For the drive down to Agra we swapped drivers for Sunil and his Toyota Innova van.
Even though this is my 3rd visit, I am still in awe at what a wondrous thing The Taj is to behold with the naked eye. I could have found a hundred more angles from which to take photos and still not have captured its magnificence. Wow I'm beginning to sound like a guide.
I think Valley Girl Guides says it best though,
"So The Taj Mahal is an amazing resort in Reno, but it's also this other place in India! What a coincedence! The Indian one is not a casino; infact you might not want to stay the night there either; there's a couple of dead people in the basement.
Anyways, the Taj Mahal was constructed by like, a lot of people and it took them like, a long time. So it must be awesome! And you can thank this Moghul Emperor guy Shah Jahan for its amazing-ness.
I have a marble rolling pin and get this- The Taj Mahal is made from the same stuff! I wonder how many rolling pins they used to make it?!
Enjoy your visit at the Taj Mahal, and who knows try the slots, you may get lucky!"
It’s magical like no man-made object I’ve ever seen before. So many factors contribute to its magnificence- its setting (on a river bank with nothing but the blue sky as a background), its proportions, the thought that went into building it (the minarets lean slightly outwards- in case of collapse they would spare the Taj, the script that goes up vertically stretches as it reaches the top, to retain legibility while compensating for perspective), the materials (all in white marble with onyx and inlaid semi precious stones) that change mood at sunrise, sunset and by moonlight, the workmanship (22 years of non stop construction!), the sheer size, and of course the story behind it (a tomb made for love) all come together in this world wonder. You just gotta see it!
Today I also proved my Indian-ness where it counts- to get a cheaper entrance ticket to the Taj Mahal! Indians are charged Rs20 (50cents) and foreigners (including Indians living abroad, or NRIs) are charged Rs750. It’s a totally unfair difference and I was not about to pay Rs750 if I could get away with just 20. Perhaps it was the commotion that an Indian family was causing after they were accused of being NRI, but I handed in my ‘locals’ ticket and was waved through. SCORE!
I’m staying at The Gateway Hotel (it’s #3 on Tripadvisor after the uber-expensive Oberoi Amarvilas)- a very nice hotel with a great view of the Taj Mahal from my room. I was lucky enough to be upgraded to a suite thanks to pointing out a piece of glass that looked like it could have fallen off the window (in the next year or so, but hey I could have just saved a yet unborn person from fatal injury!!).
The suite was a welcome contrast from the scummy Southern in Delhi; I spent about 40 minutes under the full body Hans-Grohe shower in the all marble bathroom- absolute HEAVEN!
After a guided tour of the Taj from Mayank, our fluent-in-Russian guide, came the anticlimax of the day- a crappy dinner at the Maya restaurant. The guide was obviously earning a commission to recommend this place. I knew it was time to leave the restaurant when I had to tell the waiter, “Umm, sir could you please take AWAY that giant dog that’s roaming free around the diners, and cancel the wine that we ordered before the meal?!”
The next morning it was no time to spare as I had to make it back to Delhi Railway station to catch the 1630 Shatabdi Express to Amritsar. Amritsar is the holiest city for the Sikhs and closest city to the border with Pakistan. I'm looking forward to seeing the Golden Temple and maybe even the border ceremony at the town of Wagha.