Day 10: Taj Mahal & Agra Fort

Namaste from India!

BIT09a at Taj Mahal
BIT09a at Taj Mahal

Today, we travel by bus to fulfill a lifelong dream. We left off at 4 o’clock from New Delhi. From the moment I learned about the Taj Mahal, I’ve always wanted to visit it. And this week, that dream finally came true. Can you believe I went to the Taj Mahal? Sometimes I still can’t believe it!

The Taj has three points of entry and we went through the east gate, which is known for being the least crowded. A ticket to the Taj Mahal is good for only one entry so if you want to see the sunrise (it’s foggy in the morning this time of year) and the sunset in the same day, you’ll have to buy two tickets. I doubt you’d be able to hang out there all day because there are very strict rules about what’s allowed in and what’s not: no food, books, makeup, tripods…

Admission price comes with a regular size bottle of water and a disposable pair of shoe covers. If you don’t have a driver and car to leave your banned belongings with, there’s a checkroom. Everyone must go through a security checkpoint (one for women and one for men) and then it’s a long stroll down a wide sidewalk around the fortress-like wall.

The Taj Mahal is still off in the distance but as you start to see the ornate minarets against the blue sky coming into view, it’s bound to get your blood pumping and you’ll feel a wide smile creep onto your face. Once we reached the main entrance, our guide showed us a line in the sidewalk, which actually lines up both the entrance of the main gate and the entrance of the Taj Mahal perfectly, even though they are a good hundred meters apart.

Obviously, I knew the Mughal architecture was incredible but I had no idea it was so detailed. I couldn’t wait any longer so I flipped the switch on my video camera.

Sometimes, things that get too much hype can be a let down when you finally see them because they can’t possibly live up to expectation. But the Taj most definitely did not disappoint. This place is truly a masterpiece. The Taj Mahal took 22 years to build by an army of 20’000 men and 1’000 elephants. You might have heard that the workers were later mutilated to prevent them from duplicating their work elsewhere but our guide said that’s just a tall tale.

The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum and Emperor Shah Jahan commissioned it as a memorial for his beloved second wife, Mumtaz Mahal. In 1631, she died giving birth to their 14th child. Supposedly, shortly after the Taj was finished, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son and imprisoned in Agra Fort for the rest of his life. But when he died in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried alongside his adored wife.

What’s amazing about this incredible structure is that all four sides of the Taj Mahal are completely symmetrical. If it weren’t for the landscape, you wouldn’t be able to tell which side is the front. In my opinion, the 40-meter high white minarets on each corner of the platform, are what make the Taj look so spectacular. They were built just for decorative purposes and lean slightly outwards so that in the event of an earthquake, they would fall away.

In the front of the Taj are the gardens and ornamental fountains, which is where most people drop to one knee for an awesome photo. On both sides are red sandstone buildings. One is a mosque to the west and an identical building to the east, built only for symmetry and probably used as a hotel for travelers. Behind the Taj is the Yamuna River. That might have been my only disappointment because in some advertisements, the water is airbrushed so it looks crystal blue and there are camels and colorful masters walking nearby. But in truth, the water was brown and murky and there were no signs of any camels, just a ton of India’s sacred cows.

To get to the main structure, it’s a long walk. Photos aren’t allowed inside the enormous marble arches and neither are shoes. You can either leave them in a designated area or put on the slipcovers, which are included with your entrance fee. I think the latter is a wiser choice so no one steals your shoes, leaving you to walk home barefoot.

After seeing the Taj Mahal, I felt like my visit to Agra was complete.

Taj Mahal - View from Agra Fort
Taj Mahal - View from Agra Fort

However, our next stop was two and a half kilometers away to another UNESCO World Heritage site: the Agra Fort, also known as Fort Rouge, Lal Qila and Red Fort of Agra. The Agra Fort is a walled palatial city and was interesting to see. It has 20-meter-walls and to learn that this was the most important fort in India as the great Mughals Akbar, Aurangzeb, Babur, Humayun, Jehangir and Shah Jahan all lived here. It was even cooler to see the view of the Taj off in the distance.

Agra Fort
Agra Fort

After visiting the Agra Fort, we went back to our bus for the 5-6 hours ride back to New Delhi. We were very tired from walking around the Taj and Agra Fort the whole day and as soon as I got my seat in the bus I fell asleep – like many of us – right away. What a great experience… my lifelong dream finally came true!

written by Bojan Boev, BIT09a

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