On the way to Agra we stopped at Khole Ke Hanuman Ji Temple complex, a Hindu monkey temple that was interesting but had an outrageous amount of begging and holy men that let you inside the temples and then forcefully ask for a donation.
We then stopped at Fatehpur Sikri, an ancient city built of red sandstone. After acquiring a guide I did not ask for, I didn’t feel like paying an additional 500 rupees to see the palace side of the complex. My driver was not impressed with me but I don’t think he understands what it’s like to be a small blonde woman in India, where no doesn’t seem to be accepted as an answer. I was fine with what I saw there.
The one thing I did not want to miss on my trip to India was the Taj Mahal, which is located in Agra. The Taj Mahal was commissioned by Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan in 1632 to house his wife’s tomb after she died giving birth to their 14th child. It took 22 years and 20,000 artisans to complete. Constructed of white marble and semi-precious stone inlays, this mausoleum is nothing short of amazing. The first night I viewed the Taj from across the Yamuna River at sunset and then went to my nice hotel and watched TV for the first time in 4 months.
The next morning I arrived at the Taj at sunrise but because so many tourists jumped the queue, I didn’t actually get to see the sunrise. It didn’t matter once you got in because the magnificence of the Taj made you forget the sunrise and that there were hundreds (thousands?) of other people there. The only thing that I found a bit disturbing was that they give everyone a pair of disposable shoe covers and a bottle of water – with 50,000 visitors per day, that is a lot of waste. Not that it helps much when it’s only a few people, but you can decline, which I did. Unfortunately you cannot take photos inside the Taj Mahal, but trust me when I say that the intricate carving and stone inlays are impressive.
Although the Taj is the highlight of Agra, Agra Fort is also quite nice. Yes another fort, but this one actually had really beautiful architecture, so it was definitely worth the visit. Next up was the baby Taj Mahal (built 1622-1628), another tomb of someone I’ve never heard of. It doesn’t actually have any family correlation to the Taj Mahal but I believe it’s called this because it was used as a draft for the Taj Mahal.
Afterwards, I finally agreed to go to some shops. Just a marble shop and then a textile shop where I firmly said I wasn’t looking to buy anything. “Don’t worry ma’am, looking is free.” $375 and a rug later, I was done looking. I love my new rug but my bag is very heavy now!
My train to Varanasi wasn’t until 8:30pm so I paid extra to stay longer in my hotel and let my driver get back to Delhi. The Agra train station was a little daunting and the train was late. I migrated towards a young male couple from Spain and together we bombarded any harassment. I then shared a “cabin” with a French couple – I’ve never been so happy to see other westerners. I didn’t really sleep and the only food offered was a veg cutlet sandwich, but 14 hours later, I was finally in Varanasi.