From India with Love | The Taj Mahal

Like everyone else, my first awareness of India came from its very famous landmark, the Taj Mahal. However, as I began to travel and discover my real interest, I realized I still wanted to see India - but not go to India just for the Taj Mahal alone. 

Namaste, Taj Mahal!

Delhi to Agra by Train
Aside from the Taj Mahal, a visit to India wont be complete without experiencing their trains. At first, I was terrified to ride their trains because of the travel blogs I've read in the past. It's not just dangerous, but the foreign tourists described it as deadly. Aside from that, the train station alone is already a famous place for scams. I lost count how many times I've read stories on how tourists got trapped with the "the train is delayed or this is not the correct station" scams. Definitely, I braved my fear and convinced myself I cannot leave India without riding their train. So be it.

Delhi - Agra | First AC

Tickets get sold out quickly so it's better to book train tickets in advance, actually more than a month in advance. The only problem I encountered while booking is my credit card. Thanks Marx for lending me your ClearTrip account.

Since the trip was scheduled at 6AM, Kat and I decided to book a hostel near the New Delhi train station. Smyle Inn has a spacious and clean room, but the location is definitely not for the faint-hearted. Imagine Malate in Manila, parang ganyan. Only, the streets are dim and all you see are fierce-looking men.

comfy room at Smyle Inn, New Delhi

So anyway, we woke up early and walked towards the train station. The sight of people sleeping in the streets wasn't new to me anymore. As expected, the touts welcomed us as we reached the place.  Once you start talking to someone, more aggressive looking men will flock you. Try not to ask and go figure your platform by yourself. Again, wag lang maging tanga and you'll be fine. Just look for the giant screen and check your train code. The screen will flash which platform you should be going. It's critical. You have to be at the correct platform when the train stops.

First AC coach from Delhi to Agra

The ordinary locals (err not businessmen) opt to take the lower class coaches, while foreigners like us preferred to travel on first class seats. The price was actually cheap for this kind of class. The coach was very comfortable and yes - clean! Breakfast was also served. Im impressed! I secretly wished we could have this efficient rail system in the Philippines. Hell yeah, India is the 7th largest country in the world - not to mention, another third world country, yet they managed to have an efficient rail system throughout the country. Bad news for us.

Moving on, though our first class tickets were not really that expensive, I actually regretted that we wont be able to experience the no-frill and very basic seats. Oh well, the feeling of being safe was always priceless.

We arrived in Agra on time and our taxi driver was already waiting for us. For this leg, we chose Sai Home Stay, a family-run homestay for our accommodation. This is one of my 2 favorite rooms I slept in India.

very affordable room at Sai Home Stay Bed & Breakfast

So what's the first ting to do? Sleep! I shut down the windows and the aircon unit, and I chilled inside the comforter. Mind you, it's 10degrees when we're in Agra and we we're not prepared for this weather.

What I also loved about staying at this homestay is that the mom cooked whatever Indian food we wanted. We had home cooked cheese naan, biryani, eggplant something, and more. I cannot emphasized enough how good their milkshakes were!

home-cooked meals: cheese naan, biryani, eggplant something, and spinach something

Baby Taj Mahal
It's already past noon when we decided to go out in the streets. Honestly, there were not so many places that interests us. Choosy. Haha I just love to do peole watching than visit the same looking forts in every corner of India.

..but Im glad we visited this one, the Baby Taj Mahal.

the Baby Taj Mahal | Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah

Tomb of I'timād-ud-Daulah is a mausoleum in the city of Agra, Uttar Pradesh. Baby Taj Mahal is often regarded as a draft of the Tāj Mahal. No entrance fee and no dress code required.

facade from the west view

the actual Taj Mahal looks exactly like this, even the red gates

And just like that, Kat and I found a perfect place for photo op! ^_^

had I known we cannot achieve this crowd-less view in the actual Taj Mahal, we should've took more time on this place

and oh, squirrels do exist! ^_^

After that, we went to the riverbank at the back of Taj Mahal. I must admit, I got breathless when I had my first glimpse of this majestic structure.

majestic Taj Mahal as the backdrop

back view of Taj Mahal, perfect for sunset viewing

According to the myth, the Black Taj Mahal was said to have been planned to be built across the Yamuna River opposite the Taj Mahal. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan is widely believed to have desired a mausoleum for himself similar to that of the one he had built in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

 the black Taj Mahal myth
image c/o

We spent a good quality time on this area as we peacefully waited for the sunset. Oh hey, we met Jai - an architecture student.

Taj Mahal
This was the day I actually touched the marbles of Taj Mahal. Though there are lots of foreign and local tourists, the Taj Mahal admin is doing a good job of organizing the flow of traffic. Believe it or not, this extremely crowded place is traffic-free! Entrance fee is a good 750 rupees, which comes with a bottled water. As the running joke says "it's the most expensive bottled water in India." Hehe Anyway, there is no dress code in Taj Mahal.

I can't believe I was already standing infront of Taj Mahal

There were so many people (45,000 tourists per day), so it was really a challenge to take photos. Nonetheless, what matters was the point of being there.

the great gate

pretty ceiling with incised painting

abot kamay na kita

the Taj Mahal was Shah Jahan’s imagination of Mumtaz’s home in paradise

It is said that Emperor Shah Jahan was so heartbroken after the death of her favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. He ordered the court into mourning for two years. Sometime after her death, Shah Jahan undertook the task of building the world's most beautiful monument in the memory of his beloved.

It took 22 years and the labor of 22,000 workers to construct the monument. After his death, Shah Jahan was laid to rest in the Taj Mahal besides the tomb of his wife Mumtaz.

the name of the architect of the Taj Mahal is Ahmed Lahauri

Another popular myth was that Shah Jahan got the hands of his sculptors and architects cut off so that they would never be able to build a monument as magnificent and beautiful as the Taj Mahal again.
Now a closer look.

Taj Mahal is a combination of Indian, Persian and Islamic styles of architecture

line of people at Taj Mahal

This mausoleum was constructed of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones (including jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst and turquoise) forming intricate designs in a technique known as pietra dura.

We removed our shoes and followed the line of tourists. Told you, it's very systematized. Anyway, photography is prohibited in the tomb area. It's also a bit dim inside and a little noisy.

flooring inside Taj Majal

spandrel detail
behind this wall is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal

marble carvings
the carvings at Jain Temple are more fabulous than these

an Indian guy enjoying his free access at this UNESCO World Heritage site

these schoolgirls' dresses are as colorful as their country's history and culture

a wonderful love story

Aside from the majestic structure and the luxurious marbles, what made Taj Mahal outstanding is the great true to life love story of a man for his wife. I'm grateful I've finally seen it with my own eyes. 

Now I can't help but wonder where do all the money go (hello 750 rupees per tourist), when in fact lots of beggars and homeless folks are just outside the Taj Mahal complex...

up next: what's India without Bollywood!

The New Spiral | Dinner Buffet at Sofitel

Buffet eating is an art known by all, but mastered by few.
..and no, after all the buffets I've had, Im still not able to master it. 

Speaking of buffets, I believe Spiral never really lost its reign as the Philippine's most famous and most luxurious buffet. Even when Spiral got temporarily closed due to a bad typhoon, the buffet lovers just got more excited with the relaunch. True enough, the new Spiral is back with a more extensive selection of food - 21 Dining Ateliers to be exact.

After the relaunch, my friends and I have been patiently waiting for some group buying sites that would offer Spiral discounted coupons. We wanted to experience Spiral, at a discounted rate if possible.

So imagine how delighted I was when I got invited to experience the new Spiral.

the new Spiral buffet at Sofitel Manila

the famous Spiral staircase

renovated dining area

The renovation took over a year and this costs a whooping 11 million dollars. The area looks pretty much the same though, as the management would still want to retain the same look.

Food Porn | Spiral Edition

I remember the old Spiral being big, but now it's even bigger!
The 21 Dining Ateliers are made up of : Salad and Appetizer, L’Écailler, Sushi Sashimi, L’Epicerie, Hot Japanese, French Stove, Rotisserie, Wood fired Oven,  Churrasco, North Indian, Asian Noodles, Peking Duck Oven, Steam Baskets, Chinese Wok, Filipino, Thai, Korean, La Boulangerie, La Patisserie, Chocolaterie and Creamery.

Weekday dinner rate costs around P2,800. Buffet starts at 6:30PM and ends at 10:30PM. 
Let me start with the most raved about, The Cheese Room. 35 kinds of cheese are available that particular night but there are more varieties which are served on different days. Local cheese, blue cheese from Davao to be specific, are available too.

the Cheese Room at Spiral

around 35 kinds of cheese were served that night

best with cheese!

It's unbelievable to enter a room with a wide selection of cheese. I helped myself and tried out as much cheese as I want. It's a heavenly experience!

Moving on... these are a few of the photos I took.

 Foie Gras and Salmon

Sushi Overload

lots of Salmon and Tuna Sashimi

Pasta Station

wide variety of Salads and Appetizers

Asian Noodles

Chinese Dimsum

Chinese Steam Baskets

Buttered Seafood

North Indian

 Lamb and Prime Rib

These are only a few of the ateliers. Thai, Korea, and Filipino ateliers are not in the picture. Anyway, the following are the eye candies. Literally.


Treasure Chests

White, Milk, and Dark Chocolate Treasures
i ate a piece (err pieces) every time I pass this area

Crepe! ♥

The selections are overwhelming and I haven't started eating yet.
Now the best part -  eating time! I started with the complimentary bread and spread. My favorite pumpkin soup went so well with it. And oh, I also got a refreshing Peach Cooler drink.

 The cheese and cold cuts plate came next. There's no need to hurry so I indulged in every bite.

Cheese and Cold Cuts Plate #1
heavenly delicious

Cheese and Cold Cuts Plate #2

These Japanese Sushi came next for me.

Sushi Plate
each sushi is flavorful and unique. we enjoyed these.

I know I should try the unusual items but I can't resist these Chinese Dimsum.

Xiao Long Bao, Hakaw, Siomai, and More!
not the best I had.. but still good enough.

French Plate
i love that bowl with Asparagus

Buttered Seafood
everything is so good

Ebi Tempura and Tonkatsu
not a fan of  katsu, but ebi tempura is always my favorite

a plate full of Lobsters
mouth watering

yes, I also have a love affair with Korean food
tastes authentic!

Indian food once again ^_^
these are better than what I had in India. hehe

Prime Rib in Wine Sauce

Among the dishes I tried that night, my favorites are: varieties of cheese, pumpkin soup, ebi tempura, and the buttered lobsters. The Chinese, Thai, Korean, and Indian food are close to the real thing as well. Wish I have tasted the pasta and the pizza and rest of the Japanese food.

For dessert, I'm not into cakes but the crepe always brings me a delight. I asked for a Mango Peach Crepe with Chocolate and Caramel Syrup. 2 minutes later, I got this fabulous looking crepe. I got speechless and I just uttered nothing but "wow"! ♥

Mango Peach Crepe with Vanilla Ice Cream and Whip Cream, with Chocolate and Caramel Syrup
wow, and it's so good! ♥

 Gummy Bears, Chocolate Truffles, Chocolates with Pistachio, and More!
those chocolates with pistachios are the best!

Im so full and satisfied. We finished at 10:30PM but I think I want more. Wish there's more room in my belly so I could have tasted other food. ^_^

For diners who wants to take home some of the goodies, Spiral offers this "Spiral 2 Go" cart. 

take home some of your fave Spiral goodies

La Veranda
made for ala carte diners

Overall, I am so impressed and overwhelmed. Honestly, even when I tried new buffets, the ultimate comparison would always be my previous Spiral experience. True enough, Spiral didn't disappoint. The new Spiral buffet is even more extensive and the quality is still topnotch. There's nothing in my mind that Spiral is not offering! They actually have everything I wanted to eat, and a lot more. Spiral deserves all the raves and awards they are getting. Quality food and service deluxe in one. And again, the Cheese Room is absolutely a must try.

Spiral Rates (subject to change)
Monday to Saturday Lunch : P 2,532                
Sunday Brunch (with Champagne and Wine) : P 4,092
Sunday Brunch (w/out Champagne and Wine) : P 3,992
Sunday to Thursday Dinner : P 2,880
Friday to Saturday Dinner : P 3,126.06

poolside by night

happy tummy smile

thank you Spiral for that sumptuous and luxurious feast! 

40% DISCOUNT AT SPIRAL - A Special International Women's Day Offer

Dine at Spiral with the most important woman in your life and treat her to a magnifique dining experience like no other.  Tag your friends and present a printout of this post to get 40% discount for your entire group. Enjoy an additional 10% OFF with your Accor Advantage Plus card.

Valid from March 1 to 10, 2014. Prior booking is required. Offer is valid for Monday to Friday lunch and dinner.
Book a table via

Sofitel Philippine Plaza Manila CCP Complex
Roxas Boulevard, Pasay City, Philippines
Telephone:(+632) 551-5555
Website   |     Facebook
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...