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 khyberrestaurant.com
We spent a good quality time on this area as we peacefully waited for the sunset. Oh hey, we met Jai - an architecture student.
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
behind this wall is the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal
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!