On the third day of our Delhi trip, we were going to explore Agra – the home of the Taj Mahal and also the first capital of the great Mughal Empire which once ruled almost all of the Indian subcontinent. Hubby managed to get us an amazing deal from Expedia at the price of RM440 (US$106) per person inclusive of taxes. This deal comprised roundtrip transportation to and from our hotel in an air-conditioned vehicle, guided tour of the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort (admission fees included), buffet lunch and a visit to the a couple of marble souvenir shops.
Our designated driver arrived at 4am and our journey to Agra via the Yamuna Expressway was going to take 3 hours, just in time for us to watch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, the sky was thickly blanketed with smog for a few days even before we arrived and that prevented us from watching the sunrise when we arrived at the Taj Mahal. The journey along the expressway was pretty smooth with very few vehicles using it, which was in stark contrast to expressways in Malaysia.
Agra wasn’t exactly what I expected it to be, in that its cleanliness left a lot to be desired. Its streets were dusty and strewn with garbage as well as animal dungs. We drove through Ambedkar Bridge across Yamuna River, which needless to say appeared extremely polluted. Sigh! What had happened to this supposedly beautiful city?
That aside, our driver stopped by somewhere in the city to pick up our tour guide before heading towards the Taj Mahal and eventually dropping us off at the Fatehpuri Gate (West Gate). Walking towards the ticket counter (approximately 100 metres), we encountered camel carriages for hire and students practising martial arts. The entrance fee is ₹1000 (RM61) per person inclusive of taxes, but ours were already included in the package. As it was still very early in the morning, our guide didn’t have to queue up for long to purchase our tickets.
The first structure we came across within the 42-acre complex was the Saheli Burj, which was purportedly the tombs of two of Shah Jahan’s “lesser wives”. Opposite it was the Khawasspuras (living quarters for tomb attendants). That goes to show the high importance of the person who was entombed in the Taj Mahal.
Up next was the Jilaukhana (forecourt) and the Great Gate, beyond which emerged the water channels leading up to the magnificent Taj Mahal. This gate was already a splendour by itself. Such was the impressive handiwork of Shah Jahan, gradually introducing the Taj Mahal to its potential visitors eons later.
Our guide was fantastic, being so well-versed with the history of the Mughal Empire. Apparently, he also worked as a teacher in one of the nearby schools (term break then). He practically narrated the history of the entire complex to us bit by bit as we walked along. More to that, he even advised us on the best angles to photograph the various structures within the complex.
The Taj Mahal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the best example of Mughal architecture showcasing the wealth of the great empire. What’s peculiar is the ivory-white marble used to build this structure which was meant to be the mausoleum of Shah Jahan’s favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Quite lavish for a mausoleum, I must say. On each side of the Taj Mahal is the mosque and Mihmah Khana (guest house), both of which have the same architecture.
Across the Yamuna River is Mehtab Bagh (Moonlight Garden), where the legendary black marble mausoleum (Black Taj Mahal) of Shah Jahan was supposed to be but never completed as he was imprisoned by his own son, Aurangzeb.
We spent almost close to 2 hours at the Taj Mahal and then we were brought to the marble souvenir shops. It was interesting to observe how souvenirs were carved out of marbles, which apparently come from Rajasthan. We ended up buying some souvenirs after bargaining for a long time.
Next on the itinerary was the Agra Fort, another UNESCO World Heritage Site which spreads over a 94-acre land and surrounded by a moat. It has a striking resemblance to the Red Fort in Delhi, in that both of them were constructed using red sandstone and fortified the palaces of the Mughal emperors. Our package included the entrance fee of ₹550 (RM34) per person inclusive of taxes. By that time, the sun was already right above our heads and the heat was excruciating. We entered the fort via Amar Singh Gate and walked up the ramp towards Diwan-i-Am (Hall of Audience).
Next to Diwan-i-Am is located Diwan-i-Khas (Hall of Private Audiences), where the Mughal emperor received courtiers and state guests.
Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower standing close to Diwan-i-Khas was where Shah Jahan spent his last few years as a captive of his son Aurangzeb. It granted him a view of Taj Mahal from afar.
Zenana Mina Bazaar was the last structure within the fort that we explored. This is where the ladies of the court would browse through all sorts of merchandise that was brought into the fort. When we ended the tour of the fort around 1pm, our stomachs were already growling in hunger.
The driver quickly drove us to ITC Mughal Hotel for our buffet lunch, which consisted of authentic Indian cuisine. I must admit that this was probably the best Indian food I’ve ever tasted in my entire life, perhaps because I was famished. The hotel was splendid, somewhat of a paradise in the midst of its run-down vicinity. We didn’t have to worry a single bit about its food hygiene as the cook assured us that the hotel had its own water supply. We spent slightly more than an hour enjoying our meals before heading back to Delhi. Remember our obsession with food hygiene in my previous post?
Shortly after crossing the Ambedkar Bridge, we drove past the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah aka “Baby Taj” commonly regarded as a draft of the Taj Mahal. It is a mausoleum that was commissioned by Nur Jahan, emperor Jahangir’s wife, for her father Mirza Ghiyas Beg. The next 3-hour journey back to Delhi saw all of us sleeping as we were exhausted to the core. We eventually arrived at our hotel around 6pm and went to bed early that night after a simple dinner at the Ambience Mall next door. We flew back to Kuala Lumpur the next morning, but not before I got my henna tattoo from the airport.
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