You might notice that’s a recurrent theme with me, but anyway, here is a post I started about 9 months ago and have now finally decided that it is time to finish and publish it.
As you can tell from the previous post, the main reason for going to Agra is Taj Mahal, a mausoleum built in the 17th century. Taj Mahal means “great palace”, but it can also be seen as a symbol of love as it was commissioned to showcase the emperor Shah Jahan’s love for his favorite wife (he had 3 wives) who died while giving birth to their 14th child. There were 20,000 workers who helped to build it. That’s pretty insane. Will there ever come a time again when something as grand will be created just to commemorate a loved one’s death?
There is also the Agra Fort but apart from those two things and perhaps another one or two sights, there is not much else to see or do. So my driver took me to Taj Mahal first. We agreed that two hours should be enough and off I went. It was actually quite a walk from the rickshaw to the gate. I bought the foreigner’s ticket (1,000 rupees), got white bootees and a bottle of water (included in the ticket price) and started walking through the gate. Thinking of it now, just two days later (at the time of writing this bit), everything seems already so foggy.It was hot and I sat down every chance I got. Fortunately, there are quite a lot of benches and not too many people who need them. I was so close to Taj Mahal, yet kept sitting down and looking at it from a distance, because I had no energy to walk closer. I approached it slowly, carefully, as if I was trying to enjoy the view from every position possible. In reality, I was just dying inside. Finally, I was almost at the entrance of Taj Mahal when I lied down on a bench right there in front of it. A nice guard told me to go on a bench that was more in the shadows. That’s what I did. A guard or two came to check on me to see whether I was okay, saying that there’s medical aid if I need it. I told them about my condition and they found some people who had water with vitamin C and basil seeds (I think). The nice people gave it to me and then went their way. After resting for a bit, I finally found the strength to actually enter Taj Mahal. I put on my bootees, because you either have to wear those or remove your shoes, sipped the water given to me, and slowly trudged to the mausoleum.
Not only was it hot, it was bright – everything is made of white marble. I had to squint my eyes all the time and that was quite tiring as well. I’m ashamed to admit, but I spent 4 months in India without a hat. I think a hat is one thing you should have when you go to a country with a hot and sunny climate. Despite that, I just didn’t have a hat before and never thought of buying one there. I’ve never been a fan of hats (mostly because of the way they look on me) and while I had always been fine without a hat, at Taj Mahal that was the one thing I regretted not having.
It was really amazing when I stepped inside Taj Mahal. I had finally made it! I followed the path inside, enjoyed the shadowy area inside the building and tried to get a glance at the real tombs. Fortunately, the place wasn’t too crowded, so I didn’t really feel like I needed to hurry or that I was in someone’s way. I walked slowly and tried to get a good look at everything. You can’t take pictures inside (unless you ignore the rules and the guard doesn’t see you), therefore all you can do is just look and memorize it as well as you can.After seeing the rooms and halls, I walked out and gazed over the river behind Taj Mahal. Then I knew it was time for me to go back, because I had spent a lot of time just sitting and lying on the benches and the driver was waiting. I walked back slowly, but didn’t take as many breaks to rest. There is a beautiful garden in front of the marble building and it sure would have been nice to just enjoy its serenity. Eventually I got back to my tuk-tuk and asked to go back to the hotel to rest for an hour. On the way back I wanted bananas and the driver pretty much made me buy three mangos as well. For 10 rupees a mango, that was a sweet purchase. Later when I was in my room, I was really grateful for the mangoes, for how juicy they were.
Before stopping at the fruit stall by the road, the rickshaw took me to a tour office or something. I’m not even sure why I went there. He had offered to do that since I was planning to go to Jaipur and I thought why not.
During my time in India I had always booked all tickets online, so I had never used the services of any tour agents. It is supposed to be cheaper online and of course it is very convenient. But since the rickshaw driver wanted to take me there and I was curious to know for myself whether the prices were the same or not, I went along. I found out that booking online is definitely cheaper and you have more options (time and bus company wise). Furthermore, it remained unclear to me what kind of buses they were operating. At first I understood that they booked tickets for government buses (whatever that means), but later the driver said that those are not government buses, but a private company’s. I was almost ready to buy a ticket from there for a non-AC bus, but the bus was leaving too late for me and I’m glad I didn’t book anything from there (they also offered a hotel, taxi driver either for one day in Jaipur or for my entire trip from Agra to Jaipur, the day there, and from Jaipur to Delhi – if I had unlimited money, sure, why not, but 15,000 remained slightly out of my budget this time).
When I was confused about why they didn’t have certain departure times that I could see online, he started telling me something about how those buses just pass through the city and are actually headed to a different destination and to be honest, I don’t really understand what he was trying to say. All I got from it was that he either had no experience with online booking or he was just trying to say something so I would still buy the ticket from him. Overall, I started feeling like that was such a waste of time going to him and was a bit upset that the driver had taken me there. Later he wanted to take me there again. I guess it’s rare that a tourist books their tickets online and people usually appreciate it when they’re taken to a ticket office, but I definitely would have preferred to see more sights instead.
After about an hour of rest in my room, I went to see the Agra Fort. Now that was something that got me a bit excited. It had been a bit frightening when I hadn’t felt any kind of excitement about the Taj Mahal, even though I knew it was because of me being ill. Still, it felt very unlike me. This demonstrated how connected our body, mind and emotions are, how they all affect one another. I could only be grateful that I knew it was temporary and was going to pass in a few days – not everyone is that lucky.
When you get to the fort, you have to walk up the stairs and then you can walk inside the fort, go into different rooms and explore.The fort was (re)built in 1565-1573 with 4,000 workers working on it daily, and was used by the Mughal Emperors as their main residence until 1638. The Mughal Empire was founded in 1526 and corresponded to the modern countries of India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh. Behind the Maurya Empire and the British Indian Empire, it was the third biggest empire to have existed in the Indian subcontinent. Shah Jahan (who had the Taj Majal built) was kept in the fort as a prisoner at the end of his life by his son and it is said he used to gaze at the Taj Mahal, longing for his deceased wife, from the balcony of the fort until his last breath.
I think I enjoyed visiting the fort a bit more because it felt like there was more to be discovered. It’s interesting to think that at one time it had actually been used as a fort and people had been living or working there and there had probably been nothing remarkable about it. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe it was just as wondrous to them as to today’s tourists?
I loved the architecture, the arches, the decorations, and just how grandiose it looked. After going to the fort, I went back to the hotel, rested a little bit and then asked the tuk-tuk driver to take me to the bus stop. I had decided to buy the bus ticket online (bus with AC!) and was going to go to Jaipur. The tuk-tuk driver wanted at first to charge me more, because the bus stop was farther than he liked and I guess the bus stop that he had had in mind when we had first made our arrangement was the one near that travel agency. Nevertheless, after some arguing he was willing to take me to the bus stop and I don’t really remember anymore if I paid him more than we had initially agreed on or not. I do remember him telling me that the bus stop was X km away, while in reality it was much less, which lowered my trust for him.
Anyway, I got to the bus stop and was at first worried that maybe it was not the right place, because I was not completely sure where the bus would stop. After asking several people, I was finally able to feel slightly more relaxed and be more sure that I was waiting at the right location. Eventually the bus came and then I was already on my way to Jaipur. And so much closer to the end of my time in India.