Agra, India

One of my dreams has always been to see the Taj Mahal, which is located in Agra, India, about 200KM from Delhi. After checking and finding that the trains were all full, I found a tour operator who would take me by car. At 6:30 this morning, the car showed up - I shared my tour with a nice man named Henry from San Francisco - and this was our trusty steed for the next 14 hours:

On the one hand, the road trip took substantially longer than the train would have - it took 4:30 by road, and the train would have taken around 2:00. On the other hand, we got to see lots of things on the road that we would have missed on the train. Like, decorated autorickshaws:

And a variety of domesticated animals pulling things. Cows pulling carts:

Camels pulling carts:

We saw water buffalo pulling carts too but I did not get a good picture. Fairly frequently, you would see roadside shrines such as this:

After this journey, we arrived at our first destination - Agra Fort - the palace built for Moghul emperor Akbar in the 16th century. Here is the main entrance:

And here is the inner gate. Note the stone inlay work:

Akbar's Palace is very similar to yesterday's Red Fort palace:

...but the gardens are much better-preserved:

...and it has a lot more of the stone inlay left than Red Fort did:

This picture is from inside what is known as the "Chamber of the Winds" - so named because it has stone screening that the wind may enter in:

Also visible (dimly on a hazy day like we've been having) is the Taj Mahal:

We wrapped up at Agra Fort, and made our way to the Taj Mahal. On the way, we were given the "opportunity" to see stone inlay artisans at work:

I put "opportunity" in quotes, because this seems to be a very common theme in Indian travel operations - some sort of cooperative arrangement between the tour group operator and the artisan / store - we were given a fairly hard sell on marble inlay, which I (mostly, ahem) resisted.

Free of the shopkeeper's embrace, we made for the Taj Mahal. Picture really do not do it justice. Unlike other monuments, which usually seem smaller in real life, the Taj Mahal seems bigger in real life. Here is our first good view of the Taj:

And here is me with the Taj, snapped by our friendly tour guide:

In addition to the main mausoleum, there are a variety of well-decorated outbuildings. This is the main entrance:

Here's a shot of one of the Taj minarets, maybe to give you a sense of the scale of the thing (enormous):

Before going up on the marble platform where the main mausoleum is, they make you either remove your shoes or slip on booties - I chose the booties - very stylish:

Finally, after waiting through a moderately long line, we got there. As part of the multisensory experience, I had to simultaneously touch it while snapping a picture:

Pretty picture of the top spire of the Taj Mahal (on the left) along with one of the lesser spires:

On either side of the main masoleum are two smaller buildings in red sandstone. The west one was made into a mosque, but the east one remained a "guest dwelling area":

Even the lesser buildings are exquisitely decorated inside and out - here is inside one of the smaller domes:

The Yamuna River runs right behind the Taj Mahal:

A variety of bathers, washers, birds, and water buffalo were down there. The water buffalo was most photogenic:

While looking down there, I saw some intrepid groundskeepers mowing the lawn - with an ox-drawn mower!

The Taj Mahal, framed by some shrubberies:

You cannot drive up to the Taj Mahal. On our way there, we took normal bike rickshaws. On our way back, we took a horse-drawn rickshaw:

And so, pretty much exhausted, we grabbed some lunch and headed home. On the way, we saw an inner-city mob of monkeys:

...and stopped about 3/4 of the way back to Delhi for a bottle of water:

I am pretty much exhausted at this point. Lessons learned:
  1. Take the train if at all possible
  2. Even better, stay overnight in Agra and catch the Taj Majal at sunrise before so many people show up
  3. Don't be pressured into buying anything from a store the tour guide takes you to
  4. Despite that "tradition" it is still worth it to get a guide - they know all the shortcuts and can help you see things that you would otherwise miss. But get a personal guide rather than a huge group tour.
  5. Enjoy yourself, wherever you are and however you get there


Kulianne said…
dad thats great its seems really fun and its funny because we were studying India in world geo when you left for India have fun luv u !!!
Ross Cunniff said…
Thanks, KatC! I hope you're doing well - I miss you!

Love, Dad

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