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Published: August 9th 2017
In Agra, we stayed at a wonderful brightly coloured and laid back homestay called the Coral Tree. It was a family run homestay, with all meals taken at the family dining table. Its beautiful garden was adorned with arty statues, and the rooms were littered with jewel coloured heavily embroidered cushions. The homestay had almost a surfer vibe; it was very comfortable, and was a short walking distance from the Taj Mahal.
After we had settled in, we were taken around the sights by Mokesh, our enthusiastic guide, who was very keen on Indian history and amateur photography - most of the pictures on this post were taken by him. We stopped off at a well-known restaurant - 'A Pinch of Spice' - for a delicious meal. We were all given tiny flannels on ceramic leaves, which magically grew when water was added. The portions were huge and very filling, and the restaurant was packed with locals - always a good sign. Keen to work our lunch off, we set off to explore Agra Fort.
This is a 16th century Moghul fortress, beautifully preserved and now a world heritage centre. Agra was the capital of India up until 1638,
and the impressive red sandstone-walled fortress served as the imperial palace for the Moghul dynasty. We enjoyed walking around the beautiful gardens, watching green parrots fly overhead. Mokesh told us stories of the Moghuls as he took us around some impressive marble palaces from which you can see the Taj Mahal in the distance.
Our next stop was a visit to Bibi Ka Maqbara, better known as the baby Taj. Built in 1638 as a tribute to his mother by Prince Azzam Shah, it is a small marble monument set in a pretty garden and surrounded by four minarets, with gorgeous designs of brightly coloured precious stones inlaid in the white marble. It is a very sweet monument, and well worth a visit. It pre-dates the Taj Mahal and is said to have been the inspiration for the Taj.
Our final stop was the Mehtab Bagh Moghul garden, on the other side of the Jamuna river to the Taj. We walked through the regimented orchards to the end of the garden, from where there was an excellent view of the majestic Taj Mahal. It was really exciting to be so near, and it made me feel very excited
about our visit to the Taj itself the next day. We also walked around the foundations of Shah Jahan's next project, which had halted when he died. It is unclear what the foundations were for - some say he intended to build a black Taj opposite the mausoleum, and others that he intended to build a huge pool so that the Taj would be reflected in it.
Afterwards, we made our way back to the Coral Tree, as I was off to the theatre with the girls to see 'Mohabbat the Taj Show', the boys having declined the opportunity. It is basically Taj the musical, tracing the love story between Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal which lies behind the construction of the monument. The performance was carried out in a purpose-built theatre in the Kalakriti hotel. Apparently, no other shows ever take place at the theatre - it only performs Taj the musical, largely for tourists. The seats are much more comfortable and spacious than those in West End theatres in London, and they come with headphones that pipe a translation and a bottle of cold water. The tickets are hugely over-priced and the script is really cheesy. That
said, it is great fun, the costumes are a riot of colour and the dancing is fabulous.. The climax of the show is the appearance of a huge model of the Taj that arrives imperiously up from the floor admidst much dry ice and drum rolls as Taj balloons are released. It was great fun, but the boys would have hated it.
Our busy day in Agra ended with a fabulous home cooked meal at the Coral Tree. We had a variety of dhal and chapatis but the star of the meal was an aubergine and okra which was so tasty. It made me realise I need to widen my veggie cooking repertoire. We had a a beer on the balcony before turning in for an early night ready for our sunrise trip to the Taj the next moerning.
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