Being of Indian ethnicity, you would probably think that I’d have visited Taj Mahal numerous times as a child. My, oh my, how wrong you are. Even though I was born in New Delhi, India and lived there until I was 2 years old and visited India frequently after relocating to Muscat, Oman, I had never been to Agra and seen the Taj.
It was not till I had relocated to New Zealand, that I took a deeper interest in Indian history. Actually I lie, I have always enjoyed history and that’s one of the things that motivates me to travel. There’s so much to learn about a city from it’s history. And India by far has a rather long history that one life time chasing it, is just not enough.
I’m not too sure what was the trigger, after we moved to New Zealand, which ultimately pursued us to head to Agra to see the Taj on our second visit back home in 2007. My uncle, an officer in the Indian Navy, was posted in Kanpur at the time. Kanpur is not a city for tourists, there isn’t anything to do there. However, the city of Lucknow, which at max would be a 2 hour drive, is also a small city, with some horrific history from the British rule in India. So we had made plans to visit this city whilst in Kanpur and were advised that visiting Agra would be a good option as well, as my family and I were going crazy staying indoors in Kanpur.
We decided to stay overnight in Agra on this trip for the following reasons:
1. It’s almost a 5 hour drive from Kanpur.
2. There’s a total of 3 places of importance to see in Agra – Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikhri.
3. Fatehpur Sikhri is almost an hour’s drive from Agra.
On the day we set out to Agra, I was very anxious. I wasn’t quite sure how I was supposed to feel. Yes, I was going to see the Taj, a monument that was erected in 16th century that still stands to this day. But somehow, the excitement wasn’t there, just anxiety. We left at 9am, and arrived just around lunchtime but as we had stopped at numerous dhabas along the way, we weren’t hungry for lunch quite yet and headed straight for the Taj. For those who don’t know, dhabas are local food joints that you get along the highway. The food is cooked fresh right in front of your eyes and is delicious! These serve authentic Indian food, and don’t you worry it’s easy on the stomach. I am very susceptible to food and stomach related illnesses and I was fine after eating at a Dhaba.
By this time I was just getting restless, the closer I got to the Taj, the further away it got from me. The car could not be taken right up to the entry gates, and so we had to walk some distance (not a lot) and you can choose to take a camel or a horse cart to get to the entry gates. I’m not a big fan of camel or horse carts and so we decided to walk. Upon arrival till the time I laid my eyes on the Taj, I had to walk to the entry, purchase tickets, stand in line for security checks, walk towards the gateway (darwaza), go in and then voila, there it would be standing in all it’s glory.
Snap back to reality, we purchased our tickets, and the lines (one for males, one for females)* were long. Finally we arrive at the security checkpoint after standing in line for a good 15 minutes, and go through the metal detectors and head towards the darwaza. At this point we start getting hassled by guides, who claim they know all about the Taj and will give us a tour with a reasonable price. We say no to the first, second, third, heck we just keep saying no, but they still come swarming up trying to earn a buck. Before I continue, if you need a guide, please ensure, they have an ID and ask the rate at the ticket counter or alternatively you can now also get audio guides.
We were standing at the bottom of the steps of the darwaza, and I could see the Taj through the darwaza. Words cannot express, the feelings, the emotions that I was experiencing. Could it be, that this was just a dream? Was I really seeing the Taj? Somebody pinch me? The emotions overwhelm me. Such beauty, such calmness, I have no words, I’m speechless.
We slowly walked up to the Taj to explore it. My eyes, wide open yet unaware of the happenings around me. There's only me and the Taj. My mother's voice, though faint, guides me through all that I'm seeing. The intricate floral architecture, specific to the Mughals, all hand carved and perfectly symmetrical.
The tomb in the centre, belonging to Mumtaz Mahal, wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. It is said that she died giving birth to their fourteenth child. She was one of his three wives and his favourite. It was in her honour, he built this magnificent monument which at the time took 20 years to build. the tomb lying on the left, is for Shah Jahan. He had passed away whilst in imprisonment and it was his daughter, who laid him to rest next to his late wife.
The Taj, such a calm, magnificent structure. A symbol of love for not only Indians, but for a lot others worldwide. A place, where you can forget about your worries, a place where thousands have professed their love to their someone special. It is a place that I recommend visiting at least once. Before I sign off, the video below talks a little about the things to do in Agra and yes there's a peak into the Taj Mahal as well. I have now been to the Taj 3 times. If I had it my way, I would visit, every single time we go to India, but that's not up to me.
Until next time,