Bucket list: check! After an 18-hour drive direct from visiting the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala, I’ve made it to Agra to see the Taj Mahal! There is a Trident Hotel here in Agra, and I was able to arrange a room so that I could freshen up. It was an awesome perk they offered me, and I very much appreciated the opportunity to shower, change and have some breakfast before heading over to the Taj Mahal.
The hotel also arranged a guide for me today. Sarfaraz is a university professor with a Ph.D. in Indian History. He is the perfect guide for a day in Agra.
We set out to the Taj Mahal and parked one-mile away from the gates to the compound. Because of the sensitivity of the brilliant white color of the Taj Mahal marble, you are not allowed to operate a combustion engine within one mile of the site. From here, one must walk, take an electric cart or ride on a cycle rickshaw. We chose the cycle rickshaw.
Arriving at the outer gates of the Taj Mahal is not as overwhelming as I expected. The lines took only a few minutes to pass through, and the architecture is the exact opposite of what I thought I would find. We are all familiar with the picture of the white Taj Mahal, but what we don’t often see in photos are all the other buildings in the compound, which are made from a red stone. Though these other building are beautiful, they are not what you come here to see.
The outer courtyard is a huge rectangle filled with gardens and surrounded by a low structure which houses stables, living quarters and short-term accommodations for visitors. These are all vacant today but are well preserved. In the center of each of these structures stands a large gate. Three of these gates lead to the outside of the compound while the fourth and most impressive gate leads to the main attraction.
This gate is very impressive, and as you get in front of it, you catch your first glimpses of the Taj Mahal. I have been to many historical sites in my life that claim to have design features that play tricks on your eyes with scale and shape, but none have ever been this effective. In the next photo, you will see what I saw from one position. But at every step the view of the Taj Mahal drastically changes. In this photo, the Taj Mahal looks like it must be very close on the other side of the gate.
As you pass through this gate, you get to see more and more of the Taj Mahal. It is not until you pass nearly all the way through the gate that you see the entire structure and realize that it is still several hundred meters away. The effect this has is pretty amazing and nearly induces a vertigo sensation. It’s awesome!
Once inside the gate, I had to push my way past gawkers and photographers so that I could get my own photos. I took a few standard shots, walked the gardens and then went into the Taj Mahal. On the white-stone surfaces of the Taj Mahal, I had to slip booties over my feet. We walked freely around, in and throughout the structure.
Above eye level, the inside of the Taj Mahal is mostly plain. Eye level and below there are many inlaid semi-precious stones cut into flowers and other shapes of nature. The guide explained to me that the use of semi-precious stones rather than precious stones was a strategic decision, not a financial one. There was a real fear and understanding that if the Taj Mahal had been built of precious materials, that it would be a more likely target for pillaging. You can hardly find a stone missing or damaged in the whole place, so I think the king made a good decision with his material choice.
At the end of the day, we drove across the river to get a backside view of the Taj Mahal. This is the rumored site for a second Taj Mahal that would have been made of black stone, but which was never built. Now this space is a beautiful rose garden, and you can find some ruined foundations. I think this view of the Taj Mahal is the best, and what makes it even better: no one else is around!
After the Taj Mahal (but before the gardens behind the Taj Mahal) we paid a visit to the Agra Fort. A large portion of this fort is still under active duty, but parts are open to tourists. We were at the fort for about two hours.
The Agra Fort is very nice and has some similar design features and colors as we saw at the Taj Mahal. However, it is in many ways like most other palaces: gates, walls, harams, royal quarters, gardens, etc.. If you visit Agra, don’t miss the Agra Fort for sure. But after seeing the Taj Mahal it’s hard to make an impression! Just the same, here are some photos from the Fort.
Have You been to Agra? Are you planning a trip? Please let us know by leaving a comment bellow or by writing me directly at @judsonlmoore!
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