Without the delights of the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort I think it’s fair to say that Agra is a difficult city to love, this is reflected by the length of time travellers decide to stay there – usually no longer than one night. It’s streets are by far the most congested we have seen in India so far and the touts and hawkers come thick and fast, but we managed to get the most out of our short visit.
We arrived at our hotel in the early evening and decided to stay in and rest after a long days travelling from Jaipur with the view to waking up early and seeing the sun rise over the worlds most famous mausoleum. The following morning we were dropped near the South Gate and took a leisurely stroll through the park, ignoring the please of rickshaw drivers to ferry us the short journey. Our reluctance to take rickshaws for short journeys over walking has proven to be a much better way of exploring the places we have been, with the added bonus of small but noticeable savings in transportation costs.
Our early arrival meant no queues on entry into the Taj compound, however when going through security I was told to return to the ticket office as unusually they would not let us through with our small camera tripod despite not batting an eye at our camera that is more than capable of taking high resolution images with or without the aid of stabilisation. Once through security we caught our first glimpse of the Taj’s huge dome, hovering above the similarly impressive gate house to the gardens. We both agreed that even without the Taj Mahal, the site would still be a popular attraction with the aforementioned gate house and beautiful symmetrical mosque’s to either side of the main building surrounded by tranquil gardens and water fountains. I think its fair to add that these would certainly not be in such good condition were it not for the main attraction, it certainly felt that the Indian government has rightly dedicated a large amount of money to maintain the estate as it is by far the best maintained monument we have visited so far.
The Taj Mahal it self is as wondrous and unique as it seems in the countless photos. The arched entrance to the gate house superbly frames the entire structure delivering a truly memorable approach. We stood in awe for a number of minutes just gazing at the magnificently white building contrasting against the early morning sky. Despite the Taj being almost perfectly symetrical we made sure we had seen it from every possible angle, pausing to sit and gaze whenever we found a nice shaded spot before venturing in.
Sarah found the inside very eery, perhaps fittingly, and confusingly small despite its mammoth exterior. I found the amazing stone in-lay the most impressive thing inside, with highly detailed work covering the walls where you could feel the undulations of the stone where the softer marble had been eroded away through touch over hundreds of years leaving the green, red and yellow stone work slightly proud. we donned our shoes again and spent a good while sitting in one of the huge arches dominating the base of the main building, watching as the gardens slowly filled with the days masses of visitors. Despite us being well used to ourselves being an attraction for locals we were surprised that even here, some people where far more interested in taking pictures of us! the only conclusion we drew was that our combined beauty is comparable to that of the building we were sitting on.
Pitying the people looking fed up as they were dragged around by their guides. We had politely declined our pre-arranged guide as we much prefer to appreciate the monuments at our slow steady pace, much to the annoyance of itchy-feet guides keen to inform us of the number of wives the head architect had or the route the gardeners take to get to work in the morning. That may sound a little harsh but we felt that in Jaipur we were shown the beautiful and interesting monuments, rather than experiencing them on a personal level – something a guide is not able to deliver no matter how many facts they can share with us.
We certainly experienced the Taj Mahal, spending hours sitting in the beautiful gardens admiring the seventh wonder of the world. But after 6 hours without food and starting to feel weak we decided to head back into town for food and drink. The rest of the day was spent dozing in the nearby park surrounded by monkeys and peacocks before saying farewell to our driver who we had grown quite attached despite us initially not really wanting one. And preparing for our first taste of the great Indian rail network!
Next post to come from Khajuraho in Madyhar Pradesh