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Published: October 10th 2013
"Not a piece of architecture, as other buildings are, but the proud passions of an emperor's love wrought in living stones." English Poet, Sir Edwin Arnold
Boarding yet another sleeper class train from Varanasi, our luck riding the rails seemed to have finally run out. As we made our way through the train towards our seats, we saw a family of ten (5 adults and 5 kids) and immediately crossed our fingers that this was not where we would be spending the next 12 hours. As I checked the ticket, I let out a small sigh of despair…..these were indeed our seats.
Don’t get me wrong, the family were actually fine and the kids very sweet, however when you board a train that is stiflingly hot and humid with no A/C and it’s around 26 degrees at night, the last thing you need is 14 people sitting in an area that should only fit 8. Having not totally gotten over our bouts of Delhi Belly, Donna and I were not at our most tolerant, and so the long ride towards Agra begun……
After a fairly loud and insect infested 12 hours, we awoke at dawn with
the morning sun shining into our carriage, wondering if we had reached our stop. I went for a look out of the door of the still moving train, and saw the amazing structure of Agra fort. Yep, this was us. As I glanced back over the river towards the morning light, still rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I was met with quite an amazing and unexpected sight. There standing in the distant haze was the Taj Mahal. I never expected to be able to see it from the train, but there it was in all its glory. My first glimpse of the reason we headed to Agra, and even from this distance, I could already see why this was classed as one of the most beautiful buildings ever constructed.
We decided that as we had 2 nights here, we would refrain from seeing the Taj on the first day, and wait until the next morning, where we would go see it at Sun-rise. This left us to hang out in our surprisingly cheap but very nice hotel about 1km away from the Taj Mahal’s East Gate. So, despite still trying to fight the remainder of this bug we
had both caught and grabbing some dinner, we did fairly little on our first day here. I think the main event of the day was fighting off the hordes of rickshaw and Tuk Tuk drivers that followed us from the moment we exited our hotel. No different from anywhere else in India, except these guys were a touch more persistent and literally tagged along with us from the moment we left the hotel to the second we arrived at the restaurant we decided to eat in. We were hit with everything from ‘Maybe later?’ and ‘Why not, very cheap?’ to ‘Join me in my helicopter’ and ‘But everybody says no thank-you?’…… these phrases will haunt me for a long time after I leave India I fear.
As the alarm went off at 4:30am, Donna and I found it surprisingly easy to get out of bed and get ready for the day ahead. This can only be due to the fact that we were clearly looking forward to today as usually 4:30am starts involve a lot more moaning and a lot more snoozing.
Having walked the short distance to the East Gate in the dark, we were actually quite
surprised at the lack of people queuing and were very close to the front of the queue. Come 5:45am as the sun had just started to rise, the doors swung open, and in we went filled with anticipation and excitement. As we approached the archway leading into the grounds of the Taj Mahal, the first glimpse you get literally takes your breath away. It’s hard to explain, but it almost doesn’t seem real or something? When you have seen an image of something so many times before in magazines and on TV etc, I find it’s sometimes hard to comprehend that you are actually looking at that very same thing in the flesh.
As we walked through the archway, it opens right up and there it was in all its beauty. To say it’s beautiful is really an understatement, and seeing it for the first time, you can easily see why this is classed as probably the greatest building in the world.
The next three hours or so were spent looking around and taking photos of this work of art. We were careful not to take too many pictures and sometimes just sat and admired it from a
bench or from the floor. Looking at the Taj Mahal from the ‘classic postcard view’ doesn’t get boring, however its only when you get close up, you realise how amazing this building is as a structure and not just aesthetically. With all the marble that makes up the majority of the building, the Sanskrit writing up the sides of the entrance and the stunning Pietra Dura (precious stone and marble inlay work), this is a fantastic building from up close and from further away.
Unfortunately, you are unable to take photos inside the Taj, so I’ll try to describe what’s actually in the building after you have marvelled at the outside. Entering through an enormous arched recess you are met with a much smaller interior than you may have anticipated. Directly in the middle is the fake tomb of Mumtaz Mahal behind an awesome screen, all carved from one piece of marble which is inlaid with filigree patterns and precious stones. Next to Mumtaz Mahal lays another fake tomb, being her husband and creator of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan. His tomb is about the only thing that isn’t symmetrical throughout the Taj as its awkwardly positioned to the
right of Mumtaz, and is randomly significantly larger than his wife’s tomb that the Taj was actually built for….?
I think one of the most surprising things for us was that at no time did we feel the place was overcrowded nor did it ever get too much. There were of course many people there from the beginning, and this only grew as time went on, but apart from a couple of over-eager guides man-handling people this way and that to get them in to positions for pictures, we never felt that the vibe in there was anything but calm. There was one exception to this when a middle aged English guy told his wife that the guide was going to ‘Get a slap’ if he carried on with all this photo taking nonsense….fair play, as I reckon I would have felt the same way if I were being pulled from pillar to post like he was!
That evening, far from having had enough of the mighty Taj Mahal, we decided that a dinner overlooking this magnificent building was called for. We headed for The Taj Gange area and found the restaurant with the best view and sat
down for some food. So, with the sun setting, and with the world’s most beautiful building in our view we sat back and basked in the moment. This was until a brazen monkey popped his head over the balcony we were sitting at and with all the confidence in the world, strolled across our table and stole my coke! Cheeky little git. My only relief was that it was a Coke and not a beer, as had my stomach fully recovered from the Delhi Belly, that would have been my drink of choice, and he may have found himself with more of a fight on his hands!
It’s not often you get to see something so special in your life, but in our time travelling, we have been lucky to see some amazing things. Now, I am happy to be able to add the Taj Mahal to our experiences. In regards to something living up to its hype, the Taj Mahal for us, is right up there, and we certainly didn’t leave disappointed.
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