Posted by Amanda
Another early morning as we left the hotel to view the Taj Mahal at sunrise. We got to the parking area to be greeted by the hawkers. The worst are the little kids. At one point a student turned to a young kid and asked why he wasn't in school. The little kids are just pushier and more persistant. I've gotten pretty good at ignoring all of them but I don't like when someone brushes my breast while trying to sell me something.
Anyway, we took a smaller bus closer to the Taj. There was a short walk there that was very dirty. We crossed a little bridge that seemed to span a river of trash. There was no water left, just trash. Finally at the gates of the Taj they checked our bags and gave us a pat down. With footies (you have to either take your shoes off or cover them to go into the tomb) and a bottle of water in our hands we got in the gate. Almost immediately we saw monkeys. They were just hanging on the buildings around the Taj.
It was too overcast and grey to see the sunrise, but the Taj was really great. It looks just like the pictures. The gardens around it were very lovely and clean. The four minerets around it are placed at a slight angle away from the tomb so that if they fall in an earthquake, they won't hit the tomb. When you walk behind the tomb you see a river and what looks like the foundation of the black one that was to be built.
Noah's group was there for most of the same time so we got to hold hands and enjoy the Taj together.
Our next stop was Fatehpur Sikri. This was Akbar's palace. Akbar was the grandfather of Sheh Jehan (the builder of the Taj). His favorite wife who was a Hindu (he was Muslim) had a very nice area in the back. Again the monkeys were all around. The palace seemed so clean with red sandstone. I got to spend a bit of time with Noah there too.
We also visited Agra Fort where Shah Jehan lived and was imprisoned by his son. There were beautiful views of the Taj from Agra Fort. Supposedly his daughter made a vow to her mother to take care of him. As he was dying while under house arrest his last request to his daughter was for her to lift his head so he could see the Taj.
We hit the Taj for sunset though the overcast sky produced no real sunset. They say it turns a yellow and orange but we got none of that. Rachel encouraged us to pay a few rupees to a local guy who points out good spots for photos with reflections and such.
Throughout the day we did a bit of shopping. The guide dropped us at a factory store that we left for nearby stores. One store sold t-shirts with the Taj on the front and a Welcome Semester at Sea picture on the back. They are sort of ridiculous. Rachel was a good shopper. I was not. I did buy a shirt that probably looks more like scrubs.
We had a good buffet lunch at the hotel and a box dinner for train. The train station was an experience. There were many, many people sleeping on the floor at the station. Beggers were all around asking for food and money. It was a bit hard to deal with so much poverty but you had to turn a blind eye to it or it would be overwhelming. The train was on time and a pleasant enough ride. We had been warned that people take any opportunity to steal on the trains--even drugging the food. But, a train car almost entirely of SAS kids was pretty safe.
At the hotel, Noah and I got to sleep together in a huge suite. The hotel was nice but shabby. There were a lot of patches in the carpet and the livingroom of the suite smelled awful. The bed was terrific and the huge flat screen tv was nice though the reception was not great.