July 17, 2011

Agra: The Taj Mahal

When I first started planning my trip to India, I had no intention of visiting the Taj Mahal. I didn’t want to come to India and do touristy things, I wanted to come to India and see real India. Then I realized I was being ridiculous and that I can’t come to India and not visit one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Kay and I decided to go with the most convenient option of getting to Agra: hiring a car for the day. I definitely recommend this option, even though it’s pricier, it’s nice to have a car waiting to take you wherever you want to go and being able to leave when you want rather than waiting around for a train and having to rely on autos and cycle rickshaws to get you from A to B. 

I tend to get pretty bad motion sickness so I took some anti-nausea medication and slept the whole way to Agra, although I was woken up for several “You know you’re in India moments…” such as: hitting something and popping a tire, breaks screeching and violently swerving to avoid hitting a cow on the side of the road, and of course the random tolls that lined our path. 

We got to Agra around 7am and made our way to the Taj Mahal. What astounded me about the town is how absolutely poor it is. The poverty in Agra is exactly what I expected to find throughout the rest of India but didn’t. One would think that a site that brings some 2-4 million visitors a year and charges nearly $15 to get in (at least $10 more than any other site in India) would provide some incentive to clean up the area around it. At the same time though, if Agra was this beautiful pristine city, it might seem like India was hiding the realities of poverty in India. It is pretty sad though to have women holding their babies begging you for money and food while you’re walking out of the Taj Mahal having spent 750 rupees to get in…an amount that you know could feed her and her baby for nearly a week, if not more. 

If I have one piece of advice to anyone going to see the Taj Mahal, it is this: Do not read any guide books, blogs, travel stories, etc. about what the Taj Mahal is supposed to be like. Go there, see it for yourself and form your own opinion and then flip through the guide books to learn the story of the Taj and see what else there is to do in Agra. 

The entrance to the grounds of the Taj Mahal
Why do I advise this? Everything I read said that the Taj Mahal is the most beautiful thing in the world, that no pictures can do it justice, that you can’t truly appreciate the beauty of it until you see it for yourself, and that it is ten times more beautiful than they ever expected it could possibly be.

The Taj Mahal absolutely is beautiful. It amazes me that something this big and this beautiful could be constructed so long ago without any kind of modern technology. Kay and I went to Agra on a particularly foggy day and it was incredible how the fog and the mist surrounded the Taj making it look like the only thing in site. 

But, everything I read hyped it up so much that I expected to be truly dazzled. I expected to sit in front of the Taj Mahal in wonderment for hours staring at it in all its glory. The Taj Mahal looked like the Taj Mahal. Pictures absolutely do it justice. I love the pictures I took from the Taj. But the Taj Mahal was the Taj Mahal. At first, it looked a lot smaller than I expected it to be but as I got closer, it grew bigger and bigger and I was amazed at how big it was but it looked the way I expected it to look. So I was disappointed and almost mad in a way about everything I had read. I feel like if I hadn’t read all of those blog posts, guide books, etc. I would have had the same reaction as everyone who had written these things but instead, the Taj Mahal was just too built up and because everything said that it would exceed my expectations, I expected it too and it didn’t.

In true tourist form...
I only write this warning so that you don’t have the same reaction as I did. The Taj Mahal truly is beautiful. Some people say it’s most beautiful at sunrise, others say at sunset. I saw it on a misty, foggy day and think it was absolutely stunning. I think that the fact that everyone has an opinion about when the Taj is most beautiful is a testament to its beauty…that no matter what the sky looks like, the Taj Mahal is going to stand out as this awesome, beautiful structure that was built in honor and devotion to Shah Jehan’s wife and that, in itself, is truly astounding.

In my salwar kameez in front of the Taj Mahal
For several years (a long time ago), Agra was the unofficial capital of India so there’s actually a lot more to see in India than the Taj Mahal. Kay and I, exhausted by our morning wake up call, only visited Agra Fort before calling it a day but Agra Fort was something that I definitely recommend seeing during a visit to the Taj. 

The entrance to Agra Fort
Kay and I spent quite a bit of time walking around the Fort marveling at its intricacies; its delicate paintings, its stunning archways, the abundance of marble, the size of it, and of course the stunning views of the Taj Mahal from Shah Jehan’s prison cell where he sat for 8 years only able to longingly stare at his creation without being able to visit it to mourn his wife.  

Delicate paintings...

Stunning archways...
An entire apartment made of marble?
Stunning views of the Taj Mahal

There's a lot of history here and it's absolutely beautiful so when you make your way to India and find yourself in Agra, make sure you see what else the city has to offer besides the Taj Mahal! And of course, it wouldn't be India without some of the most random things happening on the way home: 
Wild pigs running across a busy street
A man getting a shave on the side of the road
Monkeys in abundance!

A cows on a busy street outside a restaurant
So that's Agra for you! Today, I was supposed to head South to Mumbai to continue my trip through India but I've decided to cut my trip short due to security and safety concerns surrounding Wednesday's terrorist attacks in Mumbai. So what does that mean? I'm coming home! After a month of traveling, I decided to cut my trip 3 days short rather than try to make my way to Mumbai for my flight home. I'm so ready and so excited to be coming home! So next time I write, I'll be giving full details of my travels abroad and how I'm trying to get back into the swing of things!
Have a great rest of the weekend everyone!
I'm coming home, coming home, tell the world I'm coming home =)


  1. Wahooo!!! I'm glad you have had such a successful trip, despite leaving early. Can't wait to see pics and hear about it in person!

  2. Amazing pictures!! Have a safe trip back!!!

  3. oh man! I miss India so much! I wore a sauri to the Taj myself. Loved my trip there. We actually ended up not going to Mumbai either. :(. Someday...
    Can't wait to hear more about it!

  4. WOW! What a breath-taking trip! Thanks for sharing some pictures!

  5. wow!! just looking at your pictures gives me goosebumps! it must have been even more amazing in person. can't wait to hear about the rest of the trip! xo

  6. In just a few hours I will hopefully be seeing you! Yay! Safe travels my friend and thanks for keeping us updated on your trip!

  7. These are just incredible photos! The Taj Mahal does look truly magical!

  8. What amazing pictures. I love the house that is made out of marble! Beautiful, but that must hurt your feet to walk on. Not a problem that a good pair of thermal socks can't fix.

  9. Lovely pictures, it looks like such an amazing place! Have to add it to the Bucket List!


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