Certainly, one of the highlights of our journey through Asia!
After lounging in our hotel room in New Delhi for a couple days, Jesse and I jumped on a train to Agra. Only a few hours ride south of the capitol, Agra is home to the Taj Mahal, as well as a handful of other, somewhat lesser known monuments. It’s always an experience to disembark your train in India. We would always joke to see how long it would take for a tout to approach us – usually about 30 seconds! I think getting a taxi for a “fair” price has proven to be the most stressful times for me on this trip! It’s hard to know what the right price is, how far your destination really is, or if your driver even knows where he’s going. So, I let Jesse deal with all of that. We unintentionally discovered the most effective way to get your price – state what you’re willing to pay, and if they say no, just walk away; 9 times out of 10 they’ll settle for your going rate (as long as it really is a fair price!). Walking away = haggling made easy. Anyways, we eventually made it to our hotel (which we discovered had three different names associated with it…). It was about 1km away from the eastern gate of the Taj Mahal on a wide, tree-lined road, which was extremely pleasant in contrast to where we stayed in New Delhi.
We decided to visit the Taj Mahal the next day since rain might sully our attempts, and we should have a couple buffer days in case. The sun was shining when we woke up (late!) so we grabbed breakfast and headed out. On our walk through Taj Ganj, the neighborhood around the southern gate of the Taj Mahal, the rain hit us. Luckily we stopped under an awning and watched the world go by – school kids laughing and walking through the wet streets, old men playing chess in their shops, rickshaws and cars whizzing by just inches away from your feet, and don’t forget the cows!
Little did I realize the Taj Mahal had a gorgeous entryway, a museum and two mosques on either side of it. Seeing the photographs of the monument made it seem much different – in person you can soak it all in with the context of the trees, the people, the waterways, the surrounding walls and buildings. It was a much different feel that I imagined! One of the most surprising aspects was actually going inside the Taj itself. Lining up with the hundreds of other tourists, mostly which are Indian, you cram through a small doorway, where all of a sudden the humidity, temperature and smell jump up more than a few notches! Everyone is trying to catch a glimpse of the tombs of Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal (whom he built it for). Inside there are gems embedded into the marble, and when light shines on them they glow with a strange and beautiful intensity. For a few nights before and after the full moon each month, the Taj Mahal is open to 400 tourists each night so they can view the gems lighted by the moonlight!
Well, I’m not even sure what words I could use to describe the immensity, or the color, or the atmosphere, so I’ll post some pictures that can hopefully speak much louder.