Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal

See previous and next. Date: Tuesday 20th December 2005 Place: Agra

We had a bit of a late start, I was feeling better but Monica was not. We didn't set out until early afternoon, but we got to see the Taj Mahal, and it is truly one of the wonders of the world.

Gateway to the Taj MahalThe gateway alone is worth seeing in it's own right, but it pails next to the Taj.

One parks some distance from the Taj Mahal and there is an electrical bus to take tourists the final stretch. This is an anti pollution measure, of course, there are lots of people offering to act as guides. Our guide was pretty good, but in hindsight we should have said goodbye at the Taj, as this would have freed us to explore alone, and still allowed him to look for the next punters - we didn't need him to take us back.

The Taj Mahal was built as a memorial for the favourite Maharani of the Maharaja of Agra, a monument to his love. The building is perfectly symmetrical, with a mosque on one side, and, to keep the balance, a whole seperate building on the other. This building can't be used as a mosque as it's facing the wrong way.

The Taj MahalThe Taj Mahal is finished in white marble, and at the top is a massive single stone lotus flower. To get it up there they made an earth ramp some 2km long, and hauled it up there with elephants. This represents a phenomenal amount of manpower.

On the far bank of the river we could see the foundations for what would have been the black Taj, this would have made a fourfold symmetry - the black Taj would have been the tomb for the Maharaja himself. It would have been black as he wanted to be in her shadow. Unfortunately, his son had seized power and the political situation was such that the Maharaja spent his dying days in Agra Fort, within site of his love at the Taj Mahal.

If you plan to visit the Taj Mahal, it should be noted that foreigners pay more than locals. Personally I have no problem with this given the differences in the average wage. Also, you will need to travel light. You are only allowed to take in a limited number of items. We took a camera and water.

Diwan-i-Am at Agra FortTakht-i-Jahangir (Throne of Jahangir) at Agra FortFrom the Taj Mahal we went over to Agra Fort, this is a huge complex and only part of it is accessible to the public. There's a huge throne there, and one can see the rooms where the old Maharaja spent his last days.

At the fort there was a rope which went to street level, if any of the commoners wished they could seek an audience with the Maharaja by pulling on the rope which rang a bell to alert him. Somehow I can't imagine that working today!

Oddly, moving around the fort there were several people who asked if they could have their photos taken with Monica - this was just weird.

Monica was pretty beat by the time we got back to the hotel, we ended up watching Star TV, a submarine film called 'Below', and 'True Lies'. I made Monica eat something and she opted for the 'blandest thing on the menu', fish and chips.

It was a little worrying that she wasn't too well - we had a long train journey to face the next day. We would be off to Kolkata (Calcutta)


See previous and next. Date: 19th December 2005 Starting in Jaipur, ending to Agra

Horn PleaseSnake BirdOur next journey in India was the road from Jaipur to Agra, we went to a wetland known as the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. This area was created during the British Raj era, and is a large wetland. There are understandable pressures upon it from local farmers - it represents a large store of water. However, it does bring in tourism. Keoladeo is near a town called Bharatpur.

The area was made as a hunting reserve, and though there are no longer any tiger, there are jackals and bison. In the park there is a big sign detailing the hunting expeditions. The guides can vary in quality, but our guide really knew his stuff, and took real pleasure in the wildlife.

This is my favourite Chipmunk ShotIn the park is a small tearoom serving the ubiquitous masala tea, and the wildlife there was pretty bold, looking for any small crumb dropped by the food. Our guide took us from here to a place he knew there'd likely be a boa constrictor. We found the snake, and it was a pretty impressive animal, but unfortunately for the animal it had been injured, there was a puncture wound and it had started to be attacked by ants. According to our guide when this happens the ants get into the wound and start to eat the snake - not a good way to go.

From Keoladeo it was into Agra. Both Delhi and Jaipur had much to recommend them, but I didn't take a shine to Agra. If it didn't have the Taj Mahal I wouldn't have wanted to stay there for any time, I certainly wouldn't want to spend much longer there than we had to.

The pollution in Agra is quite ovewhelming, and I found it to be much more invasive than Delhi (and that's saying something!).

Dancing BearI took a dislike to Agra from the Uttar Pradesh border, at the border tour guides have to stop to present credentials (each state in India has its own regime of taxes and fees). When we were there a guy came up with his Dancing Bear. The car in front gave them some cash - I gave him a look that could kill, and he didn't even think of performing for us.

We arrived at the ManSingh Palace hotel in Agra. The hotel looked good, but they didn't impress. The check-in took forever, and we took our own bags to our room, getting within a few feet before a bell-hop appeared, sorry, but no thanks.

In the evening we felt a bit rough. For our first time in India we had a bit of diarrhea, a loss of appetite. It was a bit of a concern for the next day, we only had one day in Agra, and that was our one chance to see the Taj Mahal.