April 20, 2013
Pooja’s Dad had arranged for a car to pick us bright and early so we could get a good start to Agra. We had about a 4 hour drive and during that time we become completely convinced we did not want to bicycle in India. The traffic was crazier than anything we had ever seen, I was surprised we made it to Agra and back alive. Drivers swerved around each other, braking suddenly and horns blaring the entire time. Although the lanes were marked the traffic just used space as it was available, burgeoning into massive jams near traffic lights, which surprising broke up smoothly as everyone jockeyed forward when the lights changed. We actually saw a horse get hit by a guy and the front of his car including his windshield was destroyed. He continued driving. The shoulder was not safe from traffic either.
Once we became comfortable that our driver wasn’t going to kill us, we learned not to pay attention to what was happening on the road. Instead, we chatted with Hari and listened to music. We stopped for a delicious lunch of onion and cheese stuffed paranthas and chole batera with salty lassis. The driver had a lot of local knowledge and we about to point out interesting buildings along the way and give us a bit of history. Apparently, he took Steve Jobs to see the Taj Mahal in the 1970s.
Our first stop in Agra was the Taj Mahal. Hari had never been to see it either, so he was excited to visit as well. After buying tickets, we had to walk to the entrance and go through security which included the standard metal detector (which always went off) and pat down. We saw this sort of security everywhere people congregated in India, tourist attractions, malls, the metro even had soldiers behind sandbag bunkers with weapons pointed and ready. Now, we were in the outer courtyard of the Taj Mahal. There are three gates surrounding the Taj which were made of red stone and quite beautiful.
We quickly passed through one of the gate to get to the main event: The Taj Mahal. She was just as incredibly amazing as you would imagine, even more imposing than in photographs. The vista from the main gate is positioned so that the backdrop to the Taj is only the sky behind it, making it seem bold and well defined. Unfortunately the building has yellowed a little due to pollution, but this didn’t detract from the beauty, it fact it looked quite good for such an old building. The Taj was built in the 1630s by Shah Jahan. When emperor’s wife died, he vowed to build her the most beautiful mausoleum. I would say that he succeeded.
Photos were not allowed inside, but it was underwhelming and kind of disappointing. The two tombs were inside, surrounded by an ornately carved limestone fence, making them hard to see. The room was very small, poorly lit and not well ventilated, so it was really hot and we were eager to be back outside after a few minutes. The acoustics were pretty interesting though, all the blended conversations bounced around and sounded like the droning of bees, which was complimented by lots of honeycomb carved decorations on the windows. We all agreed that the inside was a bit of a letdown, especially after visiting Akshardham (awesome Hindu temple in Delhi) a few days earlier.
Our next stop was the Agra fort, also built in 1565 with some additions by Emperor Shah Jahan. This was evident in some of the marble work and the use of the same red stone as the gates of the Taj. We opted out of having a guide, so we weren’t exactly sure what we were looking at most of the time. The fort was interesting but paled in comparison to what we had just seen. We left without exploring everything to start the long drive back to Delhi.
We made one last stop of the way home, another beautiful temple. This was another beautiful Hindi temple but we were allowed to take pictures inside. The temple was constructed out of white marble, with the interior similar in detail to Akshardham. This temple didn’t have a relaxing and serene feeling as Akshardham, but this might be due to the number of people or the color changing lights inside. It felt more like a party for Lord Krishna and Lord Rama.
After our temple visit, it was finally time to go back to Hari’s apartment. We didn’t get back until midnight and all of us crashed into bed.