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Saturday 27th November - Agra
By Claire
Monday, 29th November 2004 11:13

We had breakfast in the hotel garden while the three girls in the room next door shrieked and screamed and fought in the shower. Then we changed rooms because the bookings got mixed up, and went to see the Taj Mahal. The price for non-Indians is about ten times the local cost, but at about nine pounds each is hardly extortionate. We went through a checkpoint to make sure we had no food, matches or computers on us, and then walked through some gardens and up to the gate.

The Taj Mahal is quite simply the most beautiful building I have ever seen. It is built entirely out of white marble and inlaid with malachite, lapis lazuli and carnelion in designs of flowers and vines. Everything about it is stunning and perfect and it was absolutely breath-taking. It was a hazy day so I don't think our photos will do it justice, but the scale and magnificence of the place was incredible. It is one of the few places in the world that lives up to its reputation. We spent a while taking photographs from the entry gate, which is a gorgeous monument in its own right, and then wandered along the paths fending off the touts offering guided tours, until we came to the bottom of the mausoleum. We had to take our shoes off to walk in it, and a man asked for money under a sign that said shoes would be kept free of charge. The area smelled of feet and Indian men breaking wind.

The white marble was very cold under foot, but without shoes there were no footsteps to be heard and the place was strangely quiet. We spent a long time waiting for clear shots of the walls, turrets and minarets, and just took a while to wander round slowly, appreciating the place from all sides. Inside the tomb itself it was dark and echoey. The place was a giant stone cavern and the sounds of a hundred voices and the occasional shout reverberating off the walls was quite eerie. In my role as tour guide, I shone a torch into the marble to show how translucent the stone was, and to show the colours of the inlaid gemstones. It was beautiful. Mikey says that if he can, he'll make me one, one day.

We strolled through the gardens too, stopping to watch the chipmonks and monkeys playing and just enjoying the sunshine. We were going to have a look at the museum, but as we arrived all the power went off so we didn't manage it. Instead we took a rickshaw out to Agra Fort to have a look at that. On the way we saw a rickshaw-wallah sitting inthe back of his own bike and being driven by an American backpacker. We thought that was quite cool (especially as the American paid for the privilege) but Indian pedestrians and other drivers thought it was the most hilarious thinng they'd ever seen.

We saw some impressive red sandstone buildings yesterday, and I was expecting more of the same, but Agra Fort surprised me. Along with the huge walls and battlements, there were loads of really delicate, intricate marble palaces and pagodas and carved areas. We spent a couple of hours just ambling around, popping into rooms and wandering through doors and along corridors. We took loads of photos, too! The Taj Mahal was only just visible through the smog, but it was still a remarkable sight from this distance.

We took a rickshaw back to the hotel and checked our email. We paid the driver twice his asking price because he didn't try to overcharge us. I'm sure that's not a good system, but he seemed happy. Later, we decided to go and get tickets for the opening of the Taj Mahal at night - the first time in twenty years that it would be open after 6pm, but unfortunately there were only four hundred tickets and we should have started queuing at 11am. There wouldn't have been any lights on there anyway, but it would have been nice to have seen it by moonlight. We had supper and I repacked my bag to try and whittle out as much rubbish as possible, but it's never going to work .I just insist on carrying far too much junk around with me.

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