Finally in April this year, I got to visit the stunning white marble edifice that is the Taj Mahal.
Can you believe, I’d been to India four times in my twenties, and failed to get there? Unfortunately, I’d somehow had my plane ticket home swiped out of my bag – lucky it wasn’t my passport! Back then, there was no internet booking to confirm you were on a flight, and so, the day my friends went to Agra, I spent all day queuing in the Air India offices for a new ticket. Oh boy, was THAT ever fun! I think it got to 6 or 7 hours. Anyways….
Early in the morning we met our tour group (more on that later), and were driven to Delhi Station to get our train to Agra. There are quite a few trains each day, and you can easily do it as a day tour. However, we had accommodation in Agra so we could relax afterwards.
First we visited a fort, from where you could see the Taj at a distance…but it was all such a tease! We were all kicking to get to the real thing. And then…there we were. With this towering monument of a man’s love for his wife in front of us. Sometimes photo-taking gets in the way of truly experiencing a moment, and so, I just stood for a few moments taking it all in.
I have to admit, despite its beauty, it did not elicit awe in me as Angkor Wat in Siem Reap had. I did not feel a hush of spiritual awakening, or whatever other wafty stuff you hear from some people. But it is still VERY impressive, and very beautiful.
And then it was time to head into the fray. Join the other tourists/pilgrims on their quest to capture the ineffable. Take photos. Lots of ‘em.
At first we just took pictures of each other, and the spectacular architecture.
We hadn’t got very far when a wizened little old man in white dhoti and turban popped up, grabbed my camera and started motioning for us to pose. It did occur momentarily that he might run off with the camera…but there is enough security in the complex to make a getaway difficult, and, well, he wasn’t running anywhere.
He pointed at us to stand here, there, pushed us hither and thither, even moved our arms into acceptable poses or pushed us to sit down, all the while clicking away. Without stopping to focus, I might add. Or even get the shot straight. Ah well, we still got a lot of shots we otherwise wouldn’t, including those darned novelty poses, like these:
You get the idea. When we’d had enough Dom got out 100 rupees to give the guy, but he said “TWO hundred rupees!” Even 100 is a lot, given how hard a rickshaw driver has to work to earn that, so we knew we weren’t ripping him off. We just walked away with his cries of “200 rupees” ringing in our ears.
So we whiled away the afternoon strolling around, seeing the various parts of the complex. It is a large complex, so take time to navigate it.
I particularly enjoyed gazing at the river behind it, along with the little temple and jetty next to it – very peaceful. And seeing lots of monkeys sunning themselves on the guardrails, grooming themselves and each other.
The shadows grew longer as the late afternoon sun hung low on the horizon, and all too soon it would be time to rejoin the group. Just a few more late arvo snaps then.
There was something eerie about the empty plaza as the guards shoo’d all the tourists out. I almost expected to see a little de Chirico train in silhouette on the horizon (little art-history buff’s joke there, heh).
As we exited the main gate and walked past the many tourist stalls, we were assaulted by spruikers loudly encouraging us into their shops. I managed to resist. But boy, are they pushy in tourist towns! After a regroup and cup of chai it was time to return to our hotel and get ready for dinner. With another 12 days on tour, a good night’s sleep would be essential.
Next up – Fatehpur Sikri and Jaipur in Rajasthan.