AsiaIndiaAgra

Agra, where everyone goes to the Taj Mahal

Agra Travel Blog

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Catching some local tourists at the Taj Mahal.

We arrived in Agra about 7am, sooner than our tour guide had mentioned. He later told us about why he was hestitant to give estimates of how long it took, because sometimes 100 km can take MANY hours, you just never know what to expect! So it was better to set our expectations low.

With the hazy daylight after the sun rose, we could see the road we were travelling, and people along the road. There were women carryinging water vases on their head walking in the field, there were kids and adults doing their "business" within plain view of passing cars next to the road, and there were many "cots" and "wagons" and "huts" along the road where various people lived and slept. There were horse carriages, camel carts, and many oxen or cows on the road.

At the Taj Mahal. Note that people are barefooted here, shoes are left at the bottom of the stairs.
Cows and oxen are sacred in India, and they basically have taken over the road because they know nobody dared to hit them. Well, it looks like a third world country, sort of  what I expected. Then we pulled into the Jaypee Palace Hotel compound, and it was a high class hotel as you would see and expect anywhere else in the world. The difference between the inside and outside of the compound walls was like night and day. This was our first taste of the diversity of India, where the rich are rich and the poor are many. Our guide said that "India is not a poor country. India just has a lot of poor people."

We had a buffet breakfast in the hotel, checked in, rested a bit, and then went to see Agra Fort.

A corner of the Taj Mahal showing the mozaics of jewels in the marble.
Came back to the hotel for lunch (since there were no "proper places" to eat outside), rested a bit more, and went to see the Taj Mahal. These are the two biggest attractions and world heritage sites in Agra, a town now mostly (like 95%) survive on tourism. The Taj Mahal is the mausoleum of the Muslim queen of the fifth emporer in the Mughal kingdom, built in the 17th century, it had taken 22 years to complete. I won't go into the story of the emporer and queen or the kingdom, only to say that this is not a temple as some people may have thought it to be.

Our group had our photos taken with the Taj Mahal as background after entering the front gate. The 6"x8" photos cost 100 rupees each, and you can look at them after you had toured the Taj Mahal itself, and only buy the ones you like.

Detailed pillar carving from red sandstone in Agra Fort.
  People are posing in the prime spots staked out by the photographers, many posing with their arms stretched as if they are holding the Taj Mahal in their hands. I thought that was silly since I would not want to see a photo of me holding the Taj Mahal, I did not pose for it.

The building is as beautiful as all the postcards you have seen. There is not much to see inside the building, only the 2 fake tombs, one for the queen and one for the emporer (put there by his son later), the real ones being underground and not open for tourists. It is also interesting to note that this building, the jewel of India, is not "pure" Indian, it combined Indian, Muslim (of the Mughal kingdom), and Persian styles. The face of the Taj Mahal has the Koran in huge mosaics of precious and semi-precious stones, the building being so tall, perspectives were used to balance the letters of the Koran for a viewer on the ground, the letters high up are actually larger than the ones closer to the ground.

Red sandstone walls with white marble inlays, Jehangir's Palace at Agra Fort. This was the largest private residence palace in the fort and was built by Akbar the Great for his son.
There were huge crowds at the Taj Mahal when we visited, it would be hard to be there with no crowds. It would be neat to visit during the full moon, since it is open for a few days around the full moon in the night so people can enjoy it its beauty in moonlight. I suppose if you really want to take some good photos of the Taj Mahal, you should plan to be there for many days, sunrise, sunsets and moon-lit nights.

One thing which became obvious today is that India people are really curious about foreigners. Probably because they don't see enough of them (about 5 million tourists a year visit India). They will openly stare at you, secretly take pictures of you and sometimes they would ask to have a picture taken with you. These are just the "normal" India people who are also visiting the Taj Mahal.

The massive red sandstone pillar is carved from ONE piece of stone. Inner court of Jehangir's Palace, Agra Fort.
Small vendors are very persistent, but they don't seem to take offense when you ignore or reject them.

While on the platform, I had used my Polaroid SX-70 camera to take some instant pictures. Since the camera is more than 30 years old, I suppose many people had no idea what it was. So they were very curious. For the heck of it, I showed the gathering crowd the developing instant photo. And  mother came back with her child and signed to ask me to take their picture. I did and gave her the photo, and that was probably a big mistake, because then I was followed for 10 minutes by some kids wanting me to take their pictures! I told them it would cost them 100 rupees (since the film cost me almost $2 each!) to make them go away, but they did not go away. Instead they started to haggle with me, 5 rupees, 10 rupees, etc,  I was not budging on my price and eventually (whew!) they gave up.

View of inner court of Jehangir's Palace in the Agra Fort where the other photos of the pillars were taken.

We stopped at a marble products factory/store where we saw a demo of how they carved the hard and dense white marbles of the local area, inserted semi-precious stones to make all kinds of marble products in the same tradition the marble decorations of the Taj Mahal was done. The products included boxes (carved out of one piece of marble), plates, coasters, tables, vases, etc. The more pieces and smaller the pieces, the more expensive the product. And you have to haggle. Although I counter-offered with 60% of the asking price and got the product, I am not sure if I should have haggled more!

elizahardley says:
You have beautifully described your tour to Taj Mahal. Pictures taken by you on your Agra Tour are nice and carefully shot. What you say curiosity of Indian People for foreigners is not strange thing. It is obvious whenever you go to a different country with different features. It’s not Indian but all human curiosity.
Posted on: Jan 07, 2008
hannajax says:
wonderful blog about your journey to agra...it is a place i have wanted to learn more about and look forward to visitng soon.
Posted on: Jul 06, 2006
portia says:
I think in India, they are just curious because we (whatever color) look different enough from them.
Posted on: Nov 27, 2005
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Catching some local tourists at th…
Catching some local tourists at t…
At the Taj Mahal. Note that people…
At the Taj Mahal. Note that peopl…
A corner of the Taj Mahal showing …
A corner of the Taj Mahal showing…
Detailed pillar carving from red s…
Detailed pillar carving from red …
Red sandstone walls with white mar…
Red sandstone walls with white ma…
The massive red sandstone pillar i…
The massive red sandstone pillar …
View of inner court of Jehangir\\s…
View of inner court of Jehangir's…
Agra Fort. Looking at the Sheesh M…
Agra Fort. Looking at the Sheesh …
View of Taj Mahal in the distance …
View of Taj Mahal in the distance…
A detail of the marble and embedde…
A detail of the marble and embedd…
The public audience hall Diwan-i-A…
The public audience hall Diwan-i-…
The public audience hall in Agra F…
The public audience hall in Agra …
Approaching the Jehangirs Palace …
Approaching the Jehangir's Palace…
The front gate of the Taj Mahal, m…
The front gate of the Taj Mahal, …
At the north side of the Taj Mahal…
At the north side of the Taj Maha…
The mosque north of the Taj Mahal.…
The mosque north of the Taj Mahal…
Agra
photo by: rotorhead85