Taj Mahal and Agra, India

My travels have now taking me to the second city on the Golden Triangle, the city of Agra. I woke up Friday morning expecting to see the jewel of India and one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. But, it wouldn’t happen today. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays due to religious ceremonies in the mosque. Fortunately, Agra has other beautify location to see.

Our first destination would be Agra Fort, or the Red Fort. The massive fort is made of red sandstone and behind the walls is a beautiful miniature city with fairy-tail palaces including Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan who also built the Taj Mahal. There are also two mosques within the fort. Agra Fort was the imperial palace for the Mughal rulers. Not all of the fort is open to the public but it’s a magnificent site to see. The architecture and the fine detail and art work of the palaces are amazing. It also has beautiful gardens. The fort also has tunnels that lead to the nearby Taj Mahal incase of foreign invaders. You can actually see the Taj Mahal in the distance, as well. I could have wandered around for hours and not get bored. But, it was time to visit the next location.

We moved on to Itmad-ud-Daulah Tomb. It’s the first mausoleum in India to be constructed entirely of marble. The same stone used to construct the Taj Mahal and the site has been nicknamed the “mini-Taj.” The monument houses the royal representative Itmud-ud-Daulah who served under Emperor Akbar, the grandfather of Shah Jahan who commissioned the Taj Mahal. The emperors gave him the name, Itmud-ud-Daulah, which means “pillar of the state.” It’s a picturesque site not hampered by large number of visitors which makes the experience that much better.

We moved on to Mehtab Bagh, a garden complex, across the river from the Taj Mahal. It was seen as the perfect location to view the Taj Mahal after its construction. And, It doesn’t disappoint. We actually skipped the garden, didn’t seem to be worth the effort. This would be the closest I get to the Taj Mahal today. This would be the end of our sightseeing for the day.

The driver took me to two shops before ending the day. Like most tours, this one included visits to tourist traps each day. The only difference is that these shops weren’t your typical cheap souvenir shops, they were shops that sold high quality items. I consider myself frugal when it comes to buying items when I’m on traveling. But, the quality and high craftsmanship of their products was to appealing to pass up. I ended up purchasing some inlaid marble items and small tapestries from another specialty shop. In Delhi, I purchased some shawls from the Kashmir region of India. I went from buying one t-shirt per country to all this.

With my spending spree behind me, I woke up Saturday with high expectations. My driver and the guide picked me up and we arrived at Taj Mahal at 8:30 a.m. I expected the complex to have less visitors since it was still early. That dream was quickly crushed by the high number of people that occupied the complex in the garden area. At least, the early morning fog that hampered visibility the last few days didn’t appear today. As I passed through the western gate, I could see the magnificent sight of the Taj Mahal. It’s a beautiful symbol of love. Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal to memorialize his wife who died while giving birth to their son. The tomb also houses the body of the shah as well. The all white marble structure is finely detailed and is much deserving of its place as one of the seven wonders of the world. Ironically, most visitors stay within the garden and never see the artistic details of the Taj. There’s an additional fee to enter the building which may affect some and some just want photos in front of the building. Photos and videos aren’t allowed inside, not really sure why. Even with the high number of visitors, my experience was amazing. The beauty of the Taj Mahal outshined the shadow cast by the visitors. I honestly experienced sadness when we left.

It was time for the driver and I to move on to Jaipur so we dropped off the guide and continued on. As we left the Agra district, we had one more stop. Fatehpur Sikri is a small city and was the first planned city of the Moguls marked by magnificent administration, residential and religious buildings. I met a local guide that the tour company appointed to show me around the center of this city. We visited the red sandstone Jodha Bai Mahal. The palace is a beautiful blend of Hindu and Persian Architecture. This location isn’t highly visited by tourist and it was a joy to tour the grounds without a crowd breathing down my neck. The complex wasn’t very big so I don’t think we spent more than an hour here.

It’s about a five hour drive to Jaipur from Agra, so the driver and I pressed on.