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Published: March 3rd 2013
Taj Mahal I
View of it from the other side of the river at sunset.
I have come out of hibernation and there are new stories and adventures coming up. At the moment, I am in Agra, India, the city where the famous Taj Mahal is located. I am on a two and a half week trip through Rajasthan with my friend Mizzi. We only arrived here the day before yesterday, but it already feels like weeks because so much has happened.
We left Hamburg on Thursday and flew from there through Frankfurt into Delhi. Apart from the fact that our taxi to the airport in Hamburg was late and we were a bit stressed out when we got there, the journey went smooth. We arrived at Delhi international airport on Friday morning at 1:15 am. Delhi is time zone UTC +5.5.
We had arranged a pickup with our hotel and found our driver right away when we got out of the airport. The hotel was supposed to be close to the airport, but the journey seemed to take forever because we had to go all the way around the aiport and apart from that we had the feeling that we were going back and forth. I always get this feeling here when the
Taj Mahal II
View of it at sunrise when entering the monument.
drivers take us from one place to the other, by the way. Anyway, we had a fixed rate, and finally we got to the hotel. It was far past 3 am when we finally got to bed.
After breakfast the next morning, we were taken to another hotel closer to the city centre. Due to traffic jams, it took us over an hour to get there, although it was only a distance of 16 km. And the Indians drive like crazy, they always find a gap through which they can squeeze their car, and they blow their horn to say: hello, I'm coming, please move to the side. Amazing, glad I don't have to drive here myself.
As we had booked a hotel in Agra and then a tour from Agra onwards, we would have to leave Delhi the next day. Thus, we tried to buy train tickets to Agra through the hotel personnel, who turned out not to have a clue how to buy the tickets. But for some reason, they did not tell ys that they did not know. After a few attempts, we decided to try it ourselves.
We caught the nearby metro to
Taj Mahal III
The front view of the monument with the garden in front of it.
the main station and first wanted to find the official tourist office, but could not find one. Then we tried to find a ticket counter where we could get a train ticket, but were not successful in it either. There were touts all about, everyone asking us what we wanted and where we wanted to go and offering help, but we were absolutely sure that we would run straight into a scam. Finally, someone of the security staff told us to catch a motor rikshaw and go to an office at Connaught Square. I did not have a good feeling when we entered it, but we could not find another tourism office, and the one there at least claimed to be accredited by the government.
The guy there told us that no tickets to Agra were available for the next morning and offered us private transport to Agra for far too much money. We were running out of time and did not have a choice, so we accepted. Later on, we learned that it is really difficult to book a train ticket. At least for the classes that are suitable for a Western tourist. You have to do it
Taj Mahal IV
The back side of it, in the park on the other side of the river, with Mizzi in front of it.
a long time in advance, and doing it online is a real hassle with a lot of steps in between. A guy from Australia told us that it had taken him about 15 hours altogether to get the train tickets online in advance. After hearing that, we did not feel all that stupid any more. The guy in the tourism office asked us what else we had planed, and we told him that we wanted to go to Agra and had booked a tour from there to a national park and then to Jaipur. He offered us a Rajasthan tour from there onwards, including all the places we found interesting for a really good price. So even though we knew he had pulled us over the barrel with the trip to Agra, we booked the other tour because we did not want to go through all this again after arriving in Jaipur.
We left the office totally exhausted and not very happy, but then had a very nice late afternoon lunch and caught the metro back to our hotel. We spent the rest of the evening just relaxing and had dinner at our hotel.
Our driver arrived almost
Taj Mahal V
The view of it from the rooftop terrace of our hotel.
15 minutes early the next morning. The 200 km trip took us almost six hours. There are so many traffic jams, it is just incredible. Plus, there was a rally going from Mathura (150 km south of Delhi) to Delhi. People were protesting against the pollution of the Yamuna river. This meant that two lanes of the highway were blocked and the cars going north were on our two lanes.
Initially, we thought our driver was really nice and easy going, but when approacing Agra, he tried to talk us into going to some marble shop. We had to tell him several times and in a very decided manner that we wanted to go straight to our hotel. He tried to convince us of hiring him for the rest of the day or even the next day, and again it took us a while to point out to him that we did not want this. We gave him a tip of the amount some of the other tourists we had met had recommended to us: 70 rupees, about 1 Euro, because the tourists had told us that they don't earn more than 3 dollars per day. But he said
Red Fort I
In one of the courts where they used to grow wine, with a well in its centre.
this was very little. We asked him how much would be appropriate, and then gave him 500 rupees (about 7 Euros). Then he wanted this amount from each of us. But we said no. We asked again in the hotel, and there we were told that 500 rupees was okay. Or even more or less, depending how happy we were with the driver. Oh well, no clear information...
Anyway, the evening was nice. Our hotel is within walking distance from the east gate to the Taj Mahal, and from the roof terrace, we can see the impressive monument. It is shining white and looks almost like a Fata Morgana. Incredibly beautiful. We had our lunch with this wonderful view. We bumped into an Autralian couple who had arranged a tour to the other side of the river, from where the Taj Mahal was said to look particularly beautiful at sunset. They invited us to come along, and so we did.
And indeed, it was a wonderful evening. The Taj Mahal really shines, it is so white, you can hardly believe it. The arrangement of the four minarets around its dome is just perfect. While the sun was sinking,
Red Fort II
Portico on one side of it.
it kept changing its colour. We were happy and concluded the day with a very nice Indian dinner and a glass of wine.
This morning, we got up at 5:50 am to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. We entered trough the nearby east gate and walked around the building and into it. It is a tomb the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan had built for his favourite wife in 1632. To its east and west side, there are two mosques.
We spent quite a bit of time there, then walked over to the nearby Red Fort. It was built in the 16th century, but before that, there had already been a fort there dating from the 11th century. As the name already tells you, the fort is made of red stone, and it is massive, with a moat and two walls surrounding it. From one of these walls, you also have a nice view of the Taj Mahal.
Afterwards, we caught a motor rikshaw to I'timad-ud-Daulah, the tomb of a former Wazir (chief minister) of the Mughal emperor Akbar. It is of course smaller than the Taj Mahal, but also very ornate and beautiful. Finally, we did
The tomb as you look at it when entering through the main gate.
some shopping. We love the Indian dresses and wanted to get some for ourselves.
We had another late lunch on the rooftop terrace of our hotel and decided to spend the rest of the day just relaxing, enjoying the view of the Taj Mahal and reading. Tomorrow morning, we will be picked up here for a tour to Ranthambore National Park. I will let you know how this went!
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