Agra is…different. According to all of the guidebooks and general consensus of other travelers, the city itself isn’t worth a second glance. In fact, its only redeeming quality is the fact that it is home to the Taj Mahal. If it weren’t there, no one would visit, willingly at least. In fact, aside from the Taj Mahal, Agra is best known for filthy streets, crime, and rampant corruption.
Our hotel was within a 2-3 minute walk of the Taj, which was great and its rooftop restaurant offered great views. Our only night in Agra was a terrible and sleepless one for all of us. We happened to be so lucky as to arrive in Agra in the midst of a big Muslim holiday that apparently requires obscenely loud music to be played from speakers around the city that would put the Tweeter Center’s to shame. Parts of our rooms were literally vibrating. When I asked the man at the front desk of the hotel if the music would stop, he flatly said, “It goes all night.” Wonderful. When he said all night, he wasn’t kidding. Our walls shook from about 8pm to 5:30am we were all a bit grumpy when our alarms went off at 5:45…We later found out that the holiday is actually a sad day meant to lament the deaths of important Muslims long ago. Upon learning this, I felt bad for wishing the music would stop so fervently.
We left the hotel around 6:15 and headed to the Taj where we purchased tickets and collected our complementary water bottle and shoe covers. As we proceeded through the West Gate, it was apparent that the Taj Mahal was one of those things that lives up to its billing. It is absolutely massive and perfectly symmetrical from all 4 sides. The closer I got (snapping pictures all the way), the more impressive the monument became. Intricate carvings of floral scenes graced the sides and more than 30 types of semi-precious stones are inlaid in elaborate designs and floral motifs. Before climbing up the stairs to the main platform, all visitors need to either remove their footwear or slip on the bright red shoe covers provided with your ticket…we all went with the latter.
Inside, the tombs chamber surrounded is by a solid marble screen. The twin red sandstone mosques flanking the Taj were perhaps even more beautiful with equally impressive floors and archways. With the rising sun giving the white marble a golden glow, I got some great photographs.
After taking some traditional tourist pictures at the Taj we went for lunch and coffee before moving on to the Agra Fort, an amazing architectural feat in its own right. Located just on the opposite bank from the Taj, the fort’s red walls and opulent features were breathtaking. The king at the time of its construction even had his own private fishing pond (at which he used a bow and arrows to fish) and 365 girlfriends…needless to say, the man had it good. After a late lunch we grabbed our train from Agra to Delhi.