“A teardrop on the cheek of eternity”*

So after three months of travelling around India, we finally arrived in Agra. To be honest, I was expecting the worst and feared that this would be Aggro-central but in actual fact it was fine. Yes the touting from rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers was pretty constant and some of the vagrant child hawkers were particularly persistent but all in all, it was manageable and not too bad. Just as well because while we had been away in Bhutan, someone had cranked up the thermometer and we were now wandering around in 40 degrees. Unfortunately there were frequent power cuts too which made for a number of sticky moments when the fan in our room went off!

Obviously a trip to Agra is incomplete without a trip to the Taj Mahal. She really is a beautiful monument and did not disappoint at all (I’m lucky enough to be seeing her in person for the second time). In fact we were particularly lucky as she has been undergoing some renovation work and so parts of her have been covered in scaffolding. In fact that’s probably the main reason we had delayed seeing her until this, our last leg, in India. But then just a few days before our arrival in Agra, I had read that the current renovation programme had changed and was now going to mean that the beautiful dome would be covered in scaffolding from April to November 2018. It was therefore with some trepidation that I took my first glimpse of the Taj, only to be flooded with relief on realising that there wasn’t a piece of scaffolding in sight!

Better still, because we visited on World Heritage Day, there was no entry fee (usually Rs 1000 (about £11) per person) nor any limit on how long we could spend there. In order to try and manage the crowds (apparently upto 50,000 visitors per day in peak season), since 1 April, a new 3 hour limit has been imposed on visitors. Also, since we’d arrived as it opened at sunrise (just before 6am), it wasn’t too crowded – it appears that most of the local tourists like a lie-in and it certainly began to get busier by the time we were leaving. However, while I can’t claim it was empty like it was for Princess Diana or, more recently her son and Kate, at least we had a better “scaffolding situation” than William and Kate!

Stunning from every angle!

But Agra is not only about the Taj. The city and her immediate vicinity are blessed by the presence of several other huge scale Mughal monuments. It’s easy to fill a few days here and at the end of a hard day’s sightseeing you can always escape at sunset to a roof top bar in Taj Ganj to sip a beer while gazing once more on the magnificent edifice. Much to my surprise however, the world’s most famous building is not illuminated at night so once the sun has gone down, that’s your lot until the next day of course.

L: Akbar’s Mausoleum; R: Itimad-ud-Daulah (the “Baby Taj”)

Fatehpur Sikri

*poet Rabindranath Tagore coined this phrase about the Taj Mahal.

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