The Magnificent Taj Mahal and Agra Fort (need i say more!!)

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May 23rd 2013
Published: May 23rd 2013
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Day 246 (Sat 11thMay)

Today was probably the day I’ve most been looking forward to from a tourist perspective. I was going on a day trip to the city of Agra, home of the incredibly famous and 1 of the 7 manmade wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal.

My day started with another early morning send off. My train was due at 6am and Amy was due to fly out a few hours later so I said my goodbyes and headed off to the station to get my train. The station is only 5 minutes from my hostel at this time of morning, takes about 15-20 during the day as it’s so busy. It’s weird seeing the streets deserted, the rubbish is everywhere and the smell horrendous. There is an area down a little side street from my hostel where there are a couple of tiles randomly against the wall in a corner, turns out this is the outside public toilet and this was the first time I’ve not seen someone using it. During normal hours there are queues to go in the fly infested corner for a leak, it wouldn’t be so bad but there are food stalls everywhere, definitely no street food for me.

I had a little issue with my train ticket. I had saved an open internet page on my ipod which decided to reload and close in the station so had no idea of my seat number. I had 15 minutes until it left so wandered up and down the platform looking at the charts pinned to the side of the carriages, finally finding my name on the second to last one. I took my seat and off we went.

Bottles of water were given out and then some breakfast, being some vegetable thing in flour fried, the guy sat next to me told me the name but I’ve forgotten it. It was pretty nice though and came with a small drink and tea and biscuits. I got chatting to the guy sat next to me. He was probably the first Indian to speak to me in 3 weeks or so that wasn’t trying to sell me something or wasn’t serving me. We had a good chat all the way to Agra where I got off and he carried on home.

The usual chaos ensued at Indian Railway stations of every man and his auto rickshaw trying to get your business. I got one sorted to the Taj Mahal and asked for the quietest entrance. My driver was Shabbu, a Nepalese man and very nice and knowledgeable. He offered me a full day tour of the city and while I probably culd have negotiated each leg and made it cheaper it was handy so I went with him. Also in 43 degree heat the last thing I fancied was constantly arguing over prices to get from one place to the next.

He dropped me of at the south gate and I bought my ticket and went in, with only 1 person in the queue before me. I was met with the main gate in the middle of the courtyard. This must stand 30 metres tall and is a lovely entrance way into the Taj. I was already hugely impressed. When you consider how much of a mess the rest of the country is in, to then see this lovely arch, it’s a good way to start it. I walked towards the arch and read the big tablet explaining all about the Taj and why it was built etc, this being as a shrine to Shah Jahan’s late ‘favourite’wife. I was told it took 20,000 people working on it daily for around 23 years to complete and I am sure I was told they chopped off the hands of the people who made it so it couldn’t be replicated.

I got to the arch and could see the Taj in the distance, the white marble shining quite brightly in the morning haze which seems to surround every city in India. It seems to take until it reaches around 40 degrees to burn it away and leave the afternoon with a reasonably blue sky. There are also state laws so no factories are allowed within a certain distance, I think it was 100km of the Taj so it doesn’t become too polluted. Anything made inside this area has to be handmade and without the use of machines that would create pollution.

On first view the Taj is simply stunning, it’s quite hard to put into words what it’s like. I just felt in awe of it. It’s 55 metres high and wide, and of perfect symmetry. The place is full of people as you’d expect but it’s easy enough to get some space to take a decent photo. A guy offered to take a photo of me, so I let him (with my own camera) and then he asked for payment so I told him where to go and moved on. It seems no one does anything for free or for the generosity of it here. I spent around 90 minutes in the grounds taking multiple pictures of it. You can go inside it but there really is nothing to see there. The ‘tombs’ are well covered and not even the real tombs so pretty pointless, just a bit of a show to add to the place I guess.

The Taj really does look like a painting in the background, even when you get to close to it, it seemed hard for me to believe it was real. Even all the pictures I’ve taken, it doesn’t look real. It’s very unique I think in that respect.

After this I headed out and met Shabbu to take me to my next destination, being the Baby Taj. This is not a miniature of the Taj as I thought, more a smaller marble building in the same dynamics of the Taj, with a 3 entrance gates, a courtyard and perfect symmetry also. It is however a different style, albeit from the same marble, which is locally sourced from Rajasthan I believe. This took only 30 mins or so to look around as there was no one there then it was a short trip around the corner to some gardens I’ve forgotten the name off. This is where you can look at the Taj Mahal from the other side of the river. Now this would be great if there was some water in the river, could go for the nice reflection shot but it’s definitely dry season and water doesn’t survive very long in 43 degrees. The gardens are also too dry and it’s not the best place to be taken this time of year, a month or so ago it might have been a nicer view from there. Also with it being very hazy it’s hard to take good pictures. I took a few and then just realised I failed to transfer them over and deleted them by mistake, luckily they weren’t that good anyways.

After this I was taken for lunch, obviously to the most expensive place in town. Well maybe not as there are high end hotels but it was in a hotel so was maybe triple what a local place would have been. It was nice and had air con so I wasn’t going to complain. Although there is a guy stood near the toilet who wanted a tip for opening the door for me. I wasn’t impressed by this as I’d just spent over the odds on the food, I just ignored him and walked past. For people back home if a tip is given it is appreciated but I can’t imagine someone lasting long in a job if to every person they served or did something for, they went ‘tip, tip, you give tip’ all the time. Be sacked straight away. A tip is earnt not asked for unless you’re in India. Some staff even point out that a service charge has not been included, so as to point it out so you leave one. I find this annoying.

Anyways in the afternoon I was taken firstly to a few shops as the driver was probably wanting some commission. I was not interested in a Pashmina, who needs a scarf in 43 degrees, neither did I want any jewelry. The marble store was quite cool. I was talked through how it is made and met the guys that on Fridays restore and clean the Taj Mahal. I saw them making some of the smaller souvenirs by hand which were very impressive.

After here I went to Agra Fort, I’d never heard of it until I googled Agra, but wow, what an awesome place. Currently around 75% of it is still patrolled by the military but the remaining 25% is an amazing feat of architecture. Whilst it only took an hour or so to walk around, the fort is simply stunning, I hope the pictures do it justice. There are numerous courtyards with lavish buildings, in red brick and white marble. It is where the empire used to be run from and is like a walled city. The buildings are in such great condition and the renovators must have a job on their hands to keep such a huge area in the condition it is. It is 94 acres in total.

The fort is also a Unesco heritage site along with the Taj and the 2 buildings make Agra a very special place. The rest of the town is utter chaos and a dump like most of India, suffering from incredible heat, too much poverty and mental traffic but the buildings that are in this city are truly spectacular. I was a week or so ago considering just flying out of Mumbai back to Thailand as I was struggling in India but even though I have not enjoyed the country, having this day trip has mad it worth coming to the country.

After I was done in the Fort I headed back out to meet Shabbu once more. It was still only mid afternoon and my train not until 8:30pm but I’d seen and done everything I wanted too so I asked him to take me somewhere in walking distance of the station that served beer. He dropped me at a little hotel and I went inside and had a beer. Only to start feeling really tired so only had the one then left. I had to wait hours at the station for the train and was constantly approached by drivers saying they could drive me to Delhi instead and it would be quicker, which I know is a lie. Also when I turned that down they wanted to take me into town, I explained I’d already been in town, but they always have a remark or somewhere ‘better’ to show you. I got fed up of this, so got some food and just waited for my train back on the platform.

I got back to Delhi around 10:30pm and headed to my hostel to get my head down as it’d been a long day. Not often am I spending the whole day sightseeing, sometimes a morning, sometimes and afternoon but normally there is time spent relaxing in the hostel in between, not today however.

Day 247 (Sun 12th May)

This was my last day in India and as my flight was due to leave at 5:30am tomorrow morning I decided a good lie in and a day doing very little, mainly catching up on my blog as I’d been too fed up to do it most of the time in India.

I sorted out my taxi to the airport for 2am, got my lunch, changed $10 into rupees as I’d ever so slightly misjudged how much I needed and then pretty much relaxed in my room most of the day. I did head out for a walk around to make sure I got some exercise done. I stayed awake all evening and night after a brief thought of a nap and waited for my taxi.

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