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Visiting the Taj Mahal

Agra Travel Blog

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Akbar's Tomb

Larry has told me before that I worry too much. But if that’s one of my defects, I can live with it. I’d rather be over cautious than not cautious enough.

Wednesday night, I was in my hotel room preparing for my trip to Agra. I had already arranged through the hotel for a driver to pick me up at 6:30 AM to take me there, and a few other spots and to bring me back to the hotel the same evening. My mother called me and started worrying me about traveling by myself. I cut the conversation short. But then after hanging up, I started thinking in my head, maybe this wasn’t the safest idea. A girl by herself in a car with a complete stranger on a 8 hour trek (back and forth)….

Akbar's Tomb
Hmmmm…. Was my mom right?

So I called Larry and spoke to him about it. He of course, assured me I would be just fine. He asked me to find out the name of the driver. I decided to go speak with the receptionist at the hotel who had helped me with the arrangements. He also assured me I’d be fine. I asked him if I could have the full name, phone number and a copy of the driver’s license. He smiled, told me the driver was trustworthy and agreed to get me all the information I requested.

I called Karan’s sister (my friend’s sister lives in Delhi) to make plans with her for Saturday and happened to mention I was worried about my trip to Agra.

Entrance to Akbar's tomb
She requested the driver’s information, as well. She also told me she would call me throughout the day on Thursday to check on me. I really appreciated her offer to check in on me. Larry also promised to call me on my cell phone (for some reason outgoing calls from my cell were not working correctly, but I was able to receive calls).

I half-jokingly asked Larry to call me a few times, and if I didn’t answer I told him to call the embassy. He laughed. He said, “V" knowing you… I’ll start a search for you with the embassy and they’ll find you at some coffee shop in Agra giggling with other American tourists.’ I laughed. He has a good way to make me realize I'm over-worrying.

So Thursday morning, I met the driver, got a copy of his license and gave the information to Larry.

Monkeys or baboons along the path to the Taj Mahal
The driver must have thought I was nuts. Again… better safe than sorry.

The ride into Agra was quiet. The driver didn’t speak much English and I had a hard time understanding when he tried to respond to my small talk, so I just observed the scenery. I almost said I enjoyed the scenery, but it was actually interesting and sad to see.

I saw elephants, camels, monkeys, dogs, cows, and lots of people walking the streets already by 7 am. I saw people squatting to use the bathroom on the sides of roads, I saw men bathing out by tents on the side of the roads.

Along the way at one point, I saw a huge pile of trash (not uncommon here). In that pile, a dog was feeding from what I think was a cow carcass, then right next to that there were a few young children playing in the same trash pile, and over a few feet from there I saw a few cows feeding on the same trash the children were playing with.

The 22 domes on the structure preceding the Taj Mahal to represent the 22 years it took to build the Taj Mahal
Disgusting!

All I could think was people should not be living in these conditions. This is not dignified living!

My driver first arrived at Akbar's Tomb (Sikandra's tomb). That was good to see. The tile work on the structures was so detailed. I took pictures outside, walked around by myself, then went inside where I heard a man chanting. It echoed brilliantly.

Then I met the driver again, and on to the Taj Mahal we continued. Right before we got to the entrance of the Taj Mahal (about 10  feet before the entrance), my driver pulled over and a few other men came over to the car.

The Taj Mahal
He rolled the windows down. He spoke to two of the men in Hindi and they got in the car (the first man sat in the back seat next to me and the other sat in the front passenger seat), while the other men stood outside by the car. I immediately opened my door. I asked my driver to explain what was going on. The man in the back seat explained that he was my official tour guide. I told them, I did not want a tour guide, I could walk around the Taj Mahal on my own. They insisted he was my tour guide and that it was included in the price I was paying. It all seemed sketchy to me so I looked at my driver square in the eyes and said “I don’t want a tour guide.” He made a phone call and gave me his cell phone. I immediately pulled my cell phone out to call Larry or my friend's sister, Priya. The person on the other line of the driver's cell phone told me he was my driver’s boss and that the tour guide was free.
Taj Mahal
I told him again, I didn’t want a tour guide. What a scam!!!! It’s all about money!

They insisted, insisted and insisted. I didn’t get back in the car. I asked the additional men for their IDs, wrote down their names and ID #s (not sure what the hec I was going to do with any of that, but it seemed like a good idea). The one guy kept saying all I had to do was let him walk with me and he’d be happy to take a tip. Uggghhh…. I walked, he followed.

I looked at the driver and he said he’d be out front when I was done.

I began walking towards the entrance and my “self-appointed” tour guide pointed me in the right direction to where I needed to buy my ticket.

Me in front of the Taj Mahal... putting my self-appointed tour guide to work
One interesting thing I noticed was that all the tourist attractions here in India charge less to locals than to foreigners. I had to pay 750 Rupees, while the locals had to pay only 20 Rupees. I learned it was because the value of tourists’ money is worth more. Fair enough. Other men approached me to ask me if I needed a tour guide, and my self-appointed tour guide made them all go away. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have a tour guide, huh? As soon as I saw the Taj Mahal (and all the people and tourists around me) my worries went away. I called Larry and realized my phone was now working again, so I felt better.

I decided if I was going to have to tip this guy at the end of my “tour” I’d make him work for it! I noticed he had a limp and he walked extremely slow, so I decided to give him my camera and appointed him my photographer knowing I could outrun him if he took off with my camera.

This picture was my self-appointed tour guide's idea... at least he knew what pictures to recommend!

So, I had a photographer and a tour guide at the Taj Mahal.

The Taj itself was splendid. What a magnificent sight! It was so large and majestic. It was exactly what I expected. My tour guide… I mean… my photographer did well following me around taking pictures and educating me on the history of the Taj Mahal. I have to admit I did learn a few things from him, but I didn’t give any indication he was helping me. I was impressed with the Taj Mahal. That alone was worth the long drive to Agra. We walked around for about 2 hours or so.

I learned that the Taj Mahal took 22 years to build, which is what the 22 dome-like structures on the front and back of the structure preceding the Taj Mahal represent.

The Taj again
I learned a lot about the history of the Taj Mahal (I’ll spare you of all the details), but it was all very interesting. The tour guide/photographer told me that Shah Jahan made all the workers promise they’d never build something like the Taj Mahal ever again. It is said he was so pleased with the work the workers did, that he gave all the workers residency in India and money for life. The 4 columns on each corner of the structure are angled 6 degrees to the outside so to avoid them collapsing into the Taj Mahal’s main structure in the event of an earthquake.

At one point during our walk, I offered my photographer a piece of gum and he threw the wrapper on the ground. I picked it up and told him he shouldn’t throw trash on the ground. I told him in the US we have to pay a fine if we get caught disposing of trash on the street.

Don't you love my shoes? It's a new fashion statement.
(Plus why tarnish the sight of the Taj with trash all around on the ground). He said, “India is a free country. We have freedom. We do as we like.” I responded, well America is also a free country, but we try to keep it clean. He told me America is not a free country if we impose rules like this. I completely disagreed with him, but we decided not to continue discussing this topic.  

When done, I walked back to the car and my photographer told me he’d call my driver. This confirmed the driver and he were friends (which I had already figured out anyway) and they had “worked” the scam together. I asked him if he and the driver always coordinated tourist drop-offs like this and he said yes. He said the tour guides make their money off of tips. The tour guide told me he works with six drivers, who call him anytime they are bringing tourist into Agra.

This was my photographer's idea too
When he gets the call, he waits outside for the driver to pull up and drop tourists off. It’s a bit disappointing, that a tourist can’t walk to such a tourist attraction without being bombarded by locals trying to be tour guides. What a shame! The other thing is, I would not have minded had all of this been communicated up front. If they had told me from the beginning, here’s how it works, “You pay a fee, we drive you to Agra, you get a local guide, you tip him, you see the Taj, I drive you back”, I would have said, “Ok ��" deal!” But instead they’re all cryptic and pushy about it.

The two of them took me to a local marble shop (after I told them I didn’t want to shop). I learned there that this also was part of their little scam. The shop owner gives the tour guide a cut of whatever I buy for “bringing me in to shop”.

More of the Taj
After that, my driver and I continued on the Agra Fort from there. We spent a bit of time at the fort in Agra. That was also nice to see, though of course, nothing compared to the structure I had just seen.

The ride back to Delhi was long. There was a ton of traffic. I did learn from my driver that he has a wife, a 5 year old son and a 5 month old daughter. We said very little to each other, as the language barrier was difficult to overcome. He asked if I was hungry at one point and I said no. He stopped at a street vendor and got a snack, but I was too scared to try the street vendor’s food, so I decided to wait until I got back to the hotel.

So that was my trip to the Taj Mahal. It was bit worrisome in the beginning (I’m a worry wart regardless), but it turned out well in the end.

I like this picture

Plans for tomorrow ��" I’ve booked a driver to take me to all the tourist attractions in Delhi. Not sure how that will go, but I’m looking forward to it so I can at least see Delhi properly before I head out.

rrsuby25rs says:
"I noticed he had a limp and he walked extremely slow, so I decided to give him my camera and appointed him my photographer knowing I could outrun him if he took off with my camera."

Now that's funny.....
Posted on: Feb 12, 2010
beau_bread says:
That would be an experience and adventure both at same time :) nice pics too
Posted on: Feb 12, 2010
traveller142009 says:
Lovely photos..thanks for sharing:-)
Posted on: Feb 12, 2010
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Akbars Tomb
Akbar's Tomb
Akbars Tomb
Akbar's Tomb
Entrance to Akbars tomb
Entrance to Akbar's tomb
Monkeys or baboons along the path …
Monkeys or baboons along the path…
The 22 domes on the structure prec…
The 22 domes on the structure pre…
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
Taj Mahal
Me in front of the Taj Mahal... pu…
Me in front of the Taj Mahal... p…
This picture was my self-appointed…
This picture was my self-appointe…
The Taj again
The Taj again
Dont you love my shoes? Its a ne…
Don't you love my shoes? It's a n…
This was my photographers idea too
This was my photographer's idea too
More of the Taj
More of the Taj
I like this picture
I like this picture
Agra fort
Agra fort
Agra
photo by: rotorhead85