Trip Start Sep 02, 2012
Trip End Oct 10, 2012

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Where I stayed
Hotel Sheela Inn Agra
Read my review - 1/5 stars
What I did
Taj Mahal Agra
Read my review - 5/5 stars

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Holy Moley we actually got up at 4.30am this morning to get all our bags organised. It's checkout day again and it's another overnight train this evening - destination Varanasi. 
  It was pitch black as we walked up the road towards the entrance gates to the Taj. I had envisaged a great throng of people surging up the road on the same mission as us - to see sunrise over the Taj Mahal.  We arrived at the the main gates about 5.20am, where we were promptly advised to get queuing instead of talking in the middle of the road, as very shortly there would be hundreds of people heading in our direction.  This information was delivered to us by an extremely important man - the keeper of the gate, who we referred to as Mr Taj.  It's on his say so as to what time he will open the main gates and allow the masses in to catch the sunrise. 

   Mr Taj relished his role as keeper of the gate. He toyed with his captive audience quite unmercifully. We had been queuing for 40mins, and had fully expected the gates to open at 6 am, but Mr Taj kept referring to what I can only assume was his personal Taj time watch - he would deliberate for several seconds, then shake his head in the negative, each time this happened there were audible sighs from the now very long queue.  Finally at 6.15am and with great gusto, he opened the huge doors single handedly.  What I found odd, was there was at least 5 quite burly security guards on hand, but it was the very diminutive (about  4'6" max) Mr Taj who performed this task alone!  We were still not allowed in until the gatekeeper put together extensions to the queuing line, which can only be done once the doors are open.  Again Mr Taj carried these rather heavy looking pieces of metal whilst the others looked on.  Once the task was complete and he'd done his safety checks, then - and only then, were we allowed in.  Just prior to him opening the gates, Fred enquired as to when we were required to put the paper covers over our shoes.  Mr Taj's response was  "Only when you go inside "THE BIG WHITE BUILDING".  "THE BIG WHITE BUILDING"? said Fred.  "Yes yes" said  Mr Taj "You go in and turn right, you can't miss it"  Although he's worked there for 40 years, perhaps he's never been passed the gates and only knows it as the big white building.  We have been laughing over that ever since.

 Once inside the gates, we then had to pass thru a security check even though we had been told not to take anything in other than the unopened bottle of water, paper shoe coverings and camera.  It was disturbing to find out that it was pens and felt tips they were looking for.  Can you believe that people have actually defaced this building in the past!
 It was rather cloudy, so the much anticipated spectacular sunrise over the Taj didn't happen.  However, that did not detract from it's sheer grandness and beauty.  I think it is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen, it is so perfectly pleasing to the eye.
   The Tomb was built in memory of the 2nd wife of Shahjahan.  Her name was Mumtaz Mahal, she was of Persian blood and very beautiful.  She died giving birth to their 14th child, and on her death bed she asked her husband to build a beautiful and incomparable monument over her grave as a token of their worldly inseparable love.  He didn't let her down.  My goodness, the things you do for love. .However it was not a happy family.  Shahjahan's 3rd eldest son disposed of his 2 older brothers, incarcerated his father in Agra Fort in 1856, and took control of the Kingdom.   He tried to make the people believe that these measures were necessary as his father was squandering money building the Taj for a wife who was dead.  However this was not entirely true, he wanted the power and wealth for himself. During Shahjahan's imprisonment, he was able to observe the construction of the Taj from his private rooms in the Fort.  

 We also visited Baby Taj, as it is affectionately called.  It is considerably smaller but decoratively very pretty.  In comparison of styles the Taj Mahal tomb is all one colour, white marble with a grey/blue tinge to it. There is no added colour to the relief work, which for me gives it it's understated elegance.  I loved it.  Doris being a landscaper was a bit disappointed in the poor use of the walkways leading up to the tomb. 
Doris says " Here is the most symmetrical building in the world, the most well known, the most photographed, and right in front of it, is the world's most unsymmetrical garden, try as I may there is not one redeeming feature I can cling to".   I take your point Doris, if they were to let you loose for a month I'm sure you'd come up with something stunning.
PS .  Keep hearing rumours that all the architects, stone masons etc were killed off once the building was completed.  Apparently this was so the Taj could never be built bigger or better elsewhere.

 After lunch 6 of us hired a private car to take us to see the Red Fort and Baby Taj.  I found the Red Fort impressive, but Doris informed me that the Fort in Jodphur, which I had missed out on, was more impressive.  We visited the Shah's private rooms (no furniture) from here he was able to see the completion of the Taj during his incarceration.  There was quite a lot of the Fort out of bounds due to restoration, and I'm so glad that these fantastic structures are being preserved for future generations to enjoy.  I was intrigued by a lady sitting on the grass in the quadrangle below us - she looked like she was cutting the grass with a pair of scissors, surely not!  But then nothing surprises you in India!  

  Doris & I were sitting in the car, in the car park, waiting for the others to return from the fort and I just happened to glance out the window and low and behold, not 8 feet away, a rickshaw driver squatted down and started to have a pee.  When he finished he took his bottle of water, washed his bits and bobs, zipped himself up and stood up! Now I have to say it was all very discreet, at no time did he expose himself, but I just don't understand why he didn't walk an extra 10 meters out of public view to take a leak.  I realise there is a lack of public toilets everywhere in India, but this pissing in public thing is really weird.
We then went to see Baby Taj, apparently it was the proto type for the real one.  As I mentioned earlier, the walls are quite decorative unlike the Taj.  Perhaps the Shah thought it a bit over the top and opted for simplicity instead.  I'm glad we got to see both.

 PS  Thought I'd mention Fred, Ewan and Mark's trip to the hospital, which didn't really look like a hospital.  Fred likened it to a waiting room at a bus stop, with dogs wandering in and out!  Fred wanted an xray on the shoulder he thought he may have hurt on his trip down the stairs in Udaipur.  Ewan still had the trots, and was wasting away - despite still eating his head off - and Mark had been complaining of not feeling well for several days.  Fred's xray  revealed no real damage, except for the damage he may have received due to not wearing any protection during the xray procedure.  Ewan was given tablets and told to starve for a bit (we told him so) and Mark was diagnosed as having a chest infection, which he was over the moon about, he had heaps of medicine to show us, which proved the point that he wasn't well.  I have never seen anyone so happy to have something wrong with them!  
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