Many things have already been written about the Taj Mahal and Agra. Good and Bad! In my opinion I found them all to be true! I arrived into Agra by train and taking a rickshaw to the Taj Ganj area to find a hotel was an immediate attack on my senses! Even though I had come from Delhi this felt more like what I expected of India. It was busy, noisy, dirty, smelly and very hot! (But don’t let that put you off)! I may have been lucky but I had managed to find an “honest” rickshaw driver who to took me to a hotel which I later discovered was in Lonely Planet (if only I’d been organised enough to read it ahead of time). He guided me around Agra for the day and although there was some shopping involved, of which I’m sure he gets commission, I never felt uncomfortable or aggressively targeted. In fact, as a solo woman traveller walking around, it was nice to politely ignore the onslaught of other drivers looking for your business and head straight towards his waiting Rickshaw. I also found similar “tourist rickshaw” drivers in Jaipur and despite their somewhat sketchy reputation (depending on what you read) I always found them to be reliable, friendly and value for money. But back to Agra, it’s true it’s not the most attractive city in the world and there are definitely more interesting and beautiful places to visit in India. But let’s face it tourists come to Agra for one reason only and that’s the Taj Mahal! There are other places to visit in Agra and the ruins in Fatehpur Sikri (about 90 minutes away by bus) are worth a mention. But the Taj is the reason! And it doesn’t disappoint!
I made the early morning trip to the west gate where the entrance opens at 6am for sunrise. I was a bit anxious walking through the streets by myself in the semi-dark and I must confess I got lost initially as I wasn’t really sure which way was west? After a walk back to my hotel to wake up the night porter who sleeps in reception and ask for directions I was on my way! I arrived just before 6am and a small queue was already forming. You could feel the anticipation all around. There is a bit of a lengthy process to get in through “security” (I’m not really sure why they bother in India but I guess it keeps some people in employment)! Once you’re through the entrance “The Taj” is still not quite visible as you have to walk through a large courtyard and then through another archway in the outside walls. The guidebooks recommend coming at Sunset not just for the amazing light but because it’s quieter! I think it probably is once everybody is dispersed inside the grounds but with everybody arriving at once it is still a bit of a tussle to get through the bottleneck of other tourists to catch your first glimpse and take a photo – but when you get there it’s worth it! At first sight in the soft dawn light she looks exactly the same as she does in pictures! I am not disappointed! I have seen many natural “wonders” that have taken my breath away and left me in total awe! The Grand Canyon and Mt Everest to name only two. But often I have been left wanting when I view “wonders” made by man. I felt decidedly underwhelmed when I first saw the Sydney Opera House. I love Sydney and Sydney harbour but the opera house left me disappointed for reasons I won’t go on about here! So I was conscious of not setting my expectations too high, only to be disappointed by such an iconic image! I need not have worried! From the moment you step through that first arch and see her you are impressed. The early start is immediately rewarded as I gaze up at her in the soft, hazy morning light! The throws of other tourists around are slightly off putting (Hey this is INDIA – Get used to it) but I manage to wait my turn and find a space to take a photo. As I walk down the steps and further into her grounds the people thin out and it’s totally possible to find a quiet space or bench and admire her beauty. It’s harder to find somebody to take a good photograph with you in it when you are travelling alone! I do have some but none that I would want to publish online! LOL 🙂
I was totally content walking around the outside of her twice before I went inside, and then again a third time after. Within that time the light was continuously changing and the colour of the Taj Mahal with it, as it reflects off all the white marble. Reflecting on how they built it, it really was an amazing feet of craftsmanship. In total I think I spent the best part of 2 hours just walking around. Eventually I realised that not only was I fascinated by this iconic building but also by the people who came to see her, from all over the world. If your like me it’s a great place to people watch. When I left her pristine grounds, back into the dirty streets of Agra, I was totally happy! That evening I spent another pleasant couple of hours at the rooftop bar of my hotel. Viewing her again from afar as I ate and enjoyed a beer, and watched the sun go down.
Many people visit the Taj Mahal on a day trip from Delhi and therefore will never make it for sunrise or sunset. I think this is a shame as Agra is not so bad you can’t at least spend one night there to try and catch sunrise and sunset. I also think your experience will be affected greatly by your expectations and wither you have acclimatised to the Indian pace of life and way of doing this. I stayed at the Saniya Palace Hotel, listed in Lonely Planet, and while I deliberately picked the cheapest room available and I can’t quite imagine my mum liking it, there were also nicer rooms available. It’s close to the Taj Mahal and the rooftop restaurant, as LP states, may have the best view in the Taj Ganj area, and the food isn’t bad either!
Here are some of my favourite photographs from the morning. You can see the change in light and colour as the sun comes up higher in the sky. 🙂