I decided to get my ticket in advance for my early morning visit to the Taj Mahal the next day. As I was entering the Taj Mahal from the East Gate, I had to purchase my ticket from Shilpgram down the road which, luckily, was practically next door to my hotel (Sheela Inn). Walking into the car park, I was swarmed by guides who wanted to show me round and one persistent one followed me to the counter, hassling me even as I bought my ticket. The guys at the ticket booth didn’t seem to care and I was so eager to get away from him that I hurried out without collecting my 250 rupees change. So I ended up paying 1000 rupees instead of 750 for the experience. You can tell I don’t often do 5am starts…
After a day of rotten food and being scammed/hassled in Agra, I decided to cheer myself up by taking a tuk tuk over the river to Mehtab Bagh. This is a park just behind the Taj Mahal from which you can get brilliant views of the building, particularly at sunset. It was a cloudy day so there was no real benefit to going at sunset but I went anyway. The best way to get there is to hail a tuk tuk or rickshaw and get them to wait for you as there aren’t any tuk tuks hovering near the park itself. It’s about a half an hour ride from Tajganj (the tourist area surrounding the Taj Mahal) and cost me around 300 rupees for a round trip with waiting time. I’m sure more rigorous hagglers could get the price down lower.
The drive to the park highlighted to me how much of a dump Agra is. Rubbish, dirt and grime was something I had expected in Delhi (which, in the end, pleasantly surprised me) but I guess I naively assumed the home of the world’s most beautiful building would be beautiful itself. It’s definitely not the case! It’s as if the inner sanctum of the Taj Mahal has been pain-stakingly preserved and maintained and everything else is neglected. It’s a real shame considering the grandeur the Taj personifies. After a less-than-impressive journey, I was pleased to arrive at the tranquility of the park, which was largely empty.
The park itself isn’t hugely impressive and sported a 100 rupees entrance fee for foreign tourists (though I’m reliably informed you can walk down the road and onto the banks of the river for a free and just as stunning view) but the view itself was an incredible dress rehearsal for tomorrow. I didn’t expect to be so close to the Taj. It was mesmerising to see for the first time. Although there’s a barbed wire fence, in the middle section, most of the barbed wire had fallen off so you got a clear view. I imagine on a clear day with the sun setting it would look truly stunning.
I managed to chill for a little bit, despite being pestered by some kids there, and then asked one of the other people in the park to take my picture. This was the final hurdle I’d have to overcome today. I’d already experienced the difficulties of explaining how my camera worked at Humayan’s Tomb but this guy just seemed to press every button and hoped for the best, despite the fact it was all set up and all he had to do was point and shoot. After about 5 minutes, I gave up and handed my phone over from which I got a decent picture. The trouble was that he had pressed a button on my camera and now the focus was permanently blurry.
This was a disaster! I was visiting one of the Seven Wonders tomorrow and my camera wasn’t working. I fiddled with it for a bit but couldn’t get it back to normal. I was really panicking now and so decided to take the tuk tuk back to the hotel to fix it properly. Peace and tranquility shattered. As it turned out, it was an easy problem to fix and I figured it out moments after arriving back at the hotel. I was a bit gutted I hadn’t stayed at the park longer now.
The park itself is nothing special and it might seem odd paying money to go and see something you’re already going to see but from further away but, with the park largely empty, it was great to have the chance to sit and appreciate the Taj without the bustling crowds. You’re also able to get the full view of the Taj with the temples either side, with the Yanuma river and some grazing goats in the foreground. It’s a slightly different perspective on the world’s greatest building.
And, besides, you can never have too much Taj Mahal, can you?