|The Taj Mahal (PC: the Husband)|
Our wanderlust is insatiable, and to indulge in a city with its history is an experience that even if I can, I won't describe in words. Travel is an experience and words can never justify the experience.
As cliched as it is, Shayon and I officially got together on the 14th of Feb, 2005, and that means we have been together for 11 years. Each year it is the same story, oh so what are we doing? Which would usually lead to something that we do in any case on any other couples night. This year though, the closet romantic that my husband is, decided to do something super cheesy. He decided that we should go visit the Taj Mahal in Agra.
It is the monument of love, but mostly, because Husband had never seen the Taj Mahal. [He went for a couple of hours to Agra about a year back, but couldn't make it to the Taj (he had a flight to catch)]. So while, I had my first tryst with this 400 year old monument when I was 1, husband dear was yet to see the glorious mausoleum. So he set up our Valentines' Day there.
We left at 6.30 a.m. from Delhi (South Delhi) and took the Yamuna Expressway. The expressway is the extension of the Noida Expressway connecting to Greater Noida. And that road is a piece of art. I have seen it during the day, but even at night, it has been done beautifully. It is properly marked, 12 lane highway that makes Need For Speed a reality.
[TIP: The Yamuna Expressway is also known for its notorious nature. The road is made of a weird material, which heats the tyres up, and there have been many a incidents on that highway because of tyre bursts etc. This is mostly in summers, and therefore it is recommended that your tyres are checked and filled with the nitrogen air. During winters, its the fog, and the bender fenders are 30 cars long. You will be enticed by the highway to push the accelerator to the maximum. It is of course suggested, that speed limits are followed. ]
We reached Agra by 7.45 am, and then got to know that there is a marathon that is happening in Agra, so all roads leading to the Taj have been closed. They were to open by 10.00 a.m. and that sorta put a slight dent in our plans, because we were trying to avoid the crowds. With two hours to spare, we decided instead to go to Fathepur Sikri, lesser for its heritage value more because of the fond memories that I have of that place. We reached the fort by 9.30ish (Fathepur Sikri is about 40 kms from Agra) and was the original fort where the Mughals (Akbar) started staying and then moved to Agra due to paucity of water.
We were stopped by the guide, and were given some gyaan about how we will end up spending more if we don't take his services. We ended up taking the guide (his name was Irfan) and he made us park our car in front of a restaurant [There is a government sanctioned parking, quite far from the fort]. We parked our car and then he offered to take both of us on his bike till the entrance of the Fort. We decided to walk that distance of about 1/2 a kilometer. We approached the Fort from the backside/ alternate entrance. It was less crowded. You have to remove your shoes at the entrance. And we went inside the fort. The fort is basically a burial place for the Mughals, and there are quite a few tombs inside. There is a dargaah of a famous pir baba, where it is said that if you ask for something you will get it. The entire fort is made in the red-stone and the darghaah is in white. While it is claimed that the donations in the form of the chaddar, flowers and the dhaga are voluntary, it is encouraged by the vendors inside. We were shown the karigiri of the mughals, the optical illusions in the structure and a tunnel which apparently connects India to Pakistan, and Afganistan. This apparently was used as the escape route for the famous courtesan "Anarkali", when her execution was ordered by King Akbar (because she and the price Salim were having an affair, the family honor story).
We went inside the dargaah, and did the needful. Also tied the holy thread. Oh, shorts are not allowed inside. So be wary.
We then saw the "Bulan Darwazaa". It is approximately a 200 feet door that was constructed by the Mughals, and is the biggest door in Asia. That is also the main entrance to the Fort. It has about 52 stairs leading from that door to the roadway. The most amusing thing of all, the platform in front of the door which connects the door to the stairs is supported by beams. Just beams. We saw that through a crack. Talk about scary. The wooden door attached to the Bulan Darwaaza has a lot of horseshoes stuck on it. The legend is that the horses who fell ill, their owners prayed there and when the horses got better, their horseshoe was attached to the door by the owner of the horse as a mark of respect. we even saw some recent ones.
After our tour of the Fort, we had breakfast at a place called Govardhan. It was strictly okay.
We drove back, and were in Agra by 12.30. Husband had made lunch reservations, and we headed straight there. The Lunch was at a rooftop restaurant called the Mughal Room in Hotel Clark Shiraz. It was a mughlai lunch, and it was really great. We had the view of the Taj and the Red Fort. A hearty lunch later, we were ready to go embrace the Taj. As a great gesture, the Hotel told us to leave our car in their parking lot and take an auto instead to the Taj. I was also advised to leave my purse behind in the car. I decided though to take the purse with me and it was a huge mistake.
We took the auto and the auto dropped us at the west side entrance of the Taj. Husband wanted a guide here too, and I was like why do we need a guide at Taj Mahal! But, trust me when I say that it was a great great decision. We reached the entrance and it was a mayhem to say the least. The line was super long. But thanks to the Husband's panache for research, we did two things. We took the foreigners' ticket as opposed to the Rs. 20 ticket. We got a guide right there (His name was Salman, and he was good). As soon as we got our tickets, he got us two bottles of water and shoe covers for us (as a part of our ticket). He also had a photographer attached to him and requested we take his services. And as cheesy as it sounds, we also got a photographer attached to us. The Foreigner's Ticket helped us skip the entry line and we were at the security barrier in like less than 2 minutes. There is a X ray scanner, and your bags are scrutinised by the scanner and if ever there is any doubt by the security your bag is emptied and manually checked. This was the reason why the hotel asked me to leave my bag behind. It took about 7 minutes for my bag to get cleared [My purse is usually airport security ready, so, it was a breeze]. And then we started our tour. From the entrance, where we got to know that there are three gates to the Taj, and while the Westgate is where you get tickets, it is also the mausoleum of Shahjahan's first wife. That the south gate opened into the labour colony, where the labourers that worked on the Taj settled, and that the timings of that gate 8 am to 5 p.m. are maintained as they were in the Mughal Era. And soon we were engulfed in the History of one of the wonders of the world, which took 22 years to get completed. The main structure of the Taj took 17 years, and the whole complex, spread over 60 acres was developed in the other 5 years. The complexity of the design, and the story behind it all is nothing short of stunning. The 150+ feet structure looms over you as you get closer and realise the work that had gone into it at that time and the maintenance that is keeping it as beautiful as they can. The marble is cleaned using multani mitti, and it is a tedious job. There is no electricity on the grounds of Taj on account of the harsh lights spoiling the marble. It is only lit up by the full moon, which I have been told is a sight to behold for the rest of your life. We skipped all the lines thanks to the VIP tickets and also posed in cheesy poses to be clicked by our photographer. We were told that the story about cutting the hands of the labourers was a propaganda by Aurangzeb to discourage his father from building the "Black Taj". One of the biggest architectural marvel in the world, if you look at Taj, you would realise how symmetrically the marbles have been cut, and that there is no discrepancy in any side whatsoever. The Taj looks the same from all the four sides in all respects. The Taj was made in a way to replicate the crown that Mumtaz wore. She was persian, and you can also see some of the carvings that reflect the persian flowers etc. The Yamuna is drying up, and that sort of makes it a bummer, but the beauty of the Taj remains eternal. As the sun was setting we saw the stones in the Taj glittering. Those are the coloured stones in the carvings that the Taj, and it looked brilliant.
We came out, and bid adieu to our guide, picked up our photo album, and started back. There is a Taj tea stall when you exit from the west gate to go out to catch an auto, and it has quite nice lemon tea!
We wrapped up our day after buying some petha. And started from Agra at around 6.45. We reached home in Gurgaon by 10.30. Gurgaon is about 1.5 hours from South Delhi, else would have been home by 9.
It was a day trip, and we lost the time because of the Marathon and all, otherwise we would have done the Red Fort too. But then we needed another excuse to go see the Taj!
Here are some Tips from us:
Toll: The toll on the Yamuna Expressway one way is 300 odd rupees, however if you are sure that you are coming back the same way, take a return receipt for the toll. It is cheaper. The same for toll towards Fathepur Sikri.
Fuel: Ensure that you tank up before you hit the Expressway on your way back. The speed eats the petrol faster, and you don't want to panic mid way in the drive.
Guides: Even though Indians are not known for hiring that service, we feel that for the Taj, it would be an experience.
Do not take your bag or any other item except for the money maybe to the Taj. Its a security fortress.
Also, earlier you go the better it would be. There is no rush. A weekend is a disaster, especially if you do not want buy the VIP ticket. And oh, Friday the Taj is closed.
Enjoy and do tell us, how it was!