India – Places part 3. Agra & Taj Mahal
I remember that when I was a child I had a pinboard in my bedroom. It was just a cork pinboard but it was used to hold photos of extraordinary places which I wanted to visit. I need to say that a photo of Taj Mahal was one of the permanent elements of this ever changing collage. You can easily guess that my Indian adventure would not have been complete without seeing Taj Mahal!
Taj Mahal is located in the city of Agra about 200 kilometers from New Delhi. Most of my friends from India recommended that I should go there for at least 2 days because it is quite far away and going there by car or by train may be exhausting and time consuming leaving little time left for sightseeing. Luckily, we discovered a very quick train called Gatimaan Express which only takes 1,5 hours to get there from the Nizamuddin train station in Delhi. We decided to set off for Agra early morning and it was undoubtedly the right decision. We arrived at the station before traffic picked, the train was very comfy and we were served a nice breakfast, some snacks as well as drinks during our ride.
As soon as we got off the air conditioned train we were hit by overwhelming heat and it did not get cooler, even for a second, for the rest of the day! It was 43 degrees Celsius (in the shadow), very hot and humid and the little breeze that occasionally blew into our faces was literally burning our eyes. On top of this, though not surprisingly, it was also very crowded – with people, stray dogs and annoying flies. It definitely wasn’t the best day for a “city break” but we did not have any choice – it was our only shot at seeing my Taj Mahal.
Quite unusually we did not have any proper plans or sightseeing schedule prepared, and also we had not booked any guided tour. Actually, we had been considering an organised trip but since we love sightseeing on our own we decided to get to Taj Mahal by a taxi. Believe it or not but it was not easy to get a cab. As soon as we got off the train we were approached by swarms of drivers, tourist guides and various salesmen who wanted to offer us everything and nothing. Next we were caught by poor children, women and homeless people begging. In both cases you need to be very strong because if not you only empower this “business”. However, it is not easy, at least for me to stay oblivious and not to burst into tears. I know it well, well … because I failed…
Let’s go back to our trip, the taxi booking booth was extremely crowded so we decided to trust a taxi driver with an English speaking tourist guide – Javed who took us to their car. They explained the pricelist and we booked them for the whole day (including the guide) for an equivalent of 15 Euro. You thought it would go that smoothly? Scary story – we were all about to leave the car park of the station when two armed security guards jumped into our taxi and requested to pull over. We did not understand much because they did not speak English and we were really terrified. It turned out that our taxi driver forgot (deliberately or not) to stamp his car park ticket! Do you remember my post where I mentioned that owning a stamp is very powerful in India ? 🙂
Our guide Javed was exceptional! I think it was one of the best tour guides I have ever met. He took us to all the amazing places in Agra, told us really interesting stories and explained a little bit of history of the area. He shared an intriguing love story related to Taj Mahal with us. It is widely known that Taj Mahal is a mausoleum from XVII century built by an emperor Shah Jahan for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal after her death. He had more wives but this one was his favorite and they had 14 children. Sadly, she died while giving birth to her fourteenth child.
From the historic and design point of view Taj Mahal is really fascinating and marvelous.
You can read more about this place in each travel guide and on the Internet. I am not going to write much about this, just see these photos – they speak for themselves.
If you are in Agra one day you definitely need to see it. And I also encourage you to look for Javed if you are going to hire a travel guide!
I do not want to reveal all stories Javed told us but I will share one with you:) They are saying that the king Shah Jahan was a very merciful and tolerant ruler and each of his wives was of a different faith. Probably the king had hoped that when his wives (and their people) would be happy, his reign would be quiet and peaceful.
Happy wife = happy life! Paul knows this for some time now 🙂
I need to mention that Taj Mahal is not the only tourist attraction in Agra. During our day we were driven around to visit local businesses and w got chance to taste local food. Local shops with clothes, jewellery and households are also worth seeing. However, we were most fascinated by local techniques of manufacturing carved marble which Taj Mahal is famous for. We spent a lot of time in the shop admiring everything from small plates to family size dinner tables finished with precious stone with insane amount of detail.
It is not the end of our trip yet. The one place that impressed us the most – Red Fort in Agra is located not too far away from Taj Mahal. It is a enormous place with countless gates, palaces and gardens. Originally the brick fort was built in XI century but it was then destroyed and was being rebuilt for centuries. Different styles and influences mix together providing unforgettable experience. During the last renovation red sandstone was used and this is how we can admire it nowadays.
You will feel there as if you are in a fairy tail! And the view is breathtaking – directly at Taj Mahal!
So did you like it? 🙂