The last leg of our road trip to Agra completed the Northern triangle of Indian cultural route. The distance here was another 260 kilometers and that meant another 6 sleepy hours on the bus.
We left Jaipur early morning the next day, hoping to reach Agra for lunch and visit the famous Taj Mahal later in the afternoon. It was supposed to be an easy day, and many of us even dressed up to meet the Taj Mahal.
(The main entrance to the Taj Mahal)
Architectural values aside, Taj Mahal’s famous love story was what made this place so grand and splendid. Built by the Mughal King Shah Jahan as a monument of his eternal love to his beautiful wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died prematurely, Taj Mahal was declared a UNESCO World Heritage back in the late 1980s, making it one of the world’s top must-see sights “before you die.”
Taj Mahal was not built immediately after the death of Queen Mumtaz, however. After 2 years of mourning (which normally lasted about 45 days), Shah Jahan took another 22 years to complete this huge mausoleum, hiring fine artists from across continent to design and built it with white marble, his favorite material, while managed to conceal the look of the whole thing with wooden slaps until the official unveiling. Taj Mahal today stands as the best epitome of Muslim-style symmetrical architecture with its four sides all equal and adorned with identical gardens and two red mosques. It was said that you should wait to see Taj Mahal the first time you step into the main gate, but since it was the largest construction in this small town of Agra, chances were that you could see it well before from your hotel room, too.
As we all expected, Taj Mahal was very crowded even in that late afternoon. The tight security meant you should not bring too many personal belongings with you. One small bag with a few necessities and a camera would suffice. No electrical devices, things with sharp points and even bubble gums were allowed through their entrance screening.
We took almost 2 hours enjoying Taj Mahal. It was best to take the time strolling along the main shallow pool stretching back and forth between the main mausoleum and the entrance. At the main building, we took off our shoes and slipped into the provided red paper socks. The marble staircases were completely covered with wood panels for people to walk on. This was how the Indian preserved their precious heritage.
Once we had admired everything outside the huge white marvelous dome, it was time to step inside. Naturally, no pictures were allowed here and there was not enough light to take any picture anyway, just two simple tombs of the Emperor Shah Jahan and Queen Mumtaz aligned side by side. It was said that when Shah Jahan died in 1666, 35 years after his wife, while on palace-arrested by his own son Aurangzeb, it was one of his daughters who managed to sail his body from Agra Fort for a proper burial at Taj Mahal where he could rest in peace side by side with his beloved wife in the monument of their eternal love.
In Agra, we stayed at the nice Taj Gateway Hotel. But we also went to the very exclusive Oberoi Amarvilas, a 5-star establishment that boasted the view of Taj Mahal in every room (those facing Taj Mahal). Here, while walking through their spas, we met a Thai lady who was on duty there. She overheard our Thai conversation and just interrupted us out of an extreme excitement. When we talked, she just broke into tears. She said she missed her home in Chiang Mai so much that it was overwhelming just to hear Thai language and the Northern dialect again after spending 3 years in India working and sending money back to her parents at home.
Our dinner that day was scrumptious Indian BBQ at the famous Peshawari restaurant in ITC Maratha hotel in Agra. They served delicious assorted BBQs of both vegetarians and meats – cheese, chicken, mutton… and it went on and on until we felt like exploding.
The next day we were due to leave Agra and make our way back to Delhi and then Bangkok. But in the morning we managed to visit the famous Agra Fort – the gorgeous palace of the Emperor Shah Jahan and other Mughal Kings. This was where Shah Jahan was palace-arrested by his son who feared that his father would spent all his money for more marble buildings, hence the reason to stopped him and took his power.
Here, at the exquisite octagonal white marble tower, we stood, looking at a vague cloudy sight of Taj Mahal along the Yumana River. Only if the weather had been clear enough, we would have seen the sight of Taj Mahal the way Shah Jahan had seen when he took his last breath hundreds of years ago.
Now, instead of taking the bus as usual, we opted for the short flight back to Delhi on the low-cost Kingfisher Red. Agra’s airport was still military-operated, hence very strict security measures once again. We reached Delhi in no time, and immediately checked into Air Asia FD3797’s direct flight back to Bangkok. It was again a chaos at the airport, but hell with it, this was India after all, the place of adventure, of another world, of excitement and of an eye-opening experience. Can’t wait to come back the next time.