Marble Tears


Agra is the best and worst of India in one place.  The city is home to the Taj Mahal, a magnificent site that is absolutely stunning and truly exceeds expectations, especially when one grows up seeing pictures of it in books and on the Discovery Channel.  The eponymous Agra Fort, arguably India’s best preserved fort, and several other smaller mausolea, temples, and parks call the city home.

However, the city is part of the so-called Golden Triangle, including Delhi and Jaipur, which marks the typical tourist path in north India.  As the principal site for foreigners in the entire country, the touts are relentless.  I like to think myself good at simply smiling and ignoring, or politely saying no with a wave of the hand, but after a while, one begins to get a little annoyed.  “I just want this jade (not jade) elephant (made in Taiwan) for 10 rupees, not 15!”

Frustration aside, the Taj Mahal is one the world’s beautiful treasures.  Kipling called it “the embodiment of all things pure” as it basked in the jasmine glow of the setting sun.  The Taj is beauty and decadence entwined in one, ivory inlaid in marble.

From Agra, another train, to the famed Rajasthan of princely lore.

A shorter train than the last one; this time, a 12-hour overnight trip from Varanasi to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal

I first viewed the Taj from across the river Yumuna, the same river that runs through Delhi, in a park at sunset

Approaching

Though it is monsoon season, the river is shallow here

Pink and darkness

The next morning, I wake before sunrise to view the Taj from its traditional westward entrance

So many people, Indians and Europeans alike

Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore described the Taj Mahal as “a teardrop on the face of eternity”

Sun rising

Before the inward exodus

On the actual Taj Mahal platform, one is not allowed to wear shoes

Mosque on the north side of the platform

The next day, I visit some of Agra’s other sites. With moisture on my camera lens, I approach the Agra Fort, my favorite fort in India

This man would not stop haranguing me about being from America, asking me to explain every decision the country has made. Uhh bye.

Large battlements

UNESCO sign

Inside the Agra Fort

Desolate

Morning view of the Taj from the Agra Fort

View of the walls

Gardens

The interior of the fort is large and spacious

Quiet

The back part of the Agra Fort is blocked off to tourists and is reserved for training of the Indian military

Side view of one of the pavilions

Sandstone red

Me in front of ruins at the Agra Fort

I also visited Itmad-Ud-Daulah’s Tomb, affectionately known at the Baby Taj, a 20 minute auto-rickshaw ride from the Taj Mahal

Agra (and India) is full of historic and beautiful mausolea like the Baby Taj

This “hotel” is the closest one to the main gate of the Taj Mahal – perfect for waking up and visiting before dawn – but it was rough, even more than I have been accustomed to

Lunch of pakora – fried onions, potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower – an incredibly popular street snack across the subcontinent

Nordic backpackers share the narrow “lanes” with everybody and everything in Agra

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