The day started early as we met in the lobby of our hotel at 4:50am and prepared to leave New Dehli for Agra, home of the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Needless to say, we were all a bit groggy in the morning, but the excitement of our first full day was more than enough to overcome the pre-dawn start time. We made our way to the train station and boarded Indian Railways for the two hour ride to Agra.
The sun rose along the way and upon reaching Agra, we left the station and located our bus. Once aboard, we were given the option of heading to the hotel for an early check in or heading to Agra Fort (The Red Fort) and starting our day with a tour – all but one of us took up the offer and we were driven off to meet our guide, Saim. This was definitely the right choice, and as long as my body remains capable, I will do every additional activity offered in the next three weeks.
Agra Fort is a sight, and I was impressed as soon as the bus pulled up. We hopped out and Saim told us about the forts past as both a military structure and later an expansive palace. The Red Fort of Agra was built by the Mughal emperor, Akbar the Great. It was expanded and turned into a palace by Akbar’s grandson, Shah Jahan, who commissioned the Taj Mahal. It was built before the capital of the empire was moved from Agra to Dehli.
Our group reached Agra Fort by crossing a drawbridge that once covered the crocodile-infested moat and up the dog-legged rampart which was designed to confuse invaders. We were rewarded with views of the brilliant courtyard and walked through ornately carved gates and columns. Inside we were treated with more beautifully-designed palace residences, the interior vineyard, thrones and the open air bazaar where Shah Jahan met Mumtaz Mahal, who would be his wife. Their undying love is what gifted the world with the Taj Mahal.
By late afternoon we left the Red Fort, were checked into our rooms, ate a lunch and once again boarded our bus – this time heading to the Taj Mahal. This was one of the moments I was most anticipating from the time I booked this trip.
The Taj Mahal is the most beautiful building in the world and seeing it in person was indeed a major life moment. It took 21 years to complete this world wonder, complete with fountains, ornamental gardens, marble relief works, calligraphy-surrounded pishtaqs and walls inlaid with precious stones. The pictures I am posting do not do it justice. It seemed as if every time we moved 10 meters closer, the structure became more picturesque.
A few tips if you are planning to visit the Taj Mahal:
- Come Empty Handed – you can only bring in minimal personal belongings: wallets/cash, medicines, mobile phones, cameras (no tri-pods or accessories), passports and that’s about all. If you bring additional items you will have to throw them out.
- Visit at Sunrise – it’s empty then and a beautiful way to see the Taj. There are also great views at sunset, but it a bit more crowded. We did not get to experience this, but the 5 days around a full moon you can buy tickets when a limited supply are released one day in advance.
- Princess Diana’s Bench – there is a famous picture of Princess Diana on a bench in the center platform area of the ornamental garden. You can take your own picture there, but be prepared to fend off others.
- Light it Up – use the flashlight/torch feature on your mobile phone to shine on the pietra dura (the jewels inlaid in the marble). You’ll be able to see the brilliance of the translucent marble and precious stones.
- Nothing is Free – once inside the ground of the Taj Mahal, anyone who offers to take a professional photo of you or offer you other unsolicited services (information, a guided view of one of the buildings, etc) is not doing it to be kind and welcoming – they are looking for compensation. It’s best to stay with your guide or your group and avoid any hassle.
Tomorrow our group is off to Jaipur. Follow for more from the trip.