Posted by: Mary | August 17, 2012

Agra and the Taj Mahal – A Dream Come True!

Originally published on my private blog on March 15, 2010. 

Delhi Train Station before 6am

We woke up early in the morning to catch a train around 6am. The day before, D had arranged a meeting place with our driver, but when we got to the station, he was nowhere to be found. The station was quite the waiting room of people camped out all over the hard floor. There were no tourists to be found…except us. When we finally found D, it turned out that our driver for the morning had not communicated with yesterday’s driver about the meeting point and D had been waiting outside while we were waiting inside. (A cell phone that worked in India would have avoided this problem.) All worked out and we caught the 2+ hour train to Agra and got to watch the sunrise over the landscape from the train window.

After arriving in Agra, we hired a driver to take us around for the day. Our first stop was Fatehpur Sikri, around a half hour from Agra. Fatehpur Sikri was the first planned city of the Mughals, and the first built in their architectural style, which is a combination of Indian, Persian and Islamic architecture. The city was the capital of the Mughal empire from 1571 to 1585. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and well worth the visit, although most tourist trips to the Taj Mahal do not include it because of its distance from downtown Agra.

Fatehpur Sikri near Agra

We hired a local guide at Fatehpur Sikri and were told about the site’s history and the uses of the different buildings. We had initially intended to do the tour on our own, as the signs are plentiful and provide a fair amount of information in English. However, like everywhere in India, guides follow you around and continue to try to negotiate a tour price, even if you’re not really interested. Ultimately, the guide offered a price so low that we finally stopped declining his services just to be able to enjoy the visit with being constantly followed with a sales pitch. Fortunately, the tour turned out to be pretty informative and we were able to have the guide direct his information to our areas of interest rather than a “canned” presentation.

Agra Fort

Following Fatehpur Sikri, we headed back to Agra and visited the Agra Fort. Again, we had a short wait while D had a much longer one waiting for a local-priced ticket. There were certainly many more tourists from around India than there were from other countries. While waiting, we witnessed a couple of monkeys steal someone’s lunch and try to steal a backpack, so we kept a tight hold on our bags and a watchful eye on the monkeys. It was also here that we got our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal!

View of the Taj Mahal from the Agra Fort

The Agra Fort is considered to be the most important fort in India and is famous as the place of imprisonment for Shah Jahan (who built the Taj Mahal for his favorite wife) by his son. The throne seat has a view of the Taj Mahal in the distance. Unfortunately, the smog in India is thick, which obscures some of the view, but in the time of Shah Jahan, it would have been clear and even more beautiful.

The Taj Mahal

Our last stop of the day was the Taj Mahal. Here, we also hired a guide, but found that it really wasn’t necessary, as M and I had prepared by watching a video of the history of the Taj Mahal, so there really wasn’t any new information.  We ran into more tourists at the Taj Mahal than anywhere else in India, and they were almost all from around the India, not foreign visitors. The Taj Mahal is an amazing place and photos just cannot do it justice. There are no words to describe how magnificent it is and what an amazing feeling you get standing in front of it. The tomb inside has some beautiful handicraft, but the most impressive part is the view of the outside. We spent a couple of hours there and then waited for the sun to set. It was the perfect end to an amazing day. We had a 2.5 hour train ride back to Delhi and a late arrival back at our bed and breakfast without dinner due to the late hour (nearly 11pm). It’s a good thing we brought snacks…and had the cake!

View of a sunset from the Taj Mahal

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Responses

  1. Thanks for the return to my own memories of visiting there seven years ago. However, we experienced a five-hour delay when our train from Delhi just stopped, mid-track, and not a single person came around to tell us what the delay was about–for five hours! Visual memories of men and boys squatting to relieve themselves in ditches built along the tracks and stray dogs tearing apart the carcass of a dead water buffalo near the tracks also remain strong in my mind.

    • That sounds like quite an “adventure”! I don’t envy you being stuck on a train in the India heat for five hours. I was once stuck on an Amtrak train in California for almost 3 hours when it broke down and we had no air conditioning on a hot day. However, it was nothing like what you’ve described. I hope you found the Taj Mahal worth it to have gone through all of that to see it.

  2. Great story! Fatehpur sikri too has lots of intricate carvings. I agree with your take on “guides” and vendors around these places. I always hire one, just to avoid being harassed by others! (and a guide always knows best viewpoints, and most important – a good rest room!)

    • Yes, having a guide does make the others leave you lone, which makes for a much more pleasant and peaceful experience. And the point about good restrooms is a very good one! Thanks for taking the time to read my post.


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