Before going to Agra, I only knew it was where the legendary Taj Mahal was located. I assumed there wasn’t much more to see or do there, which turned out to be very incorrect. Not only was it an intriguing city with sights galore, it was historically the capital of the Mughal Empire from 1556 to 1658 (a very prideful fact among locals).
We took a morning train from Delhi to Agra. It was called the Gatimaan Express, India’s first semi high speed train, that only took a total of 100 minutes for the 117 mile journey. We were served a hearty continental breakfast, and each given a pretty red rose (not exactly conventional, but a sweet touch).
Upon arrival, we were greeted by our Agra guide, then taken to our hotel to check-in. A quick freshen-up, then on to Agra Fort, also called the Red Fort of Agra. It was the main residence of the emperors of the Mughal Dynasty till 1638. A sprawling 94 acres, it could be described as a walled city. The detail in the architecture was beautiful and still very intact. The picturesque Taj Mahal could be seen in the distance.
From the Red Fort, we drove to Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, also referred to as “Baby Taj”, as many claim the Taj Mahal was modelled after the tomb. We snapped a few photos and quickly made our way to the river bank, where the grand Taj Mahal stood on the other side. Our guide directed us in various fun poses to capture the quintessential Taj Mahal photos – he has been guiding in Agra for many years and explained that he knows what the tourists want! The view at sunset was stunning. We had to pinch ourselves a few times to be sure we weren’t dreaming!
That evening we had to force our excited selves into bed early, because any true Taj Mahal goer knows to get there as soon as the gates open at sunrise, which meant a 5am pick-up from our hotel.
It was quite the early morning. So early, no food or coffee could be obtained from the hotel. Lucky for us, our guide knew a small stand that sold tea near the Taj Mahal entrance, and was able to order some while we waited in line with the hundreds of other people. It was still dark out, yet the line was growing at a rapid pace. We chatted with other travellers, comparing notes and experiences we had in India. It was interesting to hear where other people chose to go for their visit, as they all varied quite a bit. Many destinations were mentioned that I had never even heard of.. Goes to show how huge India is and how much it has to offer.
When the gates opened, everyone started piling in. We entered through the Southern Gate, a beautiful entry way, and one of the most popular. No matter the entry gate, everyone then funnels through the Royal Gate… And there it was, the picturesque Taj Mahal. The cameras were out in full-force. Snaps, clicks, and people narrating their video footage. Our guide was a photo posing pro, so he set us up in all the classic spots. He was so determined, he would gently push people out of the way, or give a serious glare until they moved. After a few seemingly aggressive shoves, we reassured him we didn’t need anymore photos of us pretending to hold or kiss the Taj Mahal. We had plenty within the first 10 minutes.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned 1628–1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The tomb is the centrepiece of a 42-acre complex, which includes a mosque and a guest house, and is set in formal gardens bounded on three sides by a crenellated wall.
The amount of people swarming the sight was somewhat overwhelming, but that’s to be expected at one of the modern wonders of the world. Up close, the stone and gem detailing of the walls was remarkable. Intricate inlay of precious stones and gems in the white marble for as far as the eye could see… Minus the bits that were stolen out, here and there.
I’m almost ashamed to admit it now, but when we were planning our itinerary for India, I considered forgoing the Taj Mahal. I’m so glad we decided to go to Agra. The Taj Mahal, plus the city of Agra, were way worth the visit.
Some pictures from around Agra: