I do not want to ever be accused of burying the lede. This is the Taj Mahal Post.
I woke up early to take a train that is literally called the Taj Express from Delhi. It’s a 3 hour train ride and I slept the whole way there. When I woke up and got off the train in Agra, I fought with some rickshaw drivers and made my way straight to the grand daddy of Agra, the Taj Mahal.
It costs an arm and a leg to get in, but are you not going to pay for the Taj?!? Plus, they give you little shoe covers for later, which is nice. When you enter, you first have to pass through this large sandstone gate. It’s impressive and beautiful in its own right, but you just want to get to the Taj!
And before you know it, there she is!
Of course, it’s teeming with tourists but you never quite lose a sense of the majesty of the building. The story goes that everyone’s favorite Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan (he built most everything worth seeing in India) was madly in love with his 3rd wife Mumtaz Mahal. She was his most beautiful wife and the most loved by his people, so her death hit the whole empire very hard. Shah Jahan built this giant mausoleum to hold her tomb as a memory to their eternal love. It’s a true story, so that’s very beautiful and all, but this raises the most interesting part about the Taj. It’s a little
small intimate. I always knew it was just a mausoleum, but I still imagined it having bedrooms and kitchens and grand halls, but in reality, there are only two tombs inside, and a few stark empty rooms for prayer. That’s it.
Another surprising little bit of the Taj Mahal is the incredible beauty never diminishes. It is so beautiful in person and lives up to the hype. From afar, it’s the simplicity that you notice. Elegant lines, simple domes, nothing too flashy. Up close, you see this incredibly subtle and gorgeous detail work. Many of the panels and alcoves are covered in paintings, carvings, and murals. There are a lot of turquoise and gold borders that go unnoticed from afar. Walking around the Taj and taking in the little things made it incredibly rewarding.
I hope that’s enough of the Taj to wet your whistle, because as it turns out, there are other things to see in Agra! But not Agra itself. The town is kind of a mess, but so is the rest of India. I ate lunch on a rooftop where the Taj was just barely blocked by some ugly buildings.
The next big sight to see in Agra is the Agra Fort. Old, red, and built by Shah Jahan, it feels a lot like all of the other forts I’ve seen, and I just didn’t have it in me after a big morning of the Taj. Fortunately, I bumped into 2 other unenthused travelers – 2 Brits named Jack and Matt. They were also doing the India circuit and were passing through Agra to hit up the Taj on their way to Varanasi and then up to Nepal! We started making fun of the Indian tourists filming the sign that talked about the history of the fort (I mean a picture is one thing, but filming?!? They deserve it) and before I knew it, we left the fort and grabbed a drink.
We still had more time to kill before our different trains, so we decided to dive deeper into the POIs of Agra. Next in line was a little mausoleum affectionately known as The Baby Taj. About 1/5th of the size and 50 years older than the Real Deal, this little guy almost seemed more like a local park, with some couples sitting in private corners and a group of guys swimming/bathing in the disgusting Yamuna River. It was a great change of pace from the jam packed Taj and it feels much more like a holy place and you can understand the foundation of Taj better by visiting. Does that make any sense?
We ended our day by taking a trip to the botanical gardens across the river from the Taj Mahal, and sure enough, it provided some of the best views of the day. And just like that I had to be going back on the reverse Taj Express Route. That was especially fun because for the first time, I traveled in 2S which is the lowest ticket class. It’s mostly unassigned seats and you’re in with all of the crazies. People jump on the train to beg for money, they try and squeeze in four people to a two person row, they’ll steal your seat if you stand for 2 seconds, but I got brassy and held my ground and made a nice space for myself amidst all the chaos. All in all, a great day with the Taj.