a couple of Rhesus Monkeys, this wasn’t why we didn’t stay here that was the fault of the hotel manager who tried to charge me an exorbitant price for his rooms, I called him a cheat and stormed out. We eventually checked in to a much more reasonably priced place down the street then headed straight out to the Taj Mahal, you can only go so close in a vehicle so Jitu parked in the car park nearby. Here we were told we would have to get a rickshaw which was Rs200, another guy got in the front with the driver which seemed strange at the time, the rickshaw then travelled a couple of hundred metres down the road and stopped at the ticket office where the guy in the front guide started following me to the ticket office, I told him to get lost, we purchased a very expensive ticket to get in and then returned to the rickshaw where we were told we would have to walk the rest of the way, what a scam we could have walked in the first place for nothing. We arrived at the entrance of the tomb complex the impressive thirty metre high gatehouse a short time later.

The first sight of the Tah Mahal once described as “a tear drop on the face of eternity” is breathtaking it’s like a jewel glittering in the sun, but then you notice the thousands of people crawling all over everything like ants and remember how much crowds can irritate, still not even all those ignorant Indians pushing their way into the foreigner’s line bothered me very much this day as I was just as eager as everyone else to get up on that marble plateau and see the tombs interior. I slid the paper covers over my shoes so that my sandals wouldn’t damage the marble and joined the small foreigners queue to the left of the mausoleums entrance, photography is not allowed inside but that did not deter the Indian’s in the least, as they clicked away, such ignorant and stupid people.

This amazing example of a grieving Emperor Shah Jahan’s love for his dead queen Mumtaz Mahal is depicted in the colourful floral inlays, the carved marble lattice and the many other stunning carvings inscribed in its walls. The interior is also intricately carved but it was also unpleasantly crowded and hot and I was keen to see the Cenotaph of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan and get out into the “fresh” air. After walking around the building admiring the lovely view of the Yamuna River and the forty metre high minarets at each of the buildings four corners we strolled back the way we had come through the ornamental gardens (charbagh), stopping from time to time to steal occasional glances of the tomb before passing through the equally awed persons taking their first glance at “the embodiment of all things pure” (Rudyard Kipling). We then passed through that wonderful gateway and the splendour of the Taj Mahal was lost as we returned to the madness of India.

On arriving back at the rickshaw I attempted to pay the driver the agreed price, as we had decided to stroll back to the car, his response was to demand double, I refused and walked off with Ruth at my side. Everybody in Agra has tried to cheat me at least once, nobody will answer a question or offer assistance without sticking out a hand for payment, I was really angry with our driver for not warning us about these scammers.

The next day we rose with the dawn and were at the Red Fort by 8.30am, that was a great move as the place was empty and we had it pretty much to ourselves, the fort has walls up to twenty metres high and 2.5 kilometres in circumference. The structure was originally built by Akbar for military purposes in 1565, but was later transformed into a palace by Shah Jahan using his favourite building material, marble. After passing through the Amar Singh Gate the only current entrance to the complex we passed by the Pearl Mosque on our way to the unbelievable ornate and stunning palace complex. The beautifully carved buildings and the stunning views of the river and the Tah Mahal in the distance were also a wonderful surprise, for over an hour we wandered through a stunning maze of beautiful buildings. When we finally finished being totally awestruck we walked through the exit gate all smiles to be confronted by an example of India’s uglier side, a terribly disabled man begging near the entrance gate, I gave him some money as we passed.

It was now time to leave Agra and visit the ancient fortified city of Fatehpur Sikri which lies about forty kilometres west of Agra, built by Akbar it was for a time the capital of the Mughal Empire. Our driver dropped us at the bus station where we had to board a bus to the complex, the bus passed through the Agra Gate before depositing us at the ticket building where we paid for our ticket before entering the Pachisi Courtyard to be greeted with the lovely red sandstone Treasury building and the Astrologers Kiosk with its carved serpentine ceiling. We then visited the ornately carved palaces, one of which belonged to each of Akbar’s three wives, the stables and then on to massive Jama Majid entering via the Shahi Darwaza or the Kings Gate. Here I entered the marble tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti a Sufi saint honoured by Akbar and the adjacent tomb of his grandson Islam khan, Ruth waited outside with my sandals. The Tomb of Chishti was intricately carved and quite attractive, I thought it was worth a look until someone hit me on the head with a stick as I headed for the exit, probably because I didn’t give them any money. We then crossed the courtyard exiting though the Buland Darwaza or the Victory Gate admiring the massive bee hives hanging from the ceiling arches before boarding a bus back to the car park and our vehicle.

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