Exploring Rajasthan: Agra

17 Jun

From Delhi I was off to explore Rajasthan – the land of palaces, forts, scorching summer heat and colourful villages; a very culturally diverse part of India. I joined a Classic Rajasthan two week Intrepid Travel tour with ten other travellers and a guide. It had a great itinerary and attracted an awesome group of people; we had a lot of fun and many laughs as we explored this amazing part of India.

We were meant to get a train to Agra but after an early morning trip to the train station our train turned up but with no seats for us! Something to do with the Indian ticket confirmation system – our tickets had been BOUGHT, but hadn’t been CONFIRMED, so they’d been resold. Why does that not surprise me in the slightest? Ah India! Nevermind, off we went in rickshaws to an empty bus station and got on a bus instead. It was an enjoyable four hour ride, if a little hot and sticky but nothing an open window and an ipod can’t improve.

No room for us!

Once in Agra we made an afternoon visit to the impressive Red Fort, the imperial walled city of the Mughal empires.  The massive fortress encloses multiple palaces, two exquisite mosques, a hall-of-public-audiences, a hall-of-private audiences and a tower in which Shah Jahan, the 17th century Mughal Emperor who built the Taj Mahal, was imprisoned by his son for the final eight years of his life due to a power struggle between his sons to reign the empire.

Legend has it that Shah Jahan died in his tower looking out across the Yamuna River at the Taj Mahal, the monument he built in memory of his love for his deceased wife. A pretty tragic ending for the guy who gave history its biggest statement of eternal love. The palatial tower where he ended his time was not too shabby mind you, he did dwell imprisoned in luxury next to the palaces of the concubines and even had a sort of ancient-times-jacuzzi. Not that you can put a value on freedom of course, but just saying, he wasn’t slumming it.

The view of the Taj from the Tower of Shah Jahan's Imprisonment

We had a guide take us around the fort and it was fascinating to hear about the history and functions of all the buildings, right down to the way the plumbing worked and even some ingenious air conditioning. Impressed!

The next morning it was time; time for a quintessential Indian experience – early morning at the Taj Mahal.

This beautiful, highly-recognisable domed monument is a mausoleum built in memory of Mumtaz Mahal, Shah Jahan’s third but favourite wife who died delivering their 14th child (yikes!) in 1631. The Taj took 21 years to build and is made of white marble and inlaid with gem stones and jewels.

I admit it was smaller than I expected, but still pretty spectacular. The atmosphere was very peaceful and quiet, with 17 ha of beautiful gardens surrounding the Taj and its structures including a mosque and gateway. There are plenty of benches scattered around the grounds on which to sit and absorb the scene.

Everyone who enters is immediately possessed by some sort of photo snapping obsessive compulsive disorder. No wonder it is considered the most photographed subject in the entire world – does anyone walk in, take a picture and put their camera away? No. No one does that. Everyone walks around and takes photos from every angle possible, and then maybe even goes around again (well the light had changed!!!) So, like the masses, I have about 6 million photos of the Taj Mahal. Super! Thank God for digital cameras.

Apparently there are some other monuments in Agra, but really it’s pretty much all about the Taj, which lets the Red Fort share a bit of the limelight as it sits in the Taj’s shadow; but they’re quite time consuming to visit so it’s pretty much all I fit in while in Agra – definitely a must see on the Rajasthan tourist trail!

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