A Day in Agra

The main reason we came to Agra!

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.

Humayun’s tomb seen through the morning haze. The architecture was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal.

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.

A view out the window as we drove through Agra.
Cows everywhere.

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.

The Agra Fort
The entrance gate to the fort. The exterior was made from red sandstone.

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.

Detail from an inner courtyard in the fort. Dancers performed here, and women watched from the balcony upstairs.
Shah Jahan’s quarters were made of carved and inlaid white marble. The living room has a fountain in the center even though it is located on an upper floor of the fort.
Even though he could not visit the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan could look out at it in the distance.

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.

Beautiful fountains and gardens surrounded the ITC Mughal hotel.
Our room at the hotel had the biggest bed we have ever seen!

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.

The view as we came through the main gate of the Taj Mahal.
The building of the Taj Mahal is perfectly symmetrical and each side is identical. Inlaid Arabic calligraphy surrounds arches on each of its side.
When I stopped to take a picture of the Taj Mahal on our way back to the main gate, an old Muslim man came up to me and told me to go over to the water, that I would get a better picture. He was right – I would have missed the reflection otherwise.
Just as we were getting ready to go back out the main gate I saw these five women sitting together as they waited for their families. I asked if I could take their picture, and although they couldn’t figure out why, they agreed. It was my favorite picture of the day!

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.

Artisans cutting tiny pieces of precious and semi-precious stones to be inlaid into marble. These workers come from the same family line of artisans who did the inlay on the Taj Mahal.
Detailed inlaid work for a table top. The stones used include lapis lazuli, turquoise, malachite, mother-of-pearl, tiger’s eye, carnelian and gold.
This statue of Ganesh, although beautiful, was a bit too large for us to carry around.

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!

16 thoughts on “A Day in Agra

    1. We very much lucked out with having just one other couple in our tour group. Easy Tours only does small tours, which is the main reason I chose them, but with just four of us it’s been very relaxing and enjoyable, with lots of personal service. We get along well with the other couple as well which has made the tour even nicer.

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  1. I can only imagine how amazing it is to see in person! I remember turning a corner in Sydney and seeing the opera house for the first time. Pictures can never do justice either. I’m sorry you couldn’t buy a ganesh statue, that would have been a wonderful keepsake.

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    1. You’re right – the Taj Mahal is one of those places that just can’t be captured in a photo (and now I’m even more excited about seeing the opera house in Sydney!).

      I’m still looking for my Ganesh, but haven’t found him yet. We did some damage in the jewelry market today though which almost made up for losing out on my statue ;-).

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  2. Loving your report, though I’m deliberately not looking at the photos because we will visit there eventually, and I want to leave some surprises. (I’m a master at squinting so I can read your wonderful reports without viewing your photos! 😊)

    I’m so impressed at your ability to log such detailed notes while in the midst of travel. Is this via your iPad? I may have to consider getting one if so, as the iPhone and Kindle I currently travel with are both completely inadequate for blogging.

    Someone told us once that it’s a matter of when, not if, one will get sick in India from some germ or another. We’ve experienced this numerous times during travels to developing countries, and it’s not fun. What are you two doing specifically to stay healthy, as you seem to both be doing great so far?

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    1. Tamara – even if you look at my pictures, when you come to India everything you see and do will be a surprise. It has been the most amazing trip, unlike anything or any place I’ve been before.

      I listen carefully to our guide every day (my preferred learning style), and take LOTS of pictures. That along with a check on Google to make sure I am remembering dates and names correctly are all I’ve needed so far. I actually take way too many pictures – my first job every evening when we get to our room is to go through them and get rid of extras, bad ones, etc.

      Knock on wood that we continue to stay well – we’ve got two more days to get through. We drink only bottled water or drinks that come in cans or bottles (and use a straw); eat ONLY cooked food (absolutely NO fresh fruit, vegetables or juices, tempting as they are); don’t buy or eat street food or snacks; and chew a Pepto Bismol tablet with every meal (it works as a prophylactic against stomach issues). Fingers are crossed that our good luck continues!

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  3. I’m so glad you chose India and especially the tour guide you did. I think you carry your happiness with you even without Ganesh. Keep enjoying.

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    1. Thanks, Ellie! We are so happy with Easy Tours and the service they provide – the entire tour so far has exceeded all of our expectations. We couldn’t have a better guide than Luke. I’m still hoping to find a small statue of Ganesh, but in a way I think he already found me.

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  4. I loved reading about your visit. The pictures are gorgeous! And, I had the same question as Tamara about getting sick. I will likely make a work trip at some point, so that’s great advice about how to stay well. I’ve never heard the Pepto Bismol trick.

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    1. I first heard of the Pepto Bismol treatment when we went to China in the late 1990s to adopt our daughters. We didn’t do it then, and I got food poisoning on two of our trips. We’ve been faithful with taking them here though and so far so good. Supposedly chewing one tablet with each meal gives you around a 65% chance of avoiding food-borne illness.

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  5. Loving all the pictures and vivid descriptions. And you’re right…that picture of the women is wonderful. I’m also amazed by the inlaid table top art. Wow! Thanks for continuing to take us along on your journey.

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    1. The women thought I was nuts for wanting to take their picture, but our guide explained to them that I loved their colorful saris and the way they were resting and waiting. I had to show each of them the photo before I left. They still thought I was crazy.

      The marble art was impressive and amazing. I’m pretty sure if we had a house we would have bought something.

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  6. Great pictures. Loved the one of the five women and their colorful saris. Amazed at the details on the “fort”. Enjoying your commentary immensely.

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    1. Thanks, Vivian!

      The colorful saris and the women sitting off by themselves was the reason I wanted to take their picture, even though they thought I was nuts.

      The fort was pretty amazing. So far every time we’ve felt skeptical about visiting some place (“now how interesting really is this fort going to be?”) we have been surprised by how beautiful the place was and how it was nothing at all like we expected.

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