We were visiting the Taj Mahal at sunrise so this meant an early start. The bus left the hotel at 6.30am and by 7 we were in the queue waiting for the outside gates to open. At 7am the huge external gate ( one of 3) was swung open and we made our way inside. Security was high and this involved airport style security and the most in depth search of my rucksack since The Gabba in Brisbane!
The forecast for the day was not great but at 7am it was dry but murky. We soon got our first view of the Taj Mahal. Wow! It’s incredibly impressive even in foggy conditions. It’s hard to think there is a more beautiful building anywhere else in the world.
The Taj Mahal was constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of 22,000. It was built by the Muslim Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Arjumand Bano Begum, better known as Mumtaz Mahal. Mumtaz had already borne the emperor FOURTEEN children when she died in childbirth. The Taj Mahal must be the ultimate symbol of love.
Yash had arranged for a specialist guide to explain the history of the Taj. One of our first photo stops was at “Diana’s seat” by the Lotus Pool. The seat is so named due to the iconic photo of Princess Diana taken on her visit to the Taj Mahal in 1992. She was on an official state visit to India with Prince Charles but visited alone as at the time her marriage was collapsing. As it turned out the rest of the group, and I, had our photos taken on the wrong seat. Hey ho!
We then moved onto the Taj itself and entered after covering our shoes. Like the Baby Taj yesterday it’s perfectly symmetrical. We saw the tombs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan. Mumtaz’s cenotaph is right in the centre of the tomb chamber with Shah Jahan’s to one side. This is due to his grave being moved there after his death when the Taj had already been completed.
We has plenty of time for taking photos. Unfortunately the sun didn’t come out and it stayed murky.
After finishing at The Taj we had a coffee nearby and then headed back to the bus. On the way we passed a number of souvenir sellers. After detailed negotiations I managed to secure a very tasteful item – a Taj Mahal glitter dome! – at the bargain price of 100 rupees (£1).
After getting back on the bus we headed back to the hotel which gave an opportunity for breakfast. Whilst back at the hotel the heavens opened and there was thunder in the air. We were lucky to have seen the Taj whilst it was dry.
Despite the weather we headed back out at 10.30 to visit Agra Fort. The walled city of the Agra Fort was first taken over by the Mughals, led by Akbar the Great, in the late 16th century. Akbar liked to build with red sandstone often inlaid with white marble and other intricate decorations. It was during the reign of Shah Jahan, Akbars grandson and the builder of the Taj Mahal, that the fort took on its current state. Shah Jahan preferred buildings of white marble, often inlaid with gold or other semi precious gems, and he destroyed some earlier buildings to build others in his own style. At the end of his life Shah Jahan was imprisoned in the fort by his son, Aurangzeb. It is believed that Shah Jahan died in Muasamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with an excellent view of the Taj Mahal. The Taj of course is where his favourite wife Mumtaz’s body lays on the other side of the River Yumana from the Fort. The Fort is also the site of one of the most important battles of the Indian rebellion of 1857, which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule in India, leading to a century of direct rule of India by Britain. The Fort is a really fascinating place and our guide really brought things to life for us with stories such as Shah Jahan and Mumtaz having fishing competitions together in the fishing lake. He always let her win! There was also a harem of beautiful ladies within the Fort in the days of Akbar the Great and Shah Jahan. The rain stopped towards the end of our visit but despite this the Taj Mahal was barely visible across the river.
We headed back to the hotel for lunch and I really enjoyed my choice of mixed vegetable korma. In fact I began to order mixed vegetable curries for lunch each day in India following this.
We had free time in the afternoon which I used to catch up with sleep. The journey from Thailand to India and the early morning had caught up with me.
In the evening we headed out to the Dasaprakash South Indian restaurant and a totally different style of food. Check out the Dosa that I had. A Dosa is a type of fermented crepe cooked with rice batter and black lentils. Mine was a little bit different to the norm as it contained wheat, onions and potatoes. Very tasty!
After the meal we headed back to the hotel. Yash invited us back to his room for a party. Most of the group went along. Room parties were to be a theme for the rest of the week.