Ahhhhh….the Taj Majal, one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Today we will start our day admiring the architecture and romanticism of this classic Islamic architecture. Our tuk-tuk driver picked us up after breakfast from our hotel and took us to one of the gates of the infamous Taj Mahal. There were many people around the gates going to/from the Taj and vendors selling to tourists. We saw some kids playing cricket in an open field of mud…there was no grass and garbage was piled around. The kids however, were smiling…laughing and having a great time, they even posed for us as we snapped a picture.
Past all the camels, vendors and random monkeys breast-feeding on the side of the road…we finally arrived at the gate. We had to enter through two different lines, one for men and one for women…a reminder that this is definitely an Islamic setting. There were barely any people in line so we got through the gate fast and then found ourselves in a big open courtyard. There was a big main entrance leading to the Taj Mahal as well as gardens and a few other buildings within the walled complex.
We walked straight over to the great gate entrance, anxious to see the main event. There it was, the over-sized gorgeous mausoleum made of 100% white marble and embellished with intricate Islamic details. Everything seemed very symmetrical and perfectly groomed. We took several pictures and stood staring at the building before we walked by the many people down the long raised walkway through the garden and up the ramp. Halfway between the entrance and the mausoleum was a raised marble water tank which has symbolism in reference to Muhammad and allows for the reflection of the building. We of course had to take off our shoes prior to stepping foot on the lifted platform where the tomb was sitting. Note to self, bring those little footsie things to slip over shoes when touring Asia instead of walking around barefoot!
Under the rule of Islamic Emperor Shah Jahan, the Taj Mahal was completed in 1648 C.E.. He had it built-in honor of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal…as the story goes, it was her last request to have the most beautiful mausoleum built-in her honor. She died giving birth to their 14th child. Shah Jahan carried out her wishes and built the most beautiful example of Mughal architecture. It took 22 years to build and employed 20,000 workers! Once the Taj Mahal was finally completed, Emperor Shah Jahan had the hands of all the workers cut off so they could never create another monument like this one anywhere in the world.
Giff and I walked on the cold marble realizing how massive the building was and putting our hands on the walls to touch the intricate carvings and stone-inlays of both precious and semi-precious stones. Four Minarets (Islamic architectural feature…used for the call of prayer) were in each corner with the big dome holding the tombs of the emperor and his wife in the middle. Once inside, Giff and I weren’t overly impressed…it was just an empty building (besides the tombs) and we walked through pretty quickly. We walked out to the other side seeing it was built right along the river where we saw a guard with his machine gun walking back and forth protecting the grounds. We stayed for a while enjoying the complex and taking many pictures before leaving to find our tuk-tuk driver.
Our driver took us to a place we had read about for lunch…he told us he knew of a better option, but knowing the drivers get commission on what their customers buy, we didn’t trust him so stuck with a place we knew about. The restaurant was called Taj Mahal and once we walked in…realized it wasn’t going to be as nice as the place we went to yesterday. The had a lunch buffet which we didn’t partake in, instead ordered from the menu directly. We ordered the dal makhani of course since we order it everywhere we go…it is so freakin’ good, as well as plenty of naan and another vegetarian dip.
After lunch the tuk-tuk drove us through the crazy, chaotic, scary traffic to what they call the Baby Taj or jewel box. It looked like a smaller version of the Taj Mahal. We bought tickets and walked through the main gate to see the all white marble mausoleum with the stone inlaid in designs of trees, fruit, wine bottles and flower bouquets. It had a familiar layout but on a smaller scale, the gardens surrounded the main building which was on a raised platform in the middle. The main dome holding the tombs had a minaret in each corner…again the inside was empty but we walked through admiring all the detailed work.
Back on the tuk-tuk, we drove over to the Mehtab Bagh, a charbagh which is a Persian-style garden layout. It was divided into four parts and separated by walkways or flowing water…again very symmetrical in style. It is located on the Yamuna River across from the Taj Mahal which gives great viewing points of the massive complex from the tranquil gardens. Although there weren’t a ton of flower beds, the greenery of the grass and trees was a nice change of pace from the busy streets of India. The garden is the same width of the Taj complex but on the opposite side of the river. We spent some time leisurely walking through the garden and then found our tuk-tuk driver to get us back to our hotel.
Today was an action packed day because we leave Agra tonight on a late train to Jaipur. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, packed up our things and sat in the lobby to work on the computer for a bit before we needed to leave for the “red-eye” train. Finally when it was time to leave, we asked the front desk for a ride and they said due to the extreme foggy weather…the train would most-likely be delayed. This was fog season and it was hard to see 10 feet in front of you outside. They looked up the train for us and it was in fact very delayed. The train station web-site kept delaying the train longer and longer and we debated just getting another room for the night, but wanted to be at our next destination by tomorrow. After hours of waiting around, the hotel dropped us off at the station at about 1AM, not exactly the time of night to be hanging around.
We walked inside and saw the place was packed with people bundled up and sleeping on the floor. We found the “waiting” room which was a little bit warmer than the rest of the train station but we still bundled up even wearing our winter hats. There were a couple of seats open, so we got our bags inside and sat down next to some other tourists who spoke English. We were chatting about our travels in India when out of the corner of our eye we saw rats running around. As we looked closer, there were tons of them crawling under our seats, on the floor and up the walls…OMG!!! The guy next to us saw the expression on our face and immediately said, “it is best if you just don’t look.” Could this train experience get any worse? Five hours delayed, rats running around, no heat and super late at night…this will be our last train ride in India!
Finally the train came around 2:30AM and we all jumped on the train. The backpackers we had been chatting with explained to us to never get the class of train tickets that we purchased…great, now we find out. We found what we thought were our seats got our things loaded on the train and laid down on our “beds” which actually had sheets (were they washed…proabably not). We were definitely not comfortable sleeping with our things so they wouldn’t be stolen (you should always carry a lock with you when going on trains here). Only about 45 minutes into the ride, the train worker came over to us…looked at our tickets and told us we were in the wrong seats. We paid him the difference to stay where we were and managed to doze off just a bit before arriving in Jaipur.