Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Agra and the Taj Mahal: A dream fulfilled

After the eventful train trip we arrived in Agra in the early morning, grabbed a quick breakfast of chocolate chip muffin and then set out on another adventure. A few of us girls set out in a auto rickshaw for the bazaar that was seemingly close to the hotel so five of us jammed ourselves into a tuk tuk (not including the driver) and we were off but when we got to the bazaar that we wanted we realised that it was closed. Indian’s stay up late and sleep in it appears. With Renee with the map and a good memory of the Lonely Planet which suggested that there was a bigger and better bazaar, we headed off in the tuk tuk to another bazaar which was somewhere near a river.  This was definitely one for the locals and after the tuk tuk driver gave us a safety talk (probably well founded considering he didn’t get paid if we didn’t return) we headed off. This market was also mainly closed and we got the feeling we were just a bit too early to really enjoy the shopping opportunities. Despite this, fake turbans were brought and a sari for Renee. The turbans later turned out to be a packing nightmare and I am very thankful that I didn’t buy one. We paid way too much for the tuk tuk but the experience was worth it. I don’t think Raj (our guide) was terribly impressed that we had gone to this market from a safety point of view but there was enough of us to stay safe (I think anyway).

After lunch we headed to Agra Fort for a look around. I think most of the group was just desperate to get to the Taj but we got a small taste of it with the view from the fort.
The entrance to Agra Fort

Just inside the first gate
 Agra Fort was built somewhere around 1000AD. It is quite a majestic sight and it is hay day would have been an amazing place to be. One can only imagine the events that happened here. One of the puzzling things about the fort was that as you seemingly got further away from the Taj the closer and bigger it appeared. Not sure that worked but as we got to the far end of the fort, the Taj looked the biggest.
The Taj from Agra Fort
 We left the fort in the late afternoon and headed over to the Taj (via the hotel) to see it at as its colours changed at sunset. I have dreamt of visiting this place and it seemed so surreal to see it in the flesh (so to speak). I don’t really know what I was expecting but it was exactly like you see it in the picture – big, white, shiny and superbly built. As I walked through the archway and saw it in its entirety my heart skipped a beat. Another thing to tick off my bucket list! All of us quickly got out our cameras and started taking shots. Some of us commented that we should have worn better clothes for the occasion (including me). We did a few silly photos that made it look like we were picking up the Taj. I had had the idea of sitting on the seat like Lady Diana did but there was a long queue for that opportunity and I fear that there would have been more photos taken of me that I would have liked.

Mandatory silly photo

Some of the marble work on the outside of the Taj

Looking away from the Taj towards the entrance

Sunset at the Taj

After donning some protective sexy red over boots to protect the marble we joined the long queue to get a look inside under the careful watch of soldiers with guns who kept everyone in single file. Again, I hadn’t done much research on the Taj but the last thing I really expected were two coffins, albeit marble coffins. Another thing that surprised me was just how small it was inside. The wall and roof must be very thick because what seems so large on the outside is in fact quite small on the inside. I got some great shots as the sun went down and the changing colours of the Taj. Thankfully I had chose to wear my hat and didn’t get hassled for photographs as much as the other girls who are blonde.
My favourite India photo. Women in sari's lining up to get into the Taj

Sunset over the building next to the Taj


Reflections in the water looking towards the entrance of the Taj

The Taj at sunset. As you can see it is a popular time to be there

The view of the Taj through the entrance

Me at the Taj

Taj at sunset

Taj at sunset

Up close and personal
It was really great to be able to see this place in person and to sit in peace and enjoy the view while I waited for the rest of the group to return.
Outside the main gate was another story. As soon as you step outside there are people trying to persuade you to come buy at “their” shop and they are a bit too enthusiastic with their attempts for it to be pleasant. The trick is to walk with purpose and just keep saying “No!”. The worst part about the Taj was attempting to catch the electric cart back to the entrance. We had waited and then when one became available, out of nowhere a bunch of Americans descended from out of nowhere (definitely not from the waiting queue) and took all the seats which lead to us being a bit more than brassed off. Then we attempted to get on an electric bus and again Americans appeared out of nowhere so with Renee and I blocking their attempts we got all our group on the bus much to their annoyance – too bad! To really top it off, they were only going about 200m down the road to a hotel and could have walked! We eventually made it back to the hotel and went out for dinner and at long last a bed that wasn’t moving (like last nights)
An almost complete group shot at Agra Fort

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