Day 15 – Agra: The Taj Mahal

We got up early again, not quite as bad as the day before, but still early enough. Our guide met us in the lobby of the hotel and we got into the car and headed out. It was a short ride to a big parking lot with lots of other people (westerners) and a bunch of hawkers. We were told we couldn’t take large bags into the Taj, and tripods were banded. I quickly moved all my camera gear from my backpack into my shoulder bag and left the tripod behind. I had already managed to use it once in Singapore, so it wasn’t a complete waste of effort bringing it.

Our guide disappeared off to get our tickets for us and we huddled together trying to avoid eye contact with the hawkers. No means maybe, it is just best to ignore them completely. Which seems a little mean, but we weren’t the only ones. They weren’t just selling books of postcards, but also camera batteries and memory cards. They knew their target market. After a few minutes of waiting we were guided to get on a giant battery powered golf cart, that was about 15m long. They don’t let cars, or buses drive too close to the monument, so most people go by battery powered cars for the last 1.5km to the gate.

We lined up outside the eastern gate, two lines, one male one female – there would be searches before going in. A few people had large backpacks and some even carried tripods. A few shop owners from the area were talking to people in the line, offering to mind their tripods till they got back, but they were ignored. It was about 6:10 now and the sun was starting to peek over the horizon. A few people were getting restless and saying loudly “the suns coming up, can’t we go in yet?” The guys in camo with machine guns ignored them. A few monkeys were stirring and jumping down from the trees.

The lines started moving and we headed through security. Everyone that had a tripod had it taken off them. They were told they could get it back afterwards. Even a tiny pocket bendy-leg tripod was confiscated. They also took a few pocket knifes off people. Not surprising, but surprising the tourist thought they would be OK. They managed to find a single cough lolly in my Mum’s bag and took that off here. Any food other than water is banded, in an effort to keep the place clean.

Our guide went through the Indian line and meet us after security. We then started walking down towards the main gate to the complex. A large red sandstone building that was impressive on its own. Trimmed with white marble and inlaid semi-precious stone. Nothing here is painted, everything is inlaid stone. We paused to take a few photos and our guide told us about the place. We walked through the arch way and could see lots of people already swarming for a good vantage point, and there was the Taj Mahal. It was a little surreal. The building is big and stands out from everything around it in a strange way. There is nothing behind it to grab your eye, it stands out against a blank sky and seems to have just been placed there. It is surrounded by read buildings and a green garden and it is absolutely white, reflecting what sun light was cutting through the haze.

We fought our to a a good vantage point for a couple of photos and then moved on with the guide. It was clear why no one could take tripods in, the bedlam that would cause with people trying to set up their shots. We got down to the edge of the pool and took a few more photos before moving on again. It was still pretty early and the sun was still not quite up yet. Our guide explained that with the haze from pollution the early morning effect and the glowing white marble wasn’t nearly as strong as it used to be, a little disappointing, but it was still impressive.

We made our way around to the side where I spotted this sign:

Not the first time we saw a sign like this.

It was then time to put on our little booties. Instead of making everyone take off their shoes they provide the tourists with little booties to put on.

On the left side of the Taj is a mosque. It is used, so the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays except for the locals who come to pray. There is an identical building on the other side, for symmetry, but it is empty and unused.

Around the outside of the main building, the tomb, is paved with the same white marble as the rest is built out of. We walked up and around inside, photos aren’t allowed to be taken inside. There are people armed with loud whistles if anyone makes a move for their camera inside. We completed our tour and the guide said we were free to look around for a while and he would meet us back near the main gate.

The Taj Mahal is a big place, and the building is very impressive. The detail of the work in the inlaid stone is astounding  It is completely smooth, and the patterns are intricate and made up of hundreds of tiny pieces of stones. The carved latice work in marble is also impressive. I’m not convinced going before sunrise was the best idea. The sun had a hard time cutting through the haze and the crowds were quite large. the guide said going at 7AM, just 1 hour later it takes no time to get in, and the sun is still low enough in the sky to get good photos. I’d agree, we were there till nearly 10, and the light was still good for photos, and it wasn’t yet really hot. After finding out guide we got a ride back to the car park where our driver was waiting and headed back to the hotel for breakfast and a quick rest before we headed out again.

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