Agra, India (Taj Mahal)

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Agra was the first destination after our brief stint in Delhi. It was a quick 2-hour train ride that included tea service and a hot meal. Sumit joined us for this part of our trip. We hired a car and a driver for the length of our stay here. Our driver let us off a short walk from the entrance to the Taj Mahal monument (first 7 photos), just long enough for David and Sumit to acquire a 5-year-old friend who wouldn’t leave us unless they bought one of his souvenirs, and for Iva to get attacked by a monkey she tried to photograph.

The second of our Agra pictures (the large red-brick structure with a lawn in front) is the original entryway to the Taj Mahal monument. Walking through its arch you get the view in the very first picture, that of Taj Mahal itself and the reflecting pool leading up to it. Taj Mahal is a tomb built by Shah Jahan for his deceased wife Mahal, and it is just out of this world. The fine work on the marble is difficult to capture in photographs. The decorations include both reliefs and inlaid patterns using semi-precious stones from around the world. Standing on an elevated marble platform, the Taj is flanked by two nearly identical red sandstone buildings, which used to serve as a guest house and a mosque.

One thing we noticed both here and elsewhere in India was that a lot of the visitors were not foreigners but Indians taking their families to visit their national treasures. With all the saris and salwars, this made for a very colorful crowd reflecting against the white marble. Later we went to the other side of the river to see the Taj at sunset – it looked a lot dreamier then (see photo). On the way to the river/sunset spot, we had to take a rather circuitous route through old narrow streets where only one car could fit and navigation against oncoming traffic was quite tricky (see India traffic).

Our first night in Agra we treated ourselves to a splendid dinner at the Agra Oberoi (part of the same luxury hotel chain that we stayed at our first night in India and where part of the wedding took place later in Bombay). This one was modeled after a maharaja palace, complete with a chessboard of reflecting pools in one courtyard and a series of pools and cascading waterfalls in another courtyard, all ending in a warm swimming pool with fog snaking over it, lit up from below by underwater lights. The lights and water created such a magical effect you could just imagine belly-dancers dashing around entertaining the maharaja. The food, too, was excellent and served with all appropriate pomp by a server wrapped in exquisite fabric. Anyway, before we get too spoiled….

The next day we saw the Agra Red Fort, just a bit down the river from Taj Mahal. The place was specifically picked by Shah Jahan so he could look directly from his fort at the place where his wife was buried. The fort is a very impressive complex of defensive and palace structures, now inhabited mostly by green parrots. The shah was interested in different religions, and so wall graphics in the fort sometimes include symbols like the cross or David’s star. Like many monuments we visited in India, the fort is in need of some TLC.

On the way out of Agra towards the state of Rajastjan we stopped by Fatehpur Sikri, a palace that Emporor Akbar built as an intended capital, but no one after his reign used it because the site lacks water. The last 5 pictures are from there. The last two are of the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri where goats roam the stairway leading up to the grand entryway.