Hunting down the wonders of the world: The Taj Mahal
We really didn’t have a choice, going to India without seeing the Taj Mahal was out of the question. It is called the greates monument to love of all time and others have described it as “a tear on the face of eternity”. Truth was, it was just as riveting as all the photos you have seen. The Taj Mahal is one of those wonders that actually leave standing, jaw dropped. Go there, period!
We rented a taxidriver for a day which we in retrospect don’t really recommend. It’s nice to have someone who drives you around all the time, but since we paid 1000 Rs with the promise of no shops and a decent sightseeing of the city of Agra we can’t really say that we got what we paid for. In essence we did get to see the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort and the baby Taj Mahal (can’t remember it’s proper name…) but we also got dragged around to three different shops and surely earned our driver a decent commision with overprized bus tickets and hotel. Not that any of it was expensive compared to what we’re used to, but if you want to do something do it yourself. Otherwise you will just help feed the thousands of drivers who participate in taking customers to businesses they are affiliated with in order to push their sales. We know that the shopping mentality in Asia is very different from the one in Europe but I’ll rather struggle a bit on my own than to constantly cash out money to middlemen that do nothing else but scavenge off the lonely tourist that arrives without a clue what to do. So if you go to Agra to see the Taj Mahal use the rickshaws for transport purposes only, go to the government bus stand to catch a bus, and find a hotel yourself. This will in the long run save you a lot of money in India since you don’t have to dish out all your money to touts and hawkers.
Alright.. got that out of my system.. We did end up staying in a hotel that was decent enough since we got the one room with a view to Taj Mahal from bed. They had even made the effort of installing a window in the bathroom so that you could sit on the toilet and still see the Taj Mahal! This did also mean that you had to endure all the people at the rooftop restaurant staring at you while you were doing your thang…, but if there’s one thing we have learned in India it’s that indians don’t mind it at all to go the the toilet in public. They will literally go anywhere they please, so for them a toilet in full view was probably an excellent idea.
Our guide told us that the Taj Mahal opened at 6 am, and since I wanted to get the best possible pictures of the Taj at sunrise we decided to get up in good time. It turned out that it didn’t open untill 7 am and if you didn’t already know it, north indian mornings are damn cold! It got even worse when a huge buss filled with fat french tourists got ahead of us in line since they had prebought their tickets, most likely through bribery or black magic.. The point was that I ended up as number three hundred passing the gates while we initially were the first one at the gates. The photographer in me was close to having an tantrum, but I quickly calmed dawn when we got inside and could behold the human wonder ourself. It was magnificent. A work of such delicate art as I have never seen before.
If you take a look at my flickr page later you can definently tell that we took a whole bunch of photos of the Taj. Check out the best of albums for a shorter view as browsing through my entire catalogue of Taj Mahal pictures might take a while…
The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to memorate his wife who died in childbirth. There’s a rumour that he wanted to build a mirror image of the Taj Mahal in black on the other side of the river running through the city, connected to each other by a bridge. We had seen the Taj Mahal the day before from the other side of the river where the view was free, and the sunset was amazing as the last rays of sunshine made the white marble of the Taj light up changing from light red to crimson.
As the only reason that we went to Agra was because of the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort took us a bit by surprise. It`s a huge fortress made out of red desert rock that housed the court of the Mughals for as long as Agra was the capitol of the Hindustani empire. We had a guide who explained to us the use of the many different temples, shrines and households that the court of the Mughals used in their everyday life. The Mughal emperor had among other things many wives. The one who built most of the fort had a muslim, christian and a hindu wife all at the same time. This guy must have had a godlike ability to keep his house in peace!
We went through the concubines quarters were he kept up to 1400 women in his harem protected by enuchs. We also went passed the fishpond where the daughters of the Mughal emperor hunted fish with bow and arrow. Among many interesting parts of the fort was the prison where Shah Jahan was kept after his son imprisoned him and took the throne. The prison was a lavish part of the fort in white marble with an amazing view. As he still had access to the harem and all his wives this can barely be called a prison.. more a palace without the possibility to leave. All in all the Agra Fort was an interesting look into a past that most europeans know little about. The Mughal empire that ruled untill the british took over left an impressive heritage in fields like poetry, art and mathematics.
After finishing off with a few more shops we were eager to get out of Agra and to our next destination, Rajasthan!