Agra Day 2

Trip Start Nov 27, 2010
Trip End Dec 18, 2010

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Where I stayed
Hotel Crystal Inn
What I did

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Thursday, December 2, 2010

An early and surprisingly chilly start this morning, around 6:00 am for our sunrise visit to the Taj Mahal. We were picked up by our drivers but had to walk the final half mile or so as traffic is restricted in an effort to protect the monument from pollution. In reality though, as the whole of northern India is seemingly covered in a permanent smog, it almost seems like a worthless exercise, you can never see further than a mile or so anyway. We joined the queue which was already growing at 6:20am and then went through the security checks before going in.

The Taj turned out to be so much better than we'd expected, it is simply stunning, especially at sunrise, when the colour of the building gradually changes as the first rays of the sun hit it. I ended up getting hijacked by a guy who, attracted by my camera, firstly offered to take our photo and then gradually revealed himself as a photographers guide to the Taj, whisking us round the entire place at lightening speed to all the 'best' places to take photos, as the sun quickly rose over the site, in return of course for rupees! To be fair though, he did know all the best spots, moved fences to gain access and somehow managed to get people to move out of the way for me, all I suspect without actually working there - officially anyway! 

Once he was gone, we were able to slow down a whole lot and stroll round the place for another hour or so and simply take it all in - you really have to see it in person to understand just how stunning it is, I realised that I'd only really ever seen the standard front-on photo of the place but it's far more than that and you only really get a sense of scale close up. It was also really good to go when it was (relatively) quiet as I'm sure it gets a whole load busier during the rest of the day.

So wonder of the world visited, we then went back to the hotel for a shower and breakfast before heading out with our drivers to Fatehpur Sikri, although they did sneakily take us there via a visit to see 'local craftsmen', a marble place that handily had a shop! Anyway whilst their skills were amazing, the end result was just chintz city as far as I was concerned so I just looked disinterested for about 10 minutes and they let us go, rather than wasting any more of their time or mine!

So next we headed out to Fatehpur Sikri, which is a complex of royal palaces and a mosque about 40KM away from Agra. On the way we saw a real slice of life outside the bigger cities with people, cars, bikes, cows and rubbish all competing for street space. We were warned that we would be hassled by hawkers, beggars and tour guides and blimey, we were too! I ended up having a bit of a confrontation with a guy who insisted he wasn't a tour guide but 'worked there' and when we politely asked him for the third time to not tell us all about the place and just leave us alone, and then less politely the fourth time after he' carried on babbling on about the place, then his Uncle's shop nearby, he tried to turn it round on me and say that all English people just shout and that as a religious place people should show more respect. Amazing how people use religion to their advantage when it suits, if he was that religious he'd have left us alone instead of pestering us with the view to extracting money from us!

Anyway we managed to get shut of him and carried on looking at the mosque, which was amazing but as it was free entry we were still mithered majorly in there by all the locals and it took the shine off a bit. Only when we went into the separate paid entry section of palaces next door did it feel calm and quiet and it was a nice place to wander round in peace. 

So tour completed, we jumped back in the Sooty van and headed back, the guys dropped us at a lovely restaurant on the way back which overlooked fields and we could see the farmers out and about and the women carrying massive loads of branches on their heads! Made my day indeed when the waiter who had said he was really interested in England hadn't a clue when we were trying to describe whereabouts we lived - when Vanessa said something like "near Manchester, you know, Manchester United", he hadn't got a clue, priceless!
We finished off the day by visiting Itmad-ud-Daula's Tomb in Agra, better know as the 'Baby Taj' which was a nice quiet place and a good spot to see at sunset. It also had loads of monkeys wandering round which looked nice and cute initially until once tried to attack me for getting to close when taking photographs of another one! Vanessa was chased too so we called it a day and headed off just as they were closing, back to the hotel ready for the next day's trip to Jaipur.
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