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Taj Mahal in the mist, Agra, India.

The day started at 6:00 AM today since we wanted to see the dawn at the famous Taj Mahal. After another serious attack of Delhi Belly I quickly dressed and Bart and I were off to Shah Jahan's Wonder of the World. It was chilly outside and the Taj was 2 km from the hotel, but this was a good way to get some exercise after all the beer and curries of the last days. Shortly after 7 o' clock we entered through the tight security at the east gate and within minutes we stared at the amazing building.

 

Shan Jahan built the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Muntaz Mahal, after her death. It is therefore described as the most extravagant building ever built out of love. More than 20.000 people had worked for 22 years on the perfectly symmetrical marble structure, finishing it in 1653. The 'Taj' stands on a marble platform, which in turn stands on a sandstone platform. Under normal circumstances this results in the building being visible unobstructed against the clear sky.

Bart at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Now however, in the winter season the fog had crawled from the Yamuna River behind it, shrouding the Taj in a white blanket. As such the sunrise on the big central dome was less brilliant than during summer, but you could still clearly make out the pink-orange glow across the mausoleum. As we wandered around the building and took many pictures (among which some special Christmas pics) the sun came up and the Taj slowly became more visible. After nearly two hours we had finally seen enough of Shan Jahan's masterpiece, including the fine Persian gardens, the 40m high minarets around it and the two identical buildings at the sides of it (one of which was designed as a mosque). In the evening Bart, who was obsessed with the original costs of the Taj of 40 million rupee, would estimate the current day cost of building a Taj at 2.4 billion, based on inflation and current working costs. He added that he had not included the current costs of marble in his calculations, so he might be slightly off. ;-)

 

We took a tuk tuk back to the hotel, which was high time because the belly bug was stirring again.

Ed at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
While Bart went to the dining room for breakfast I ran up to our room, opened the door, struggled with my money belt and was just ... too late. 'Oh well, a piece of laundry less to worry about', I though when I dumped it in the waste bin.

 

After breakfast we took a tuk tuk to the part of town where the ATMs and cyber cafe's were located. We seriously needed to stock up on cash again. The many monuments and several relatively expensive meals had eaten away our cash again. Uploading the pictures on the blog proved to be impossible in any cyber café since the concerned page on TravBuddy simply didn't load.

We had a cup of coffee (and tea) at the Costa Coffee bar and met with two ladies from Australia who were also travelling through India for two weeks.

Christmas at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Since they were going to Delhi and Jaipur we shared some of our experiences with them.

 

We went back towards the hotel and while I searched the two big malls for CDs of yesterday's movie, to no avail. At half past 12 we checked out and stored our bags at the reception so we could further explore Agra that afternoon. We took a tuk tuk to the Agra Fort, another creation of Akbar dating from 1565. Shah Jahan, Akbar's grandson, converted it into his palace, adding several buildings made out of his favourite marble to the fort.

Christmas at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Ironically enough the Shah was imprisoned in this fort by his son Aurangzeb in the beautiful octagonal marble tower that he himself had built, with a view on his own Taj Mahal.

 

Within the red sandstone exterior we found a fascinating collection of courtyards, halls and mosques. Highlights were the tiny marble Nagina Masjid (Gem Mosque built for the court ladies), the mentioned Musamman Burj tower and the Anguri Bagh garden within the harem quarters.

Although the fort had it's resemblance with Delhi's Red Fort it was definitely better preserved and had more style and atmosphere.

 

After leaving the fort we decided to have something to eat and drink, running into the Aussie girls again at a dhaba near the fort.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
We ordered some naan and Dum Aloo and gave them some more suggestions for their trip to Jaipur.

Next we took a stroll through the Shah Jahan Park. Not the nicest of parks (and that's an understatement) but a good spot for relaxing on a bench and people-watching, as well as finding a well hidden spot to deal with a sudden attack of Delhi Belly (seriously, I'll spare you the gory details). We continued our way to the main tourist area of Agra and tried one more time to upload the pictures in a cyber cafe. No luck.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
But lady luck did have a surprise for us in store: when I asked the owner if he knew where I could buy CDs he eventually arranged for a nearby shopkeeper to go and get two copies of the movie soundtrack for us, after some serious haggling of course.

 

Next stop was the big TDI mall near our hotel for a cup of coffee. But first I had Bart try the Chaat in the snack corner on the ground floor. Chaat are small Indian snacks, which could be considered this culture's equivalent to Spanish tapa's. Bart wasn't too fond of the pani puri's (small hollow balls) filled with spiced water, but the puri's with paste and spices and the puffed rice with spices were considered to be as good or better than any meal we had before. We washed all of this down with special Christmas themed coffee's at Coffee Day.

 

Back in the hotel Bart discovered that he had joined me in the contest to produce the most fluid stools. We sat in the hotel lobby taking diarrhoea medicine and joking about the bad karma that had hit us.

At the agreed time of half past nine Bobby, the guy of yesterday's restaurant, arrived.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Instead of driving us himself, he had arranged a cab to take us to the Tundla train station for the night train to Varanasi. Driving across the foggy Delhi-Kolkata highway this guy proved to be an absolute madman, honking and turning on his alarm lights in small streets where there was nowhere to go for the cars in front of him. He was seriously pissed off when I refused to give him a tip for what he considered 'good service'.

 

At Tundla station we entered a parallel universe, and not a very pretty one. It really felt like stepping into another world. Among the hundreds of people we were the only foreigners. Hordes of birds sat on the wires and made an enormous racket while rats scurried away everywhere. The Indians stared at us shamelessly when we sat at platform 3 where the train would arrive at half past 11. The need for a more comfortable surrounding and a toilet for emergency situations eventually brought us to the waiting room for first class travellers, which sounds a lot more luxurious than it actually was.

Taj Mahal, Agra, India.

At 23:00 hours we noticed that the signs had the 2402 arrive at 1:50, a 2.5 hour delay! This left us with little more to do than a game of 'rats counting'.

 

The waiting room got stranger by the minute. People got in to sleep on the floor and a rat we named Ciske (after the Dutch movie Ciske The Rat) kept running out and scared as hell back in again with the arrival of every train. A strange woman with a register book kept appearing to ask people in a far from polite way for their ticket details. One time she ordered Bart to give her ‘Baksheesh!'. Bart didn't know what she meant and I ignored her since I couldn't find one good reason why she had earned a tip. The smell from the toilets in the next room got worse and worse and when it finally was close to 2 o'clock we were happy to get back to platform 3, helped by a strange but kind old station attendant.

"I'll have what the goat's having!"
Even though it was in the middle of the night there were still tea sellers going by the halted trains calling out 'Chai! Chai!’

 

At platform 3 we met Tod and his (girl)friend from Canada. We had a chat while noticing that there was another half an hour delay. But finally at half past two in the night our Magdha Express arrived. Our cabin was quite nice and Bart and I took the top benches, sharing the cabin with an Indian guy who was already fast asleep. It didn't take long for the rocking train to put us to sleep as well. This was without a doubt the weirdest Christmas Day of my life ...

 

“Waiting for the train at five o’clock in the morning, I was surrounded by a group of Indian boys who just stood around me, staring and speaking in Hindi among themselves.

Diwam-i-am, Agra Fort, Agra, India.
The aroma of curry, fried food, and open fires mixed with the smell of human feces and filled the platform. (..) The group around me kept growing and I occasionally smiled, feeling a little bit like an animal in the zoo. F
inally one of the boys worked up the courage and started asking me questions. ‘How long in India?’ (..) Then it was on to ‘What country are you from?’ and ‘How old are you?’ and ‘Are you married?’ • the same questions I would have to answer a thousand times more on that stint in India

 

Dharma Punx • Noah Levine

livelovelaugh87 says:
aahhh i can't wait to go here! great blog :)
Posted on: Jan 04, 2010
Biedjee says:
Merry Christmas! :P
Posted on: Dec 28, 2008
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Taj Mahal in the mist, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal in the mist, Agra, India.
Bart at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Bart at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Ed at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Ed at Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Christmas at Taj Mahal, Agra, Indi…
Christmas at Taj Mahal, Agra, Ind…
Christmas at Taj Mahal, Agra, Indi…
Christmas at Taj Mahal, Agra, Ind…
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Taj Mahal, Agra, India.
Ill have what the goats having!
"I'll have what the goat's having!"
Diwam-i-am, Agra Fort, Agra, India.
Diwam-i-am, Agra Fort, Agra, India.
Nagina Masjid, Agra Fort, Agra, In…
Nagina Masjid, Agra Fort, Agra, I…
Musamman Burj, Agra Fort, Agra, In…
Musamman Burj, Agra Fort, Agra, I…
Musamman Burj, Agra Fort, Agra, In…
Musamman Burj, Agra Fort, Agra, I…
View of Taj Mahal from Agra Fort, …
View of Taj Mahal from Agra Fort,…
Anguri Bagh, Agra Fort, Agra, Indi…
Anguri Bagh, Agra Fort, Agra, Ind…
Khas Mahal, Agra Fort, Agra, India.
Khas Mahal, Agra Fort, Agra, India.
Ed at Agra Fort, Agra, India.
Ed at Agra Fort, Agra, India.
Time for chaat!
Time for chaat!
Agra
photo by: rotorhead85