I arrived at Agra railway station 30 minutes late, after a long overnight journey, on the Marudhar Express from Varanassi. It was just beginning to get light as I ventured out of the station, past the masses of Rickshaw Wallahs that were after business. I spotted an overhead sign that told me that the Taj Mahal was 2.8 KM away, and I knew my hotel was located close to it, so I headed in that direction.
My backpack was heavy and I was still in sleep mode so after a short walk I decided to take a cycle rickshaw to the Taj Ganj, the urban area that lies in front of the Taj Mahal. The poor man had his early morning workout taking me and my heavy bags the 3 KM journey, and it was more than worth the Rps 50 fare.
I got dropped off at the street close to my hotel, and made my way to the entrance. I caught my first glimpse of the wall that surrounds the Taj Mahal, and I was already beginning to get excited! I arrived at the hotel at 07.30, but could not check in until 10.00, but I was able to leave my backpack there and go out to find somewhere to have breakfast. The area was terrible, rubbish was everywhere with dogs and monkeys scavenging for food.
I found a restaurant with a scruffy looking man in a stained vest at the door. I guess he was the owner/chef and he said he could make me a breakfast for Rps 50 . I should have tried somewhere else, but I was ravenous! The cafe was in a terrible state, it looked like it hadn't been cleaned for years, and last nights rubbish was all over the place. It would have been condemned by the Environmental Health brigade back home. The food came....boiled egg on toast and tea. It looked bad, and I decided not to chance it and left it.
On the banks of the river was a Hindu shrine, but then I turned around and caught my first proper glimpse of the Taj Mahal.....
I'm staying at the Hotel Sidharta, which is only a 2 minute walk from the West Gate of the Taj Mahal. (Rps1600 a night).
I checked in and showered (cold shower only) and had my breakfast in the garden of my hotel. Cleaner and a lot, lot more hygienic than my earlier attempt!
I then found a nearby cafe that had great views from its roof terrace, of the Taj Mahal over the rooftoops of Agra.
It was another great place to view the Taj Mahal, some 2 KM away.
The tour carried on to the Baby Taj, and then onto my final stop.......The gardens at Mehtab Bagh.
The gardens at Mehtab Bagh also lie on the banks of The River Yamuna and costs Rs100 for entry, and is open daily from sunrise to sunset. The views of the Taj Mahal opposite are breathtaking. I bought us a couple of drinks and Rajou and I walked around the gardens taking photos and chatting about our different cultures. He is a Muslim man married to a girl from Bangladesh, and he works long hours to bring in some Rupees to look after his family.
As the sun began to set some villagers from a nearby village crossed in front of us carrying various items on their heads. Their brightly coloured traditional clothing and the sunsetting onto the Taj Mahl was a sight I will never forget, and worth the entrance fee alone. It had been a fantastic day, seeing the Taj Mahal from outside and from different viewpoints, and highly recommended.
Rajou dropped me back at my hotel at 20.00. After the 7 hour tour I gave him an extra Rps 200 for his great company. He pointed out a good restaurant to go to (M.G. Royal Cafe), which I walked to after a quick cold shower to freshen up. I had a delicious Chicken Biryani and Naan, with a cold Kingfisher beer.
On my walk back out of the darkness I heard a voice shouting my name. It was Rajou! He was being taken home in another Rickshaw rider as he had spent the extra Rps200 I had given him on Indian Whiskey and was drunk! He got me to get in the auto Rickshaw and they dropped me off at my hotel, on his way home!
A tiring, long day, but definately worth it. The Taj Mahal was stunning from the different angles, and Rajou had been a star! I'm up early tomorrow for the main event. Entry into the Taj Mahal itself!
I woke up before my alarm went off at 05.50, had a shower and got ready for my full visit to the Taj Mahal. I left the hotel at 06.10 to get to the West gate ticket office (only 100 meters from my hotel) There were already a lot of people queuing. A guide approached me and said he could get a ticket quicker for me for Rps 200. I decided to pay the extra as I wanted to be one of the first into the grounds. The entrance fee is Rps750 for foreigners, and although expensive in Indian terms, its surely got to be worth it?
Sure enough, he got me my ticket and I took my place near to the front of the queue at the West Gate entrance.
I was one of the first ones in, as the doors opened, and after going through scanners and searches at security went through to see the Taj Mahal.
The Taj Mahal was constructed by over 20,000 skilled craftsmen from all over Asia. Construction started in 1632 and took over 20 years to complete, and was finally completed in 1653. The Taj Mahal overlooks the River Yamuna and was built as the ultimate monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan had the Taj built to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. She died giving birth to their fourteenth child. He was devestated by her death and wanted a monument built in her memory. Taj Mahal is simply a shortened version of Mumtaz Mahal's palace title.
History lesson over, simply put the Taj Mahal is every bit as beautiful as you can imagine, and quite possibly the most amazing site I have ever seen.
The sun was still waiting to rise, so there was a nice blue tinge to the Taj and some early morning mist.The grounds and gardens are immaculate and everything is in symmetry.
As the sun began to rise the sky glowed a beautiful orange, as it began to imerge from the East, behind the red sandstone Jawab. The Jawab is a replica of the Mosque that is to the West of the main Taj Mahal Mausoleum.
There are endless places to take pictures and view the Taj Mahal, each one offering a new beautiful angle and perspective. Its worth getting up early and being there for sunrise, and even better to be one of the first in to view the buiding without the masses of tourists that will pour in throughout the day.
Steps lead from the gardens to the main Mausoleum, which sits on a raised marble platform. The mausoleum is surrounded by four Minarets which are on each corner of the platform. The Taj grows bigger as you approach it, but then when you are right up close to it do you really appreciate its size.
The intricate detail on the walls of the tomb are stunning, made from precious stones. Arabic and verses from the Koran, praising the glory of paradise border the archways of the tomb, and everything looks beautiful.
As the crowds began to arrive it was funny watching the people do all weird and wonderful poses in front of the Taj. I got my pose in on the seat where Princess Diana sat, taken by an Indian guide for Rps20.
The Taj Mahal really deserves its status as one of the Severn wonders of the World. A truly beautiful buiding. I spent 3 hours walking around the grounds and taking pictures and taking it all in.
The main visit combined with the views from the outside which I saw yesterday are a must for anyone visiting Rajasthan. It has been a place that I will never forget, and will return one day.
All pictures are the copyright of William Hart
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Hong Kong here
Baltic States here
Euro Rail here
North India here
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