Leaving the green lush rural village life behind us, our train sped through fields with buffaloes grazing, to a red and rocky outcrop with jagged edges pointing up to the sky, cutting the horizon as if imitating the Grand Canyon. Agra being in Uttar Pradesh, means it is a completely different state to where Khajuraho is- where we had just come from, a new landscape and way of life was here.
Many tourists come to Agra for a day trip from Dehli, seeing the main sights in one day. Although we stayed in Agra, we still managed to see all what we wanted to see in a day. Waking up early to see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal, we left our hotel bleary eyed and with aching tired limbs. Entering through west gate meant we queued with many tour groups, so if you can, make sure you queue and enter through the south entrance. Also, be wary of the strange prohibited items that are not allowed into the Taj Mahal; camera equipment like microphones, books, torches and sweets to name a few, (which meant we had to leave the queue to put our restricted items into a locker and re queue again much to our own frustration).
Finally, passing through the main gate and rubbing shoulders with tourists from all over the world, we stopped in our tracks and marvelled at the wondrous sight of the Taj Mahal. Nothing can prepare you for this breathtaking sight, pictures do not do it justice. The pristine gardens surround this magnificent marble structure, with its various fountains and benches. Staring up at the Taj Mahal, it dominates your view, breaking through the misty morning air, ridding your thoughts of anything else. How can you think of anything else when you are in complete awe at one of the seven wonders of the world? 4 towers corner and hug the Taj Mahal, domes of various sizes are shaped into the main building as if balls of snow, or scoops of coconut ice cream. Intricate floral designs and calligraphy are etched into each wall, allowing the millions of tourists whom visit to not only appreciate it as a whole, but each section individually.
After what seemed to be hundreds of the necessary pictures with the Taj Mahal, in front of a french tour group- we found a great photo spot and the guide knew it too- we decided their “oohs” and “aahs” to our various poses meant that we had taken enough photos, and felt like we were attracting more attention than the Taj itself, we wandered inside. Here you catch glimpses of the tombs of the King and Queen, as well as guides flashing beams of lights with the prohibited item of a torch, seeing the semi translucent stones flash in the darkness, as if traffic lights at a zebra crossing. If you are not a fan of guide books, or cannot afford a guide, check out the Taj Mahal museum, which details alot of information on the process of creation.
Wanting to see both sunrise and sunset with the Taj Mahal, we planned to view sunset at a rooftop restaurant avoiding the pain of paying for entry twice. Although, if doing this, make sure you leave enough time to get to a restaurant in south gate that has a rooftop, (many don’t) and it being India, you might be delayed in reaching the view as we were. This meant we only saw the pink tinge of the night sky against the Taj Mahal, although eating dinner with such an amazing view was perfect. Stay a little longer and the various rooftops around you will fill up with locals also watching the sun set, chatting amongst friends and family, fairy lights come on at various restaurants and the flash of tourist cameras at the Taj can be seen from afar. Sunrise is a much quieter time to see the Taj, so keep this in mind when planning your visit.
From the Taj Mahal it is a short walk to the other main attraction in Agra, Agra Fort. Here red sandstone with Islamic architecture shares secrets from civilisations and the Mughal empire years ago. Walking further inside, you pass gardens, beautiful cut away doors and marble pillars reminiscent of architecture in Marrakesh. Make sure you glimpse from the balconies the view of the Taj Mahal from across the bank, surrounded by a river and traffic, as if trying to normalise this sight, but still creating it to be odd and unique on the horizon, sticking out like a sore thumb.
In the evening, we went to Kinari Bazaar, where little tourists are, and where you can see locals haggle for saris, spices, jewellery and house hold goods. Don’t wander away from any street lights and be careful of your belongings here, as I was groped in a crowd. Although my attacker did not realise who he was messing with as after my many slaps and screeches, he immediately began to run in the opposite direction…
We only decided to see these main sights, although there are other tombs and a “mini” Taj which are recommended to see, if you have more time. We stayed in Hotel Safari, which is cheap accommodation and has a lovely hotel owner- a genuine kind Indian, however it is in the area where may other expensive hotels are with scarce restaurants. Many backpackers stay near south gate as there are an abundance of restaurants there, budget accommodation (although not as cheap as ours) and the location is advantageous. We ate at Pizza Hut when we arrived on our first night, enticed by the staff dancing to music in specialist routines. However, the hidden taxes, service charge and VAT, meant that the meal was much more expensive than we initially thought, so be wary of this. After 5 weeks in India, eating meat in the dodgiest places, I became ill from a multi million international chain- my karma of eating there- so like I have said before, you can be ill from anywhere!