The day started early as we met in the lobby of our hotel at 4:50 am. Here, we prepared to leave New Dehli for Agra. We were off to visit the home of the Taj Mahal and Red Fort. Needless to say, we were all a bit groggy in the morning. Still, 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.
|Read more about getting around Dehli by public transit from Divert Living
Deciding to Visit the Red Fort
The sun rose along the way. Upon reaching Agra, we left the station and located our bus. Once aboard, we were given the option of heading to the hotel for early check-in or heading to Agra Fort. We decided to go to The Agra Fort (Red Fort) and started 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. As long as my body remains capable, I will do every additional activity offered in the next three weeks.
Arriving at Agra Fort
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 fort’s past as 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. He is the ruler who commissioned the Taj Mahal. It was built before the capital of the empire was moved from Agra to Dehli.
Inside Agra Fort
Crossing a drawbridge that once covered the crocodile-infested moat, we entered Agra Fort. Next, we marched 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. In the courtyard, Shah Jahan met Mumtaz Mahal, who would be his wife. Their undying love is what gifted the world with the Taj Mahal.
The incredibly ornate designs of these arches are stunning
By late afternoon we left the Red Fort. After leaving the fort, we checked into our rooms, ate lunch and once again boarded our bus. Now we drove to the Taj Mahal. From the time I booked this trip, I was anticipating this moment the most.
Arriving at the Taj Mahal
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.
Tips for planning a visit to the Taj Mahal:
1. Come Empty Handed
You can only bring in minimal personal belongings: wallets/cash, medicines, mobile phones, cameras (no tripods or accessories), passports and that’s about all. If you bring additional items you will have to throw them out.
2. Visit at Sunrise
It’s empty then and a beautiful way to see the Taj. There are also great views at sunset, but it’s a bit more crowded. We did not get to experience this, but the full moon tours are popular. During the 5 days before every full moon, you can buy tickets for a night visit. Only a limited supply of tickets are released one day in advance.
3. Princess Diana’s Bench
In the center platform area of the ornamental garden, you’ll find a bench from a famous picture of the Taj Mahal. Princess Diana was photographed there in 1992 during an official state visit. You can recreate the iconic picture there, but be prepared to fend off others – it gets crowded.
4. 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.
5. Nothing is Free
Once inside the ground of the Taj Mahal, you may be approached by strangers. Anyone who offers to take a professional photo of you or offers you other unsolicited services is not doing it to be kind and welcoming. They are looking for compensation. You will avoid hassles if you stay with your guide or your group.
Tomorrow our group is off to Jaipur. Follow for more from the trip.
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