The Taj Mahal!!
I can understand why this is an absolute must see for a trip to India. Even though the bar is set pretty high expectation wise, it manages to exceed those expectations.
As for most sites, it’s a bit of a rigamarole to get to the complex itself. First the buses have to park in a nearby lot where everyone transfers to smaller, natural gas powered vehicles in an effort to curb pollution near the monument. (Seems a little odd and not particularly effective but ok). Then to the long ticket queue, the security check where, like most security checks in India, you’re treated to a complimentary frontal massage ; ) And then to the archway at the beginning of the complex where we learned more about the buildings and the story of Shah Jahan.
It’s set up so that at the archway you have just a glimpse of the white marble of the Taj, just a tease before you get through.
I never realized the Taj Mahal was more than just the one beautiful marble building but there are several buildings on the 42 acre complex. There is a mosque on one side and a replica of the mosque on the other side to keep the symmetry.
The mosque and replica are called Question and Answer respectively. Essentially it’s to say that the question is in the answer or that to find the answer you must first know the question. (It sounded more profound standing by the Taj Mahal!)
Finally we were able to step through the arch and have our first full view of the Taj Mahal. It was an actual breathtaking moment. It is truly majestic! Unfortunately it was a hazy day so we didn’t have the clear blue sky as a background and picture taking was a little tricky.
The guides hired a couple of the photographers at the site to take some photos of our group so we spent a while taking turns posing for the camera.
I was also excited to learn you can actually go into the Taj Mahal itself! I just assumed it would be like most major monuments and would be blocked off from public access but no, you can see inside and touch it. Going inside was not as exciting as I’d hoped, there were a million people being let in and it’s a small, dark, extremely crowded space. We did get a glimpse of the replicas of the tombs inside.
The most fun part of the visit was during free time as we all wandered around and were repeatedly stopped by the Indian tourists to have pictures taken with members of our group. I’m totally into this now. I don’t know what I’m going to do when I get back to North America and no-one wants to take my picture anymore!!! I think I’m enjoying it because people are so happy when we say yes and pose with them. Big smiles, big thank yous and then someone who was too shy to ask originally will run up and get a picture taken. It’s just really fun and upbeat. (Of course that’s not always the case, one of the lovely ladies on our tour got felt up by a young guy during a picture taking session).
Mom was stopped by a family whose daughter wanted to practice her english so she basically gave her an interview. What was her name, where she’s from, who is in her family (just me), what does she do, what does her daughter do…. It was really cute. She was so intense.
When we left the complex and boarded our pollution free vehicle, mom, another lady from our group and I were on the back of the cart, facing outwards. It was the most hilarious ride. It was like we were our own parade. People stopped to watch us, we waved, lots of people waved back, we were laughing hysterically by the time we go to the bus. I guess you had to be there but it was really funny.
Then onwards to Agra Fort.
Soldiers still occupy 80% of the fort. It’s build in a dog’s leg shape so if elephants broke down the gate, they would have to navigate tight turns in order to attack the people inside.
There were also two moats. The outer moat was filled with water… and snakes and crocodiles. The inner moat was dry and filled with tigers. They really really wanted to discourage any trespassing!
Lest you think that was enough adventure for the day you’d be wrong! A few of us opted for the optional evening extravaganza theatrical performance of the romance of Shah Jahan and the building of the Taj Mahal. It was, well… it was unforgettable… like nothing I’ve ever seen before… I actually really enjoyed the show. The absolute cheesy over the top melodrama was a sight to behold. Especially while wearing earphones with the english translation being piped in with a few second delay. So so funny. The big fake laugh on stage – BwaHaHaHa, and then in your ear a few seconds later BwaHaHaHa!!! And the english translations were fantastic. Definitely not something I need to experience ever again but now I can say I’ve seen a theatre production in India. There were some Bollywood style song and dance numbers as well and the costuming and music for those was actually really good. The costumes were so flashy and fun. We all came out shaking our heads not entirely sure what we’d just seen and I just couldn’t stop laughing at the unabashed cheesy delight of it all.