Delhi was cosmopolitan, modern India; Agra was the India where cows walk through the streets. And, while the roads of Agra are filled with cars, trucks and tuktuks, there are also plenty of carts being pulled by donkey and oxen out on the roads as well. I loved every second of it.
We were up early yesterday for a last breakfast at our Delhi hotel, then checked out of our room and started off the day with a visit to Humayun’s tomb before departing for Agra. Humayan was one of the great Mughal (Muslim) rulers of India, and the great-grandfather of Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal. Humayan’s tomb was commissioned by his widow after his death in 1568, and built of red sandstone. Nearly 100 years later the much larger Taj Mahal was constructed using the basic design of Humayun’s tomb as a model. Today Humayun’s Tomb is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and also is sometimes used as a setting in Bollywood films.
The weather yesterday morning was very hazy, a combination of leftover fog and smoke coming from farmers burning their fields in the areas surrounding Delhi. The haze unfortunately continued all the way to Agra. The drive took about two and half hours, mostly through countryside. Even though we made good time down a nearly empty new super highway, the ride was very bumpy and bone jarring at times.
We reached Agra in the early afternoon, stopping first at the Agra Fort, the site where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son who had become angry over the amount of money his father had spent building the Taj Mahal. From the outside, the fort looked like nothing more than a big, hulking red fortification complete with a moat of two layers: the upper held tigers, and the lower level was filled with water and crocodiles! The inside of the fort told another story though. The living quarters where Shah Jahan, his first wife and two daughters were imprisoned were actually quite sumptuous, built of white marble and decorated with beautiful inlay work and gold. Shah Jahan’s quarters looked out over the Taj Mahal, the mausoleum of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.
Following our tour of the fort we went to lunch at a restaurant named Bon Barbecue, where we enjoyed a large meal of grilled chicken, fish, shrimp and vegetables as well as various tasty side dishes, heated over braziers at our table. Luke warned us that we would be so full when we finished that we wouldn’t need or want dinner and he was right (in our case, anyway)! After lunch we checked into our hotel, the beautiful ITC Mughal, located just a short distance down the road from the Taj Mahal.
Finally it was time to visit the Taj Mahal, the most famous site in India. The best way to describe our visit was not only did it not disappoint, it was in fact much more splendid and beautiful than we ever imagined it would be, in every way. The grounds were beautiful, and we were able to climb up to the mausoleum area and walk around the perfectly symmetrical building, and take in the detail of the marble and the inlay. We stayed up there quite a while, soaking it all in before heading back down and slowly walking back to meet Luke. By the way, the crowds at the Taj Mahal were immense, but very well-behaved. No one pushed, shoved, cut in line, etc. No one got in the way of anyone else’s picture, and we came away thinking just of what we had seen and not of the massive amounts of people there.
Our last stop of the day was a small factory where marble inlay work is still done by the family that worked on the Taj Mahal over four centuries ago. The designs and skill involved were quite incredible. We had hoped to buy a small statue (five inches or less) of Ganesh, the Hindu god of prosperity and happiness, but unfortunately there was every god available but Ganesh (he’s very popular), so we didn’t get anything. Our travel partners however purchased a marble plaque with the Taj Mahal inlaid in mother-of pearl, and the sky made from lapis lazuli – absolutely exquisite.
Then it was on to our hotel where Brett and I collapsed into bed and fell asleep in moments, exhausted but happy. We had walked over four miles, and taken nearly 11,500 steps (actually way more for me as I take more steps than he does to cover the same distance) – it was quite a day!