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
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”
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.
Inside the Agra Fort
Morning view of the Taj from the Agra Fort
View of the walls
The interior of the fort is large and spacious
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
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