India: The Taj Mahal

To say I bounded out of bed at 4.30am would be a complete lie, but it was with a certain amount of optimism that I got up. After all, it’s not every day that you visit a Wonder of the World. I got hassled slightly less hassled walking up East Gate Road to the East Gate where a moderate queue had formed. This was definitely the time to come – I had heard stories of thousands of people trying to get in whereas the queue here was fine. I don’t think East Gate is one of the busier gates anyway so it’d be a good one to try to avoid waiting for ages.

In true style, I stood in the women’s queue, then the Indian queue and then finally the men’s queue (I’d like the blame the early morning but it was probably just me). It didn’t take long for us to get moving and heading in and through security was pretty quick. You’re only allowed your phone, camera, wallet, water and shoe covers (the latter two come free with the ticket) inside. I took my camera bag with me and this was fine too. I then took a right turn and headed through the gate to get my first glimpse of this extraordinary building from the front.

The Taj Mahal at dawn
The Taj Mahal at dawn

It didn’t disappoint. Like the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it’s a landmark you can’t quite believe you’re seeing as you’ve only ever seen it in books or online. It truly is incredible and the gardens around it compliment it well. It was another cloudy morning so the sunrise was marred a little but it didn’t matter. I just couldn’t take my eyes off it.

Shortly after, my guide, Rashid, arrived. I hadn’t hired a guide for the places I visited in Delhi but thought it would be good to do the Taj Mahal properly. I’d really recommend it (and him). I learnt a lot that I never would have known had I just wandered round the complex myself and he was very friendly and approachable. He seemed to love taking photographs too, constantly asking for my camera so he could take different shots of the Taj and me. I’ve got hundreds of photos of me and the Taj at different angles and the great thing was that he actually knew how to work the camera!

It was fantastic to wander round the beautiful gardens with the dirt and noise of Agra seeming a million miles away. We walked the entirety of the complex as the sun began to rise and the colours bounced off the Taj. It was truly awe-inspiring and the building has rightly earned its place as a Wonder of the World. If you do take your camera (of course you’re going to take your camera!), bear in mind that it often overcompensates for how bright the Taj is. A lot of my photos came out pretty dark.

With our tour complete, I headed back to the hotel to mull over the photos before we would tackle Agra Fort later that morning. You can enter the Fort for 250 rupees if you present your Taj Mahal ticket at the entrance. Again, the Fort managed to leave the grime of Agra behind and was a stunning complex. Rashid was in his element here, constantly taking loads of pictures. I think my smiles were a little forced towards the end though.

Agra Fort
Agra Fort

I learnt plenty about the Fort and it also prepared me for my visit to Fatehpur Sikri the next day so everything tied in nicely. With the heat now blistering, Rashid took me to a recommended restaurant for lunch. I expected to go by tuk tuk but out of nowhere, two men on motorcycles turned up to whisk us to our destination. I’d been a passenger on motorbikes before, during my first trip to India and my travels round Vietnam, but it’s still a pretty terrifying and exhilarating experience on the crazy Agra roads. I’d like to apologise in writing on here to the motorbike rider for digging my hands into his shoulders. It was either that or wrapping my hands round his belly (a method I tried in Vietnam but the rider was significantly larger there and so I don’t think he felt me clawing at his gut for dear life).

A chilled out afternoon and evening followed before I prepared for my Fatehpur Sikri visit tomorrow. I was bracing myself for another eventful day and it certainly didn’t disappoint…

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