Asia » India » Uttar Pradesh » Agra - 3 to 4 March 2013
03.03.2013 - 04.03.2013 30 °C
Agra - grubby, overcrowded, totally tourist-oriented, 'want postcards?', 'need taxi sir?', hassle, hassle...
It’s best to get in, see the sights and get out – as quickly as you can.
Arrive around midday. In the afternoon, visit Agra Fort for a distant view of the Taj Mahal down by the Yamuna River, then the glorious ‘Baby Taj ’ (the tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah), before taking in the sunset view of the Taj Mahal from across the river at Mehtab Bagh. If you still have any energy, complete your day with the Sound & Light performance back at the Red Fort.
Before dawn next day, enjoy the highlight of your visit by joining the queue at the Taj Mahal to see the sun rise over this fabulous monument. It's the best time of day and you'll be able to spend a couple of hours there before it gets too crowded. Just make sure it's not a Friday - the mosque is in constant use and the Taj is closed.
Return to your hotel for a late breakfast, pack your bags and move on.
I don't need to give you the low-down on what there is to see here. There are more than enough websites and guidebooks extolling the virtues of Agra and its unique and remarkable monuments.
So, instead, click on the website links above or, better still, take a look at my photos. They all have captions and I've tried to say a few words about each of them. You'll only find a few pictures of the Taj Mahal here, however - I've visited this place many times and, regardless of the camera, the lens or the angle, the classic shots of that iconic building always tend to look the same as those on everyone else's blogs.
The Taj Mahal reflected in one of the pools.
The white marble came from Makrana in Rajasthan and the red sandstone from Fatehpur Sikri.
Precious stones were brought from far-flung places in Tibet, China, Sri Lanka, Persia and Afghanistan.
Take a picture please... It's a strange phenomenon in India - strangers ask to have their photo taken with you, on your camera!
A camel bus
Lovers viewing a lover's monument. The view of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort - as Shah Jahan might have seen it.
Beautiful architecture and beautiful people!
A beautiful screen (a 'jali') carved from a single piece of white marble.
The powerful 16th century Mughal fortress encompasses multiple palaces
and architectural wonders, like the Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Public Audience).
A view from inside Agra Fort
The outside of the red sandstone fort is illuminated at night.
The history of the fort is captured in the hour-long performance -
but you may not stay awake all the way through it!
Returning to our homestay after the Sound & Light performance,
we encountered this noisy band accompanying a wedding procession.
Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daula
The Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daula was the very first in India made entirely from marble (1622-1628AD).
This is a mausoleum, the tomb of Mirza Ghiyas Beg (later called Itimad-ud-Daulah or
'the pillar of the state'), a minister in the court of Shah Jahan.
Often described as a 'jewel box', it's called the 'Baby Tāj' as it was to later influence the style of the Taj Mahal itself.
The tombs of Mirza Ghiyas Beg (Itimad-ud-Daulah) and his wife Asmat Begum.
A wall decoration inside the tomb.
Taj Mahal from Mehtab Bag.
To my mind, this is the best view of the monument - from across the Yamuna River as sunset approaches.
A nomadic way of life. The 'Grey haired nomads' rest for a cuppa before braving the Mehtab Bagh.
Mehtab Bagh - translation: 'The Moonlight Garden'. Shah Jahan identified this site as an ideal
location for viewing the Taj by moonlight from across the Yamuna River. We went just before sunset!
The dome of the Taj Mahal, with birds swirling around it, viewed near sunset from Mehtab Bagh.
Buildings close to the Taj Mahal on the opposite bank of the Yamuna River shone brightly as the sun set.
The 'Grey haired nomads' strive to capture the changing light.
Taj Mahal (as if you didn't know!)
Cameras at the ready for the classic 'Ooh! Aah!' shot of the Taj Mahal from just inside the entrance.
A 'Grey haired nomad' at the Taj Mahal.
The other half of the 'Grey haired nomads' was taking her own pictures away from the crowd!
The 'Grey haired nomads', not as young as they used to be,
continue to photograph the Taj from a seated position!
Calligraphy from the Qur'an (Koran) on the front of the building.
Higher panels are written in slightly larger script to
reduce the skewing effect when viewed from below.
Pietra dura on this jewel of Muslim art.
The white marble came from Makrana
(visited on our way to Roopangarh - see my blog: 'A marbleous place')
Colour among the whiteness.
Working on the maxim of: 'I came, I saw, I conquered - and got the hell out of the place', my advice is not to empty your wallet on accommodation in Agra. You didn’t come here to spend your time in a hotel room, did you?
Of course, if you're a luxury freak, by all means take a room at the Oberoi Amarvilas; including taxes but no breakfast, a night here will set you back around Rs.46,000 (about £555/US$850/€645*)! We preferred to stay at N.Homestay, where a double room (albeit minus the luxury but including breakfast) cost only Rs.1,500 (about £18/US$27.50/€21.50*. And that's for two people! What’s not to like about that?
The people who run it, Shiron and his mother are delightful - they’re informal, friendly, speak excellent English, and are very helpful. It's not a hotel, it's a 'homestay' ('bed and breakfast') and rooms have minimal furnishings, but they’re spacious and clean. They each have a private bathroom with shower and wc, and there's free WiFi too. Breakfast in a slightly gloomy dining room is nothing to write home about, but it’s certainly more than adequate. The location, in a quiet road within easy reach of the main sights by taxi or tuk tuk, is good. Also, within walking distance you'll find a Pizza Hut and other eateries with familiar Western names (delivery to N.Homestay is fine) or the lady of the house will cook an Indian veg or non-veg lunch or dinner for you, with prior notice, at a maximum cost of around Rs.350 (£4.25/US$6.50/€5*) each.
*Rates as at February 2013