Early morning wakeup to visit the Taj Mahal at sunrise. Driven to Taj by Vijay who met up with a local guide. Beautiful clear morning, cool and misty. Many small fires alongside road, people slowly waking up, all the images fascinating. So many cows and dogs, alongside the wild pigs, jostling for space with the tuk tuk and the cars.
Arrived at the ticket office and immediately hassled by small children selling snow globes with the Taj Mahal inside and colourful pens, mirrors and key rings. Joe warmed to one little boy, age 12, who, despite his persistent sales pitch, remained charming and friendly, so much so that Joe sought him out at the end of our tour and bought an elephant key-ring from him.
We took a form of golf caddy to the entrance of the Taj and queued for 10 minutes before entering the first gate. The sense of anticipation from all the tourists around us was clearly apparent as all knew how close we were to see one of the most famous monuments in the world and now one of the new seven wonders.
Our guide was
entertaining and recalled the love story of the palaces conception; a vision realised by Shah Jahan in memory of his wife who bore him 14 children, sadly dying in childbirth of their 14th
child. Taking 20 years to build the Taj Mahal is truly a vision of his love.
On entering the main gate leading to the Taj, the famous image of the narrow lines of water leading up to the monument is divine. The Taj looks perfect and unspoilt. The white marble transparent with the early morning sunlight. The architecture is simple yet intricate, every archway carved with the influence of the east.
We strolled around the exterior of the Taj and savoured the moment. Even Joe appeared subdued by the occasion of the monument, although his description of it being ‘beautiful and white’ slightly under-sells the visit!
After all posing on ‘the’ lady Diana seat we continued to explore the building and grounds, reluctantly returning to our guide who as keen to move on to the next great site, The Agra Fort.
The Agra Fort is a red sand-stone, imposing building clinging to the
side of the hill round Agra, overlooking the mirage of the Taj Mahal which sits on the bank of the river. The exterior is austere and overpowering compared to the simplicity and pure colour of the Taj but inside the fort holds great beauty and intricate design. Built as the seat and strong hold for the Mughal Empire in 1565, the fort took 8 years to build.
Two memorable aspects of the Agra fort are the deep wells, designed so the Emperors could sit during the warm summer months near to the water and the amazing views of the Taj from the royal balconies.
After a lunch and recharge of the batteries we headed out at 4.30pm to drive to the opposite bank of the river to watch the sunset next to the Taj Mahal. We parked and walked through a small rural village, small, dirty children running barefoot alongside us. Down a lane we arrived at the banks of the river as the sun began to set. Joe sat on a bench with Vijay, our driver, and chatted like two old friends. It is amazing how children can converse with any man, no
matter what language or status in society. Joe recalled who his friends were in the UK and told Vijay about his dog. We all had time alone as the beauty of the sun setting silenced the moment. An old khaki tent housed the police, although their role down by the banks of the river was not so clear. They to appeared extremely relaxe
We headed back to the hotel, through the very busy traffic of Agra.
Alice and Hanna had displayed interest to the wife of our home stay about Henna and having their hands decorated. While we were out she purchased some henna tubes and offered to decorate the girls’ hands. We sat for the next hour with both girls patiently having their hands decorated. The lady was very kind and explained how her two sons were now grown up and she liked to ‘take care’ of her guests. Jerry and Joe had gone off to have some quiet time so it was a real mother daughter moment sitting with another mother who had a big heart.
She had also arranged for me to have have a head massage by an elderly lady who lived nearby. The lady was about 80 years old and appeared very frail but proceeded to ferociously ‘massage’ my head using a combination of slaps and flicks ! At one point I felt hysterical with laughter and couldn’t stop laughing as I could see Hanna out of the corner of my eye also laughing. The lady charged about one pound fifty for the head massage which was a new experience for me ….
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