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Published: August 7th 2017
We were lucky enough to be staying within walking distance of the Taj, which meant we had no difficulty in walking to the ticket office at 5.15 so that we were in the queue for the sunrise visit at 5.30 and were through the gates when they opened at 5.40.
The first real peep at the Taj Mahal in the dawn was simply breath taking. Although there were many people in the crowds, there was a sense of calm as if everyone was spellbound by the beauty of the monument.
Like all the other visitors, we took many photographs trying to catch the perfect composition of ourselves against the majesty of the Taj. A man in the crowd stepped forward to give Molly some tips of how to photograph the monument so that its reflection is captured in the pools that are in front of it. He then offered to take her photo and then asked for money in return. We were some way off, so she could give him the brush off and make her escape.
Many visitors came accompanied with guides, but we didn’t feel it necessary, particularly as we
had learned about the history of the Taj the day before. The dawn visit was very peaceful, and it was lovely to wander around the magnificent building in peace, simply admiring its grandeur, soaking up the atmosphere and taking hundreds of photographs. The Taj Mahal is so well recognised, it felt so exciting to be there, and I felt really privileged to be there sharing the moment with my children.
As the sun rose, and peeped in and out of the clouds, the light changed over the beautiful marble inlay and it was impossible to stop gazing at it and impossible to stop photographing it. A sunrise visit is a really good time, eventually hunger got the better of us and it was time to go for breakfast. It was getting noticeably busier as we left. I am sure the memory of this visit will always be with me. A trip to Fatehpur Sikri
After a very welcome breakfast of eggs and spicy pancakes made from gram flour, we said goodbye to the Coral Tree and set off to visit Fatehpur Sikri. The former imperial Moghul city
is effectively a well-preserved ghost town. It was built by Emperor Akbar, but due to a poor water supply, after ten years it was abandoned and the emperor returned to Agra.
When we arrived, we were greeted with a mass of hawkers wanting to show us puppets, bags, toys and ornaments, and prospective guides offering their services. They were very persistent, and it was hard to shake them off. We escaped their company by jumping on to the tourist bus that takes visitors up to the monument. By the time we got there it was beyond midday and we were all feeling a bit hot and bothered, particularly after the serenity of our visit to the Taj Mahal. The palaces and courtyards display some beautiful architecture are well worth a visit, but I am not sure we did it justice - the Taj Mahal is a hard act to follow.
Our last activity of the day was a visit to Bharatpur bird sanctuary. You can explore the park in a variety of ways, either by walking, taking a rickshaw or in a horse and cart. Sadly, the horses pulling the
carts looked very skinny and tired and generally in poor condition. We hired some rickety bicycles with no gears and little in the brake department, but they were fun to ride. On the recommendation of the guide book, we hired a guide and I am glad we did. We followed him on our bone-shakers, and within the first five minutes he stopped us riding past some peacocks and some owlets who were wide awake and watching us.
The bicycle tour was a great success. We were out in the park for three and a half hours including a stop for lunch. Thanks to our guide we saw a jackal, some antelope, storks, turtles and a great variety of colourful birds and butterflies. Our guide was a little over enthusiastic, and although we loved his explanations and stories, we had trouble persuading him to finish and take us back. He wanted to show us bats which were five minutes away. When they didn’t appear, the only way to stop was for me to turn around with the children and ride back hoping he would follow. Even then he stopped to point out
more birds to Nige! Still, we enjoyed the trip and had a good laugh about it afterwards.
We were all tired after a full-on day which had given many wonderful experiences to absorb. It was time for us to hop back on the bus and begin a four-hour trip to Jaipur.
On the way back to the homestay, the girls and I stopped off to get a fridge magnet and a Taj Mahal snow globe. We came back with a fridge magnet, three pairs of Indian cotton harem pants, a candle stick holder and a Punjabi top, having visited a couple of shops with very enthusiastic salesmen. My attempts at haggling were very poor - I managed to knock the prices down but still spent well over the odds, and I am sure the shop owner will be retiring very soon! I have since read about how to haggle in the guide book and have received some good tips from our driver…
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