We woke up bleary-eyed because we had arrived in Agra late the night before and had set an alarm for 5:00am. Despite hoping to find something different, everything we read said you need to visit the Taj *early*. And we agreed that since this building was such an important site to us both, we should help things go smoothly by avoiding crowds as much as possible. As it was, it was Saturday.
I showered so I would stay cool since the high temperature for the day was 100 degrees! We headed downstairs and told the guy at the front desk that we needed an auto rickshaw. After waiting at least 15 minutes, we got impatient and he told us to walk down to the main road and find one. Duh. We walked down to the main road and pretty soon Elliott got someone to agree to the 50 rupee price Ahmed, the hotel owner, had told us to pay. He took us to the Taj West Gate and told us we had walk from there. We later found that this was because only non-gas powered vehicles are allowed within a certain radius of India’s ancient sites.
As we were walking Elliott spotted some monkeys and we got excited. We were getting ready to take pictures when we realized they had spotted *our* food, which I was carrying in a plastic grocery bag. Bad idea. The monkeys went after the bag and when I lifted it high into the air they jumped and lunged for the food. No matter how hard I tried to get the bag away from them, they managed to get it. They got two bananas, an orange, the emergency beefy stick I’ve been carrying around for Elliott for weeks since Turkey, and our bag of nuts! I got so mad when they got the bag of nuts that I chased after the one who had it and yelled at him. He ran but kept looking at me like he was scared so I kept chasing him and yelling at him to put it down, and he finally dropped it and ran off! Yay for small victories. BAD monkeys.
We went through security and were told we could not bring in any food or Carlos, our wooden frog! Apparently he is an idol and those are not allowed in. Sad, sad day for Carlos and us. Elliott took him to the storage area after we photographed him with the picture of the Taj on our admission tickets. He would have to sit this one out.
The Taj Mahal is actually a huge mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in 1632. As with most monuments of the time, there is a heavy Persian influence in the architecture, and it has a very Arabic feel. It took thousands of workers over 20 years to build, and the white marble construction was a departure from the traditional red sandstone. Unfortunately, the Yamuna River is receding by about five feet per year, and there is now some concern for the foundation of the Taj Mahal.
It was super cool and we got a huge kick out of finally being there. One of our seven wonders! Yay!! We were celebrities again as lots of people wanted to take photos with us. At some point the fountains came on but we realized it was better we had photos without them running, because when they are on, they prevent you from getting photos with a reflection of the Taj Mahal in the water.
We took our shoes off to go inside the Taj and view the tombs of the sultan and his wife, for whom he built the memorial. Some of the floral decorations are carved out of marble and others are created with inlaid precious and semi-precious stones, and the tombs are surrounded by a carved marble screen which adds to the sense that someone got the “royal” treatment in death. It turns out that these however are not where the actual bodies rest. Since Muslim traditions do not allow one to elaborately decorate graves, the real graves are in a plain crypt below the mausoleum. Overall, with four giant (and functional) minarets outside the four corners, The Taj Mahal really is an absolutely gorgeous building.
When we left the complex we exited through a different gate where we found ourselves walking through a street of shops. We walked back to the main entrance through the crazy streets and it was good we were following someone or we may have never found our way. We found a little restaurant in which to have lunch and realized how funny it sounded when we ordered and noticed the time was only 10:30am! Oops.
We were going to take it easy for the rest of the day but decided to try walking to the Agra Fort. It wasn’t so bad in the heat and we got there quickly so we decided to visit it, but as soon as we got inside we were both suddenly very tired. Still, we made the best of what I dubbed the “ever-expanding fort”. When we first went in it seemed really small, but one walled courtyard led to another and another and another, and each had some rooms in it, and suddenly the place seemed huge. It had some great views of the Taj Mahal, and a pretty mosque… and there was one cool room that was locked on the outside where it appeared the guards were taking bribes to let people in.
Back at our hotel, Elliott went off in search of an ATM, fruit and bread, and had a two-hour adventure through the not-so-nice parts of Agra. He told me about his adventures with crazy traffic and cows and broken ATMs and people relieving themselves on the street and more cows, but he did come back with all three things he was looking for. The next day he took me on the same walk so he could show I could relive all the excitement, and we took a few photos to show you.