So before I can talk about Agra and the Taj, I have to mention that we stopped in a place called Bharatapur where the main attraction was a bird park. Given my severe hatred/ fear of birds I elected to ignore this sight seeing attraction and spent the time very enjoyably lazying in a hammock reading. Not a lot to tell, but worth mentioning!
Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal. We had 2 days to spend in Agra but as we arrived just after lunch we opted to wait until the next day to visit the main attraction and spent the time looking for a mall to buy cheap clothes ready to destroy for Holi at the next place (it will all become clear later in Varanasi).
An early rise meant we could watch the sun climb up to the kiss the roof of the Taj. This magnificance sight is everything you can imagine and more. We walked through the gate with just our cameras and a water bottle. No bags allowed. (I sneaked monkey and snoopy in via my short pockets.) We went through the gate into a courtyard to get a glimpse of the Taj. Then on to the main entrance where the awe of the place just hits you. White marble towered in the distance slowly changing colour as the sun rose in the sky. Symmetry obvious and beautiful in design, it truly is a wonder.
As it was early doors there were relatively few tourists about and therefore we had all the time to take the photos we wanted. And, boy, did we! It took us an hour to move a quarter of the way down the path as each of us tried to get that perfect shot. We tried the demure Princess Diana look, the standing so that we were taller than Taj and finally we had to ensure that Snoopy and Monkey could have their turn. They also met their new mate Garry there and bonding began!!
Finally, making it down the path (followed by another quick photo stop) we approached the entrance to the Taj itself. We were battered out of the way by gizzillions of little Indians (from the South and no! I am not being rude) linked on to each others arms, arm in arm and determined not to be parted whilst getting in everyone's way. We followed like responsible tourists following the path round the two tombs. Inside it is very dark and therefore hard to appreciate the design, especially when the place is so busy. The tombs are the only break in symmetry and this is quite apparent.
When Emperor Shah Jahan built the Taj as a memorial for his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died giving borth to their 14th (!) child, the entire building was symmetrical. However, when the Emperor was overthrown by his son and imprisoned in Agra Fort until his death, he was buried beside his second wife- therefore breaking the symmetry of the Taj. Compared to the awe of outside, the inside was a quick whizz around but, of course, it had to be done.
Seeing the Taj is an unforgettable experience, a true wonder of architecture.
Also in Agra is a Red Fort. This is one of the finest Mughal forts in India. Forgoing the guide, I wandered around the fort enjoying the fabulous architecture and the views of the Taj from it. The Fort is built in a lovely red stone, making it an enjoyable place to chill out.
This brought an end to our time in Agra and with an overnight train we departed to Varanasi and the festival of colours.
Just before however, I mangaed to become a victim of Northern UNSUB, a character who sneaks up unawares, has a hatred of food and water and ensures that the victim is physically sick 4 times (no more, no less). The only mercy being he only stays for 24 hours. An evil character, I was the 4th in the group to succumb to him.