Agra? Where the heck’s that? Never heard of it. Huh. Yes you have. Agra is where Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a memorial for his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. We’ve seen pictures of it all our lives; not a single one prepares you for the astounding beauty of the building and its gardens.
Tom and I hadn’t been to Agra before. Greer always says “You see everything before we do. Wait on something so we can see it together.” This time, we waited for Greer and Michael to visit so we could be astonished at the same time. They arrived in Bangalore just after Christmas. Here they are at brunch in our garden: The Christmas wine glasses look silly don’t they? I assure you, this is really Christmas!
Many tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower or the Golden Gate bridge are conveniently located in a big city. Just have a look, find a restaurant, order a drink, and gaze at the site while you eat. That doesn’t happen at the Taj! First, you have to take the plane from Bangalore to New Delhi. Of course, you can’t go to Delhi without shopping at the Janpath Market. Here’s Rug Street where Greer and Michael bought a couple wall hangings.
There are piles of beautiful rugs, hangings, bed covers, perfume, sarees, jewelry, toys, plastic buckets, purses, shoes, and strings of things you don’t know what they are at the Janpath Market. Eventually, you get hungry and set off to find some dinner. Tom and I have a favorite restaurant in Delhi that isn’t far from the Market IF the city isn’t building train lines or a car park or drains. They were, and we couldn’t find the easy path to The Park. Tom got turned around (and around and around) and led us across this street THREE TIMES. I thought we were going to die. The city planners (HAH) in Delhi don’t believe in pedestrian crossings. Even if they did, the drivers don’t, so there you are, playing dodg’em with a bus. See the railings in the left corner? These things line the streets. To cross, you have to crawl under them and jump blithely into the onslaught of cars, trucks, busses, rickshaws, and two-wheelers rushing at you. There isn’t another way across. Hordes of other terrified pedestrians flit fearfully forth next to you.
The next day (January 2), we boarded the lovely Bhopal Shatabdi Express train for Agra. The train leaves at 6:15 AM (! I really got up that early!). You arrive two hours later ready for sight seeing in Agra. All the other trains take hours and hours. They stop at every village and water hole.
After a bit of travel, a young boy of 16 or so trundles by with the snack trolley. Don’t get excited, he doesn’t have coffee.
Finally, finally we’re there at the entrance to the Taj. To keep the Taj white and free from pollution, cars and busses aren’t allowed close to the site; here are your conveyance choices.
There are also electric cars, but we chose the more romantic horse and buggy.
We’re here at the outer gate, Tom buys the tickets; 20 rupees for Indians, 250 for foreigners.
Mona, Michael, and Greer in front of the South gate.
Tom and I in “Still can’t believe we’re here”mode.
Everyone who visits has to wear little white booties. The floors are white, white, white marble. The whole thing is bright white with exquisite floral or geometric inlay.
Here I am next to an inlaid wall. The inlay is semi-precious and precious stones. You can also see the bas relief floral design in the marble. Just in case you’re wondering why I’m wearing a Hajib, it is really cold and I’m freezing. I just wrapped my dupatta over my head in the Muslim style to keep warm.
I bet you never give a thought to grounds keepers at heritage sites. I sure didn’t, except when the mowing was too loud. The Taj has extensive grounds and gardens all maintained by men like these and their trusty and loyal lawn mowers.
We spent quite a while talking with them, as much as you can when people don’t speak the same language. One fellow encouraged us to pat the bullocks “Soft Madam”. So, we patted them. They were kitten soft.
We have gigabytes worth of photos of the Taj, to see the slide show, click the Taj Mahal page.