In which I lay eyes on the Taj, am swindled, and discuss strange things with my driver
Agra Travel Blog› entry 12 of 16 › view all entries
Got up this morning at in order to see the Taj Mahal in the cool of the morning hours, before the expected crush of thousands of fellow visitors arrived. (The Taj opens to visitors at .) Downstairs in the lobby of Clarks, the staff practically pushed me into the restaurant to eat breakfast, but I was too excited to have more than a few pieces of papaya (fleshy, red, tangy, cut into slippery little cubes) and a few sips of tea before dashing out to the front of the hotel to look for my driver. Anand picked me up around , and we were off to the Taj.
We arrived at the east parking lot, where Anand would wait for me. Because no petrol-fuelled cars are allowed within a certain radius of the Taj (to protect it from the damaging effects of the exhaust) you can: walk to it; pay for a bicycle rickshaw; take a free electric bus; take a paid electric auto-rickshaw.
You enter the Taj complex through one of three gates, into a pretty, introductory sort of ornamental garden, with an enormous, imposing fourth gate at the north end. This north gate rises above you, and is beautiful in and of itself, all red stone with inlaid white marble elements, soaring upwards into the sky • Mughal architecture echoed and repeated in many of the monuments that I’ve seen on this trip. The north gate leads into a second, enormous, oblong garden at the back of which the Taj sits, and because I approached it from the east, rather than the south, I still couldn’t see the Taj yet, but would have to turn the corner into the north gate to have it in view.
Oh yes, yes, yes! Oh heavens, yes!
Entering the north gate the Taj was finally there before my eyes, the most breathtakingly beautiful architectural creation I believe I have ever seen.
My first overall impression was of the pearly, glistening whiteness of the Taj’s marble, almost liquid in the still blue-pink light of the early morning.
Looking at the Taj invoked both a physical and emotional response in me. It was truly lovely with its soft curves (rounded, tear drop shaped), shimmering pearly white marble and the delicate carvings and inlaid gemstones which you see once you get close. An exercise in perfection in its proportions, shape, and layout, which makes other great architectural monuments look inferior in comparison. Impossible for me to do justice to it here �" I’ll just say that if you ever have the chance to see it then you must.
After visiting the Taj I left
On arrival, our car was immediately swarmed by guides, all of whom tapped on the window, offering their services. My driver seemed to know one of them, so I negotiated a price with that one, on top of a fee for an auto rickshaw to take me up. (On retrospect, I’m not sure if this was part of the scam, or if cars really can’t approach Fatehpur Sikri �" which was certainly true of the Taj Mahal.)
It was only late morning, but it was already scorching hot and I could feel myself beginning to wilt and wither in the heat as soon as we got out of the rickshaw. This wasn’t helped by the droves of boys and men who trailed me throughout my tour with the guide, determinedly waving everything from bangles to wooden elephants to fake marble candlestick holders under my nose, hoping for a lucrative sale. They would hardly be put off, persisting even in the face of “No,” “Not interested,” and “Absolutely not.”
The guide spent about 1.5 hours with me, showing me around what I thought was everything to see at Fatehpur Sikri, but which turned out to be only the mosque complex, and its Sufi tomb/shrine. He never took me to see the palaces, but I didn’t notice this because I didn’t bring the guidebook with me, or check it before the tour. Though swindled out of seeing the palaces, I did enjoy the mosque and the lovely white marble shrine, including the beautiful (and shaded) colonnades surrounding the entire mosque complex. The shrine was visited by Akbar himself, who desperately wanted a male heir. One of his three wives produced one soon after, and since then this particular shrine has apparently drawn many devotees wishing for babies of their own. You can yourself make a wish for something by tying a thread to the marble lattice work at the back of the tomb, while stern faced officials look pointedly at you and demand donations to the shrine in far from gentle tones.
After Fatehpur Sikri my driver and I set off for Jaipur, the so-called