Thursday, 21 November 2013

Agra and the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal at sunset.

After a great introduction to India from Varanasi it was time to leave and visit our next destination...Agra.

A mini festival that we came across when leaving Varanasi.

We had booked our train and were so impressed when we got on board. We had booked a 2nd Class A/C for our overnight journey. We had a 4 bed compartment which had a curtain to block the hallway from us. Something else that I was pleasantly surprised with was the toilet situation on the train. Everywhere in the world train toilets are usually stinky so I had crazy images of what an India one would be like. But this train had both an Indian toilet and a western toilet. Most people used the Indian toilet which meant that the Western one was quite nice, It even had toilet paper!

Soon after we got on, a British couple had gotten on and took the other two beds in the compartment. Apparently they try to place foreigners together on these train journeys. As we were talking to them we had told them about how Jason had $1,000 stolen from his bank account and we had only realised this in Varanasi. They had commented that they had no trouble while in India and felt very lucky.

Unfortunately, they spoke too soon. That night while we were all sleeping someone came into our compartment and stole the girls bag right from underneath her head. It had happened when the train was stopped for about 20 minutes at a busy station so the person managed to get the bag and then get off of the train as soon as it happened. What makes it worse is that their passports, money, cards and vouchers for all of their future hotels and activities (they were on a tour) were all in that bag. We were quite shocked when it happened at the fact that not one of us had seen the person come in. As you can imagine, we didn't get much sleep after that But that meant that we were awake for when we were getting close to Agra and managed to get our first views of the Taj Mahal. It was far away but it looked so beautiful from a distance and so much bigger than we had imagined.

When we arrived at the train station we found a nice richshaw driver to bring us to a guest house that we had found in the Lonely Planet. He was so sweet and offered to drive us to different places the next day. We were a bit iffy about doing a "tour" with a driver but he had promised us that we would make a price beforehand and that he wouldn't try to charge us for extra.

When we arrived at the guest house we decided to take a room when they told us that the rooftop room was available for the same price so we went for a look. Once we got up to the rooftop we were just in complete and utter awe. The rooftop faced directly on to the Taj Mahal and had the most perfect view of it. It was so close that you could even see the people walking around inside the gardens.

Our view of the Taj Mahal from the Saniya Palace guest house.
...and again, so beautiful!

 This roof top was utterly amazing and that evening as we ate dinner at the restaurant on the rooftop, surrounded by fairy lights with the Taj straight ahead of us and the call to prayer playing from about 10 different mosques around us, I felt, actually I don't have any words to describe how wonderful it felt that night. Lets just say, it felt perfect.

The next day our driver picked us up to begin our tour of Agra. First we went to the baby Taj, which is a smaller version of the Taj. It was just as beautiful and the gardens equally so, especially with all of the squirrels jumping around. Next we went to another tomb which predates the Taj Mahal and is in fact the oldest one in Agra. It was so beautiful and there were some cheeky little boys hanging around it who were desperate to get their photo taken.

The baby Taj.

The baby Taj again, it was so peaceful here.
The oldest tomb in Agra.

Some of the boys we met while there.

Inside the building.

And again.

Before going to our next and final destination that day our driver wanted to bring us to his house for some chai and for me to get some henna tattoos on my hands from his daughter. It was so wonderful to be welcomed into his house and to be shown where him and his family live. We also got to cuddle with his dogs puppies. The dog was a street dog but they would allow her into their house so she ended up becoming their dog. He brought us up to his rooftop which had another beautiful view of the Taj Mahal (it seems like everywhere in Agra has a view of it!) It was such a wonderful experience to sit down and chat with his family, this is something we soon found out about Indian people, they are so warm and welcoming.

The view from our rickshaw drivers rooftop.

Their adorable puppies!

Jason and the puppies.

That's me getting my first henna tattoo.

I think she did a good job!

After our little detour it was time to go to the gardens that are opposite from the Taj Mahal. They offer amazing views of the Taj and since we were going there at sunset we would be able to see the changing of the colour of the marble. This garden was so exquisite and it really did have unparalleled views. It was also very quiet with only about ten other people there...Sometimes travelling during low season really does have its advantages!

It really was a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal.

I love this photo if the two of us and the Taj.

Jason in front of the Taj.
That evening we tried to get to bed early as we wanted to get up early and go to the Taj Mahal at sunrise. The next morning we walked to the Taj Mahal. One of the gates was right by our guesthouse but they only open two gates in the mornings so we walked about ten minutes to the next gate. I would definitely recommend visiting the Taj as early as you can because there are hardly no crowds and you get as much time as you want there, especially before the crazy heat sets in.

Walking around the gardens, I think we were both almost "starstruck" with the beautiful building looming over us. It really is as beautiful as it looks in the photos! While taking photos this man came over and took the camera from us showing us how to get better shots. He then got us to do some very cringe-worthy poses (think Diana-esq) Afterwards he quickly asked for a tip...ah yes, India, you got us again!

Inside the grounds.

Can it get any cheesier?
And so it begins....the awkward photos!

OK, it just got cheesier!

It was fun though and looking through the photos afterwards we got a good laugh.

After paying him for his services we made our way inside the Taj. You cannot photograph inside but trust me, it's quite beautiful inside also.

That's me, this shows just how big the Taj is.

After spending the morning getting all of our cheesy snaps it was time for our final bit of sight-seeing in Agra. we were off with our driver again to visit the Agra Fort. Most people that visit Agra usually only go to see the Taj Mahal, but as we found out there is so much more to Agra than the Taj. It's definitely worth spending a couple of nights here. The fort was quite impressive and it seemed to just go on and on. There were so many different buildings inside the fort and it took us about 2 hours to see them all (we did need many breaks as it was midday) but it was definitely worth seeing.

The Agra Fort.

Just like everywhere else in the city, it had views of the Taj Mahal.
(which you can't really see in this photo, but that's what I'm looking at)

The beautiful Agra countryside.

There were plenty of monkeys in the Fort too.

I love this photo as it looks like the monkeys are praying.

You don't even want to know what this monkey was doing!

The private mosque in the fort.

The outside of Agra Fort.

After a busy couple of days in Agra it was time for our next stop. Jaipur in Rajasthan.



We found our guest house through the Lonely Planet India guide book and it was the last time that we used the book for accommodation. There was nothing wrong with the place, it had the most amazing rooftop view of the Taj Mahal. But our rooms air-con barely worked and when you are paying double the price for air con you kinda expect it to work! Also they charged us extra for wifi that didn't work.
 I find that when a place gets on to the Lonely Planet then they are guaranteed people staying with them so their standards slip a bit.

Tripadvisor reviews:

Getting there and away:

We took a train from Varanasi to Agra which we booked about four days beforehand at the train station. Most big train stations have a foreigners room where you can book.
Leaving Agra we booked a bus to Jaipur. It was a nice big spacious air-con bus and we booked it at our guesthouse. Unfortunately this bus actually cost the same, if not, more than the train.

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