May 30, 2009: Agra and Taj Mahal
We had breakfast on the rooftop of our hotel. Then we brought our bags to the hotel lobby
where we left them for the next couple of days. Sonka was waiting for us outside and we
started or drive to Agra.
At first we went through the relatively uncongested streets of New Delhi before we hit the
road to Agra. Interesting sights along the way and we videotaped a lot. After a couple of
hours, there was the border between the states of Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan where
Sonka had to buy a permit for Rajasthan. While waiting in the car, we were of course
approached by quite a few street vendors, monkey artists etc.
A little later and we stopped at one of the big roadside restaurants as Sonka did not have
breakfast. These big restaurants are for the tourists which must be very busy in the main
season. Shortly after we resumed our drive, we saw an accident in front of us. Two
bicycles were laying on the side of the road and two bodies were covered up. Lots of
people there talking and gesturing. Sad scene but the way people drive in India, especially
the trucks, unfortunately a frequent occurence.
We finally made it to Agra which is a chaotic place with lots of people and even more traffic
than Delhi. Marc and I stayed at the
Jaypee Palace Hotel, a 5 star hotel close to the Taj
Mahal. Upon entering the hotel lobby, security was very high. All our bags were checked
and we had to go through a screening door just like at an airport. I was wondering why, but
then I remembered the terror attacks on the luxury hotels in Mumbai a few months ago.
We got a nice room, the only luxurious one in our stay in India. We had a late lunch at one
of the restaurants of the hotel and then met with Sonka and our guide, whose name I forgot
and left to see the Taj Mahal.
As there are no cars allowed in the direct vicinity of the Taj Mahal, Sonka dropped us off at
the carpark and then we took an electric riksha to the east entrance of the Taj Mahal. We
paid our exorbitant entrance fee (visitors pay 750 rupees or about $ 16, Indian nationals pay
20 rupees. Talking about racism.....).
Through the arched gateway we went inside the main compound. It was spectacular. The
Taj Mahal was built between 1632 and 1653 by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a monument
and final resting place for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to her
fourteenth child in 1631.
We slowly made our way towards the Taj Mahal taking many pictures, amongst them,
pictures from the famous Princess Diana bench. When we reached the Taj Mahal, we had to
put covers over our shoes so not to scratch the marble. We went up the stairs and then
waited in line to get into the mausoleum. Our guide said that in high season the lines to get
in are snaking 3-4 times around the Taj Mahal.
Inside the Taj Mahal, there are two marble coffins, one of Mumtaz Mahal, the other one of
Shah Jahan. After seeing the coffins, it was time to rest and wait for the sunset. We walked
over to the west side of the Taj Mahal where we sat down. Slowly the sun went down and
the Taj Mahal changed colors. It was beautiful.
I went into the mosque and one of the guards there showed me the best places from where
to take pictures. He spoke some German and, of course, wanted a small bakshish for his
"efforts".
After the sun disappeared, we made our way back to the carpark, Our guide wanted us to
go to one of those touristy handycraft places, but Marc and I are not handycraft people so
we told him that we were not interested. We rather went back to the hotel where we
watched the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Everton and ordered room service, pizza
and beer!