Day 141 (1): The most extravagant monument ever built for love
Agra Travel Blog› entry 189 of 260 › view all entries
Thanks to the people I met here and/or travelled with: Ed (Netherlands)
The next morning the alarm went off at 5:30 and I felt absolutely horrible. I had not slept more than two hours, but worse, I still felt really, really sick. I feared that I would throw up again at the merest thought of food. Of all the days to be ill in India, this was the worst one I could have picked!
Ed and I made our way to the East entrance of the Taj Mahal, all the while fending off touts and rickshaw drivers, who tried to convince us to go to another entrance because it is no longer possible to buy tickets at the entrance of the Taj Mahal. These Indians can lie through their teeth, trying to earn money from you whichever way they can, so we just ignored them and walked on. But guess what? They had spoken the truth!!!
For some reason the city council of Agra has, in all their wisdom, decided to close the ticket offices at the east entrance and moved it to the parking lot two kilometres away.
We walked over to the West Gate and bought our entrance tickets. The entrance fee was quite steep, something which the authorities have tried to hide by adding a few extra 'freebies', like a discount to some other sites in Agra, a small bottle of drinking water and a postcard.
Despite the hefty fee, despite the fact that you have to share the moment with hundreds of thousands of other people, despite the fact that the building has been photographed from every imaginable angle and has been published in every imaginable book or magazine, it is still worth it.
The white marble memorial was built by Emperor Shah Jahan, after his second wife died giving childbirth. The Taj Mahal took 20 years to complete, but Shah Jahan was never able to visit the Taj Mahal to mourn his departed wife, as he was overthrown by his son, shortly after the completion of the Taj Mahal. With a penchant for irony his son locked him up in the nearby Agra fort, in a room overlooking the Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan died in 1666 and was reunited with his beloved wife in the mausoleum of the Taj Mahal.
I have seen the building on pictures maybe a thousand times before, not to mention having seen at least 100 Muslim mausoleums on this trip already, but still my jaw dropped when I caught my first glimpse of the monument.
One of the great things about the design is how it is built atop a white marble platform, which in turn stands atop a red sandstone platform. This ensures an unobstructed view of the monument, no matter how many people there are.
Not that we had much to complain about in that respect, though. It was busy on this Monday morning, but not too crowded. A few thousand people, tops.
The weather was a bit misty, but Ed assured me that this was nothing compared to when he visited the Taj Mahal previously, in December 2008.
We walked up to the structure and I marvelled at the intricate carvings in the marble. The inside of the mausoleum didn't seem all that impressive, though this lack of wow factor for me could also have to do with the fact that it was so hot I nearly fainted.
Back at the hotel I went back to bed for a few more hours sleep, while Ed had a disappointing breakfast at the restaurant of our hotel.
At 10:30 we were picked up by Mukesh, our driver for the next two weeks. He was accompanied by his brother, who had never been to Rajasthan. Mukesh asked if we mind if his brother tagged along. Not at all, the car was big enough for four. His brother seemed like a nice kid, though he didn't speak a word of English.
Mukesh spoke good English and was an excellent driver. And I don't just mean his driving skills, but also his ability to provide occasional information about the sight we were passing, without ever becoming obtrusive.
We made a stop at the 'other' sight Agra has to offer: the Agra fort. I wasn't too impressed. This is the place where Shah Jahan spent his last days, but little evidence of this is left intact. The fort itself has been well-preserved and restored, but it is completely empty. So you're not looking at ruins, but you're not looking at anything that resembles a place where people actually lived either.
I'm sure I would have enjoyed it better if I had been feeling better though.