And to Agra we go… Maddy and I took the train from Delhi to Agra, the city that was the Mughal capital for a decent amount of time back in the day. Oh, and is home to the Taj Mahal. No big deal. But what I didn’t know, was that the Taj Mahal is only one of the things to see in Agra. Agra is actually full of cool attractions and great places to eat! Who knew?
Things to do in Agra, other than the taj Mahal
We arrived mid-day, and found our hotel. Then, instead of going straight to the Taj, in the heat of the day and the heat of the tour group explosion, we checked out some of the other sights in Agra. Yes, there are other things to see in Agra.
The Baby Taj, Agra India
We hitched a tuk tuk driver to put-put us around for the afternoon to really hit the highlights. First up was a visit to the Baby Taj, which does have a real name (Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah), but it is generally just just known as the Baby Taj, so we’re going to stick with simplicity.
This lovely mausoleum was the tomb of a predecessor of Shah Jahan, the man behind the Taj. A draft of the Taj Mahal one could say.
The Baby Taj was built in 1628, a gorgeous monument to it’s creator. Then Shah Jahan came along and said, “Nah, I’m going to outdo you in this final resting place race, I see your Baby Taj and raise you a Massive Taj!” Ancient pissing contest of sorts. But I really liked the Baby Taj, as it was gorgeous, set right on the side of the river, and had a heck of a lot less tourists meandering around.
After the Baby Taj, we checked out the back end of the grown up Taj from across the river. A teaser.
The Agra Fort, Agra’s other tourist attraction
We then wandered around the bazaar, had a tour around a mosque, and visited the Agra Fort. The Agra Fort was built by Akbar, Shah Jahan’s grand-daddy, between 1565 and 1573. The Agra Fort is huge and was used both for both military and residences. Fun fact: The Agra Fort is where Shah Jahan’s own son usurped him and then imprisoned him for the last 8 years of his life.
Legend has it Shah Jahan died while looking out the window of his cell, gazing at his beloved Taj Mahal. I have a feeling that’s bogus.
We ended our day with some baked goods at a fancy coffee place named Café Coffee Day, and after a quick Wiki search learned there are 25,000 such locations, wowzers India Starbucks! I had a hot chocolate drink named “Indulgence”. Because I’m classy like that.
Visiting the Taj Mahal – A Wonder of the World
The next morning we woke up early to be at the Taj Mahal southern entrance for the 7am opening time. Supposedly to beat the tour groups and give perfect un-crowded views of the Taj.
Or else it would have been perfect views if there was not an apoplectic fog hanging over the entire town of Agra, including the Taj. Meaning you couldn’t see the Taj until you were about 20 feet in front of it. Crap. Ok, that’s ok, we can deal with this and not have a tantrum, yet.
Let’s talk history while the fog clears…
Construction of the Taj began in 1631, when Shah Jahan’s favorite, yes favorite, not only, but favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal died giving birth to her 14th child. Work was completed 12 years later in 1643, meaning poor Mumtaz was hanging out somewhere for 12 years. Shah Jahan was laid there in 1666 after he died gazing at it from the windows of the Agra Fort.
The Taj Mahal is made entirely of white marble mined from within Rajastan and would have cost somewhere in the environs for ‘trillions of dollars’ if it were built today. It’s part of a larger complex, with the 4 minarets, and two matching mosques on either side of it. It backs onto the Yamuna River, and can be entered from three entrances, the West, South and East. The gardens are sprawling and carefully shaped and tended to by an army of gardens.
The details, the very small, up close details are really what makes the Taj the amazing Wonder that it is.
Fun fact, there is not a drop of paint on the Taj Mahal, meaning all of the colour and the scripts are made of inlaid precious stones and gems. Perfectly carved and shaped into the flower and swirl designs they were meant for, these thousands of pounds of gems decorate the entire outside and inside of the Taj Mahal. The white marble is such a pure marble that it is actually translucent, so when you are inside the tomb sanctum area, which is pretty dark, you can shine a flashlight right onto the marble and the light refracts inside the stone and that section of the wall lights up from the inside.
The inner sanctum is where Mumtaz was laid, and then where Shah Jahan himself lays as well. The inner sanctum has the two tombs in the middle of a marble shade that circles them both, a shade that was carved out of one single piece of marble, carved with designs and intricate patterns that allow certain light in at certain times of day. Same with the screens that cover the windows and doors from the outside, it’s all about light in the Taj Mahal.
The marble shade, and the walls in the inner sanctum are intricately detailed with the best of the best precious gems and stones like jasper, tiger’s eye, onyx, quartz, mother of pearl, jade and all kinds of localized India stones. The flowers that are carved in the walls are sculpted to look so lifelike you can’t help but touch them to make sure they are not just flowers painted white.
Because we were on site so early to beat the tour groups, we had a lot of time and space to really check out these details. Then we went off to a corner of the complex to, hopefully, wait out the fog. I read, Maddy blogged, and we both quietly kept an eye on the mist, watching surrounding trees and buildings and taking mental notes of being able to see further and further. And finally, we thought we would try again, maybe the Taj had emerged from the fog.
Again, we walked through the gate, and then there it was, we had waited long enough and could see the Taj from the distance, all at once!
And it is all it’s cracked up to be.
It is gorgeous, and whether it is the testament to love that the romantics like to think it is, I don’t know (I have a sneaking suspicion it’s more of a monument to one man’s egotistical narcissism), but it is one heck of a building.
From the wide angle, it is framed perfectly between the two matching mosques on it’s sides, and the giant minarets give visual counterparts to the massive dome. Each side is exactly the same, and each half is precisely symmetrical and a mirrored image of itself.
So really, the Taj fully deserves to be one of the World Wonders (makes me a little mad that Christ the Redeemer is even in the same category, ugh!), and it was an amazing morning at the Taj. 5 hours worth of wonder.
Agra’s Top Tourist Attractions and Experiences
People in India, mainly men, tried to get photos of/with me, almost every day. As if I was famous, or was doing something remotely interesting besides having white’ish skin. I always blew it off, and if people tried to slyly get pictures, I would put my hand or scarf up. Because I’m a super big deal. And don’t want to be on a bunch of Indian Facebook profile pictures as the new girl friend.
The Taj entrance fee is 750 rupees for foreigners. It is 25 rupees for Indian Nationals. Hmm…. Not symmetrical on that front.
Because you get called to all the time on the street, especially in touristy places, “Come look in my shop”, “Hello, where you from” etc, I came to ignore any kind of call out. Normally this is great, but twice, in two days, I was being called to from people I actually knew, so came off looking like a deaf bitch. First, I was at the Agra Fort reading a plaque, and someone was standing right beside me continuously saying Hi. I started to get annoyed, when he waved his hand in front of me and it was a dude from the Delhi hostel. Who I had hung out with. The next day, walking through Agra, someone was calling out to me from a shop. Again, I ignored, and again, it was another dude from the Delhi hostel. Apparently neither of them remembered my legitimate name, so they ended up just sounding like touts “Hey, how’s it going? Hello? Umm, hi?…”
The one night we spent in Agra we watched the sun go down from a rooftop restaurant, overlooking the Taj Mahal, drinking a beer. If that’s not surreal, I don’t know what is!
I did not get sick in Agra, but there were monkeys roaming around, so that was gross. At least there were no tree rats in the Taj Mahal complex, maybe Mumtaz hated monkeys too.
We started to find out what “As you wish” means, which is something that Indian people say when they want you to pay for something, like access to a toilet, but they can’t actually charge you for it. Normally I take “As you wish” to mean do whatever you want and you use that dirty squatter! It is also used when asking directions though: “Is it this way or that way?” “As you wish”… “Not helpful”.