Monday, October 03, 2016

Pinoy in Agra - My wonderful visit to Taj Mahal and Agra Fort

Agra - Taj Mahal front_ bwIt is true what they say. Taj Mahal is one of the most beautiful buildings ever built. From afar and close up, this building is made to impress and to be loved.

For me, it is a dream come true and I am so grateful for the experience. A trip to the Agra Fort was a bonus.




After the hectic work week, I flew from Bangalore to New Delhi. Mijo joined me in New Delhi where we both made the city our base. From there, we planned to go to Agra and Jaipur as day trips. First we went to Agra to see the magnificent Taj Mahal.

We arranged a tour of Agra in advance. The tour driver picked us up from our Delhi hotel at 2 o'clock in the morning so that we would arrive Agra before sunrise. The crazy driving style is probably another blog in its own, we did arrive in Agra before sunrise. We were met by our tour guide in Agra.



The area where the Taj Mahal is located is huge. We walked for about 10 minutes from the drop off point to the gate where the tickets are sold.  There were already lots of vendors selling souvenirs items. Remember, this was still at sunrise. The vendors' persistence can be annoying. One tip I can give you is to say no and mean it.
Agra - Taj Mahal walking to the entrance
Then we waited for a few more minutes while in queue. There was already a thick crowd at 6am in the morning. There were lines for the locals and another for foreigners. The line for men are separate from the queue for women. We got a pair of free disposable shoe covers to be used when inside the Taj Mahal.
Agra - Taj Mahal entrance  
There was also a checkpoint with metal detectors. They also manually check bags. I saw a couple of tourists with big bags being sent away. I guess it was because of their big bags and there is another place to drop off the bags? Security was absolutely strict.
  Agra - Taj Mahal entrance check pt 

We got through the West Gate and we walked some more. The red gate is already picture worthy. I was told by our tour guide that the building structures around the ticketing gate used to be living quarters where the Shah used as accommodations for his guests.  
  Agra - Taj Mahal through the entrance 

We finally reached the Main Gate. Details galore and the details are impressive. We were told that the gateway is inscribed with verses from the Quran. I could see the Taj Mahal through the small entrance in the middle.
  Agra - Taj Mahal main  gate 

The entrance through the Main Gate frames the Taj Mahal dramatically.  I imagine that is easily a photographer's favorite vantage point. I learned from our guide that Shah Jahan built Taj Mahal as a memorial for his wife Mumtaz Mahal who died during child birth.
  Agra - Taj Mahal from the gate 

The Taj Mahal is all about symmetry - the garden, the buildings around it, the minarets. The Taj has four identical facades. I could hear the ooh and aahs from the crowd. Add the relaxing sound of the chirping birds and you not only have a picture perfect view but also an awe inspiring scene.
  Agra - Taj Mahal 

There is a mosque to the west and an identical buiding to the east was built for balance. Remember, it is all about symmetry and perfection.
  Agra - Taj Mahal front 

Here's the view from the Taj Mahal to the red Main Gate.
  Agra - Taj Mahal view from 

Here's the Taj Mahal museum. We didn't go in. We got too excited to see the Taj Mahal that we missed this one important venue. It would have been great had the tour guide allowed us to go in just to take a peek.
  Agra - Taj Mahal looking to the left 

Here are the details of the walls and floors. So lavish and so beautiful. The details are carved and the colors are in laid colored stones. Later in this trip, Mijo and I would learn how inlaid designs on marbles are done and how laborious the entire process is.
  Agra - Taj Mahal wall details 
Agra - Taj Mahal wall designs Agra - Taj Mahal windows Agra - Taj Mahal floor

As if the Taj Mahal is not piqturesque enough, the Yamuna River added more drama and romance to the entire scene. We went inside the the Taj but taking pictures was not allowed. Notice the arches? There are inlaid inscriptions from the Quran in the style of callygraphy just like on the arches of the red main gate.
  Agra - Taj Mahal back river

The sun was already out by the time we were ready to leave. 
Agra - Taj Mahal shoe covers

I also noticed more people are pouring in by this time.  The temperature also changed quite a bit. It was much warmer by the time we finished the tour of the Taj. 

This is where I appreciated the timing of our tour - that we got here at sunrise. Less crowd, cooler temperature.
  Agra - Taj Mahal tourists 


Next, we visited the Agra Fort

It is a massive red structure built by Shah Jahan's grandfather, Emperor Akbar. It is considered one of the finest Mughal forts ever built in India. We were told that most of the structure is currently occupied by the Indian military so only select parts of the fort are accessible to the general public.
  Agra - Fort 
Agra - Fort gate details Agra - Fort entry ways Agra - Fort gate with tourists 
Agra - Fort gate Agra - Fort room with view

The Fort was originally built for military purposes by Emperor Akbar but his grandson Shah Jahan made it into a palace. Remember Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal? Shah Jahan also added structures into the Agra Fort using his favorite material - marble. 
  Agra - Fort interior details 
Agra - Fort endless doors Agra - Fort courtyard fountain

 Watch out for the great views of the Taj from the Fort.
Agra - Fort Taj Mahal

 I couldn't help but imagine how rich the ruling families must truly be during this time in India's history. No just the size of the structures they built but the details and the luxuriousness. At the same time, I am glad that India continues to preserve cultural and historical structures like this for the world to see. 
  Agra - Fort wall details 
Agra - Fort door frame Agra - Fort columns

Afterward, we visited some local artisans. The first one we visited were the marble artisans where we learned how to inlay colored stones as designs into the marble. It is a long and arduous process. But the finished product is amazing.
Agra - Marble inlaid stones

We also visited a carpet factory where we learned about India's history of carpet making due to its proximity to ancient Persia.
  Agra - Carpet sales pitch

The process of carpet making is also a lengthy process and involves a lot of delicate work. Also, the finished product is exquisite. We were informed that both factories ship for free to the U.S.
  Agra - Carpet artistan


Of course, no blog of mine is without a picture of what we ate for lunch. This was our delicious lunch.
  Agra - Lunch

And my favorite chai masala while looking at carpets. Look at the details of the cup and saucer? I was so concerned not to break the cup that I forgot to fully enjoy the tea.
  Agra - Chai masala

As we were making our way back to our hotel in Delhi, I felt a tinge of sadness the same way I feel when a good friends moves out of town. I don't know if I am going to see the Taj or be in Agra again but the trip was truly awe inspiring.

It was great to see a glimpse of India's magnificent past through the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort.
  Agra - Taj Mahal silhouete

~rl

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