Agra, Uttar Pradesh
Agra was our second stop in India after the hustle and bustle of Delhi. Tim and I were both struck by how much cleaner the air was is Agra as we rode in a taxi from the train station. No more black tissues! Our hotelseemed like luxury after the cell-like room we inhabited in Delhi. It was a huge room and even had an air cooler and a marble floor in the bathroom!
Our hostel had views of the Taj Mahal from the roof, and I was struck by the elegance of its shape, even from relatively far away. We took a stroll down to the Yamuna River to admire the views of the Taj Mahal from the river bank. It was stunning, set in substantial walled grounds. Along the outside of the wall, men worked on enormous pieces of red sandstone, to repair buildings within the grounds. On the way down to the river, a man with huge eyes came marching up to us, saying 'what's this, what's this!!" to his wife. He shook our hands vigorously, and had come over due to our novelty factor. He asked lots of questions like where are we from, are we married etc. Hilarious!!
The road down to the river was lined with monkeys playing happily in the trees and along the bank. I could not resist watching their antics, as this was the first time I had seen monkeys in the wild. I then noticed chip monks darting around by our feet, and water buffalo slowing ambling up the lane from the river. It was so good to stroll around in peace without being hassled by touts and beggars, and to be able to soak in the atmosphere undisturbed. We returned to the hostel after an hour, and collapsed on the bed exhausted. It is amazing how quickly the intense heat of the day when the sun is high in the sky zaps our strength.
The next day, poor Tim was poorly, so I left him to rest and went off for the morning with our driver, a cheerful man called Gudda. He drove me to the other side of the river, and we strolled across the parched river bed, past water buffalo and goats, till a shepherd pointed out a good spot to see the Taj Mahal. It was so picturesque to see it reflected in what remains of the river. I stood there as the only tourist, with my driver and this shepherd, wondering why more people don't come and see what is perhaps the best view of the impressive testament to one man's love.
The Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan, in memory of his 2nd wife Mumtaz Mahal, who died after giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. On her death bead, she uttered a wish that he build a testament to their eternal love, so he did!!
In the afternoon, Tim was feeling a lot better, so we looked around Agra Fort, an impressive sandstone beast of a building, covering several square kilometres. We admired the marble work of the palaces within, and the views over the river to the plains beyond.Shah Jahan was imprisoned there by his son for the remaining years of his life, where he lived in a tower with views of his creation in the distance.
We saved the Taj Mahal for last. I had been expecting it to be heaving with Western tourists, but we were almost the only white people there. We strolled through the gardens and admired the Taj reflected in the water garden. The actual building itself is made from Rajastan marble, and is covered in thousands of decorative images fashioned by hand from different coloured marble. The white of the marble changed colour as the sun started setting. It was truly stunning.