Monday, March 26, 2012

Admired by all, visited by many- The amazing Taj Mahal
I was in Mathura for Holi celebration few days ago. It was so close to Agra that I thought of dropping by at an impulse but I didn’t. The opportunity came again, earlier than I thought. I made as very little plans as I could (or no plans) trying to travel like Andrew Evans from the National Geographic Digital Nomad. So I decided to take the road at the first light. I didn’t book any tickets. I went to Sarai Kale Khan ISBT and sat on a bus to Agra. With my headphones plucked in I was as ready as any avid adventurer. There’s a whole lot of difference between being a tourist and a traveler. I chose to be the latter. The only thing I readied myself for this journey was to be hungry enough to get a taste of real India. 

I’m beginning to like the roadside Dhabas and the great plains of India which had looked so monotonous to me at first. Back then, all I saw was endless plains plodded with huts and buildings in between. Now the endless plains looked much more vibrant. I’ve found a new eye and a new sense of observing and not coming to any conclusion or judgment. I just let myself be free on the road and to the realms of plains my eyes can see. 

Agra is the most visited city in India. People traveled from the ends of the world to see Taj Mahal, once in their lifetime. It’s possible to make a return trip to Agra from Delhi but you’ll miss out on lots of things. On my return I sat next to a guy from Hongkong. The only place he visited was Taj Mahal. He was ill informed but he could have done some research. When I showed him photos of places I had visited I could see regret in his eyes. It’s best to stay a night and make the most of your visit by covering all the places you wished to visit.

DAY 1-
A government owned AC bus cost only RS.343 and is as good as any bus. I love long rides because it gives you enough time to travel inward to yourself as well. 
A journey well begun, with the first light of dawn. It's fun to watch the sun gaining strength and the scene changing around it.
The landmark is no doubt repetitive: Dhabas-fields-houses-dhabas-fields... If you get bored you can browse your phone. It's fun to track your journey on a GPRS-Google map. The idea of getting lost (without external forces) seems quite impossible these days. Around 10 am we stopped at a Dhaba and had Parantha and tea for breakfast.
This is the first recognizable face of Agra and the resting place of the great Mughal King Akbar. For a great king, the place is too shy; hidden from the streets by trees. Situated 10km from Agra City, this place is on the left side of the road from Delhi side. I took out a camera and took a shot as fast as I could. It would be difficult to take out another day for a separate trip. So make the most of it.
We reached Agra around 12pm noon. Owing to great no. of tourist, the city's traffic is not too smooth. It's the same with Hotels. One thing you should do in advance is book your Hotel. The city has some of the busiest Hotels in the World. I checked into Crystal Inn which in fact is not far from Taj Mahal or the place where where Taj Mahotsav festival is held. Then after wash up and some snacks and tea at the hotel room I took an auto to the Taj Mahal. 
Taj Mahal is almost 1 km away from the outer gate but there are lots of transport facilities for this. The idea of riding on camel or Tonga is more adventurous than riding rickshaws and taxis. Thousands of people depend on Taj Mahal for their livelihood. The industry amazed me!
The tormenting heat is already here in Agra. Summer sets earlier in Agra than Delhi. This summer hats are a good option to block the sun. Don't worry too much about the price. If they say Rs.200, it means Rs.50.
Taj Mahal is such a widely reproduced monument in terms of Photographs, sculptures and paintings. So the photography trick is to explore new angles not too common. Taj Mahal is the highest earning heritage monument in India. 
I was a bit disappointed with the view I got from the other side of Yamuna river. I wanted to get reflection of Taj Mahal in the river but the river was dried out. The sky was hazy and not clear as I wanted it to be. With no moon this was the best I could get.
I wanted to get  a shot of Agra Fort by night so I stopped here before heading for the Taj Mahotsav festival.
The Taj Mahotsav festival is a 10 days long festival held each year organized by UP Tourism. It is a platform where one can showcase India's rich arts, crafts, cultures, cuisine and dance and music. The festival is colorful and jovial. There is an entry ticket of Rs.30 for Indians but the entry is free for foreigners. 
I began the day at Agra Fort. Seen here is a bird's eye view of Taj Mahal from the terrace of Agra Fort through the haze of dust.
Grand interior of Muthamman Burj Inside Agra Fort, where Shah Jahan was kept House arrest for his last 8 years by his own son Aurangzeb. It was built by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaj. It has a beautiful courtyard facing the Taj Mahal. After his death Shah Jahan's body was taken in a boat and buried at Taj Mahal along with his wife.
Tomb of Etimad-Ud-Doulah at Agra is also known as Baby Taj because of its resemblance to Taj Mahal. Like Taj Mahal it also has  two other monuments built in red sand stone on each side and is situated on the banks of Yamuna river. The paintings on the wall and ceilings are remarkable and exhibit greatest artistry. Some of the paintings inside inner tomb still have the original gold plating. 
My last stop was the Mehtab Bagh which is just opposite to the Taj Mahal on the other side of Yamuna river. Its width is identical to that of the rest of the Taj but the remaining structure of the park is quite ruinous beset by many floods. Legend has it that Shah Jahan planned to build a black Taj for himself here. But many historians and critics dismissed this as nothing more than myths. 
It was already 3pm by the time I got back from Mehtab Bagh. It much cheaper if you jump into some bus on your own. But if you don't have too much choice and you are in a hurry you've got to pay at least Rs. 400 to booking agencies for a ticket. The ride home was pleasant. It got cooler as we neared Delhi. And by 9:30 pm I was back in Delhi a lot richer in memories and knowledge. To say the least Taj Mahal inspires you.

Agra has very few days of pleasant weather left. Make the most of it before summer's spoils the show.
Where to Stay: For best Hotel and booking offers please visit 


  1. very well articulated...quite interesting travel blog... Taj Mahal and other monuments are superb...

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