Peter and I showed up to Agra, the home city of the Taj Mahal, twisted with jet-lag and exhaustion after a 30 hour transit from Los Angeles. However, the hotel we were staying at, The Oberoi Amarvilas, had been on Peter’s go-to list for years so our energies lifted as soon as we entered the opulent lobby. Maybe it was our disheveled appearance after such a journey but it was 9am and the front desk quickly ushered us out of the lobby and into our room. Up to the third floor we went and seconds after the room’s door opened we were in immediate awe of the view from our balcony. Jet-lag was cured momentarily as we took in the magnificent sight of the Taj Mahal in the distance. This is what we traveled half way around the globe for (this picture does the view no justice).
Seeing the Taj Mahal is a well known bucket list item, but coupling that bucket list item with being able to wake up to a view of it every morning from your balcony—that adds a bucket full of cherries on top. Pun intended.
Each morning Peter and I would wake up with various greetings to the Mausoleum:
“Good Morning Taj!”
“Oh hey, what’s up Taj-y?”
“It’s gonna be a good day, right Taj?”
Our first day we decided to take it easy and sort out our jet lag. It was offensively hot during the afternoons so the air-conditioned hotel was a perfect environment for Peter to work and for me to catch up on my blog. I really became determined to get caught up on my posts. I was about six months behind at that time. Yikes! I also took a trip to the gym which is always a good idea to combat jet lag and Peter took a couple dips in the pool.
At 4 pm, once it started to cool down, we headed over for a sunset session at The Taj Mahal. The hotel is only about 300 meters from the Taj Mahal, but it was still hot and the hotel’s golf cart insisted that he drive us to the entrance so who were we to argue.
The Taj Mahal is one of the most iconic structures in the entire world. I had of course seen a ton of pictures of it but there is nothing like standing in front of it in all its magnificence. I think standing in front of it combined with severe jet lag added to the surreal nature of the experience. We approached the entrance where there is an archway framing the Taj Mahal like a perfect postcard.
The magical powers of awe, amazement, humility, joy, happiness, and gratitude all set in at once.
The history of the Taj Mahal is a love story. When the wife of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan died while delivering their 14th child he never recovered. In ode to his wife he commissioned the Taj Mahal to house her tomb. Starting in 1632 and for the next 20 years 20,000 artists, architects, and craftsmen worked to construct the Taj Mahal. It is now visited by 3 million tourists and locals each year. Oh what a woman can inspire!
Here are some photos from our first visit.
Note: the four spires are slightly angled out (as you can see in the pictures) so in the event of an earthquake they would fall outwards and not damage the mausoleum.
As we walked around I couldn’t help but notice the incessant staring directed at us. It was unlike anything we had experienced in our travels to that point. I recently read Shantaram and the author does a wonderful job of relating what it’s like to walk around parts of India as a foreigner.
“Foreigners were stared at in India. Somewhere in the five or more millennia of its history, the culture had decided to dispense with the casual, nonchalant glance. By the time I came to Bombay, the eye contact ranged from an ogling gaze to a gawping, goggle-eyed glared. There was nothing malicious in it. The staring eyes that found and followed me everywhere I went were curious, and almost always friendly.”
This is so true and followed us everywhere we went, but there was never any negativity behind it—always just what seemed to be a genuine curiosity.
Coupled with this came a handful of people who asked for a picture with me which made me think of our time in Cairo when our guide recommended we not take pictures with locals because then everyone will ask. After sunset we headed out and a woman with a baby approached me. She held her baby outstretched towards me wanting me to take her baby for a picture. I felt really torn. India is known for locals running schemes. One of them follows this precise story line where one throws a fake baby at a foreigner – when the confused tourist goes to catch the “baby” the con artist steals your money as your arms are preoccupied. Google it. I looked at Peter who shook his head no. We were just getting acquainted with India and weren’t sure if this was a genuine gesture or a clever ruse. We played it safe, but I did feel bad.
During our walk home we had many of the locals walk with us trying to get our business by having us visit their nearby shops. We kept moving and didn’t stop. More frustrating would be the rickshaw drivers who would walk alongside you for considerable distances asking you ever 5 seconds if you wanted a ride. Engaging the driver with a firm “no” would only excite his enthusiasm to give you a ride. As Peter and I like to walk it was something we just learned to deal with.
I felt a little nervous at first because you can never prepare for the complete assault on all the senses that India provides from the noises, to the grit and the lack of personal space. So the local sales behavior can throw you off, but I also felt prepared to easily assess and adapt. We had been to Morocco which seemed very similar in terms of a bustling over-populated country with aggressive touts. In Morocco I was really taken aback by all of it because I wasn’t prepared for it. This time I was.
A short walk later we were back at the Oberoi Hotel. When we returned to our room the staff were attending to a “turn down” of the room. I took this opportunity to ask for a photo of Peter and I on our balcony just after sunset.
“Oh hey there Taj.”
After battling the tiredness from jet lag all day our eyes started to snap shut around 9PM.
The next day we went down to the buffet as soon as it opened at 7 AM. Peter had heard that the hotels serves a wonderful breakfast so we were excited. Who doesn’t get excited for a good buffet?
The Oberoi breakfast did not disappoint. The impeccable service, dizzying variety of food, golden accented lush decor, and of course the unbeatable view of the Taj Mahal made for an extra special first meal of the day. A slice of Indian decadence.
Later that day we set our sights on another early evening viewing of the Taj Mahal. This time I felt a little more at ease with the staring and requests for pictures. I can channel my inner Beyonce if required.
In the above picture the lady next to me is actually holding my hand and did not ask me to hold her baby. No schemes here.
Peter and I had a fun photo shoot this time around since we had been able to absorb so much of the greatness on the first visit.
However, after what Peter considered an “excessively long” photo shoot we got into a “discussion” of “capturing the moment” versus “enjoying the moment.” A common theme of disagreement between the two of us as Peter isn’t keen on the interruptions of photo taking. Although he is always pleased afterwords that we have the pictures. We were a bit at odds with each other, both feeling right, and decided to just have some quiet time. Birds must like pictures because suddenly a flyby bird shat right on the top of Peter’s head. I couldn’t hold back my smile and tried my best to hide my laughter while thinking that was a pure sign that I’m right in this situation and his grumpiness over the pictures was unfounded. It broke the ice and Peter started to laugh. We pressed on with our sight-seeing when suddenly, moments after Peter had cleaned himself of the bird’s recent mess, it happened again. Yup, two birds pooped on Peter in a matter of minutes at the Taj Mahal. What was the universe trying to say!?
After what I would classify as a successful second visit we left the Taj Mahal compound and headed out to the bustling streets of Agra where we strolled around in search of transportation to dinner. Peter used his negotiation skills and successfully hired us a rickshaw driver to get us to our dinner destination at Pinch of Spice.
Driving around Agra alone will keep you entertained with the foreign sites of Desi cows stopping traffic, camels trotting the streets, an entire family of 5 on one motorcycle, a myriad of different animals roaming the roads, etc. It’s an unusual atmosphere of seemingly controlled chaos.
We arrived safely to the delectable restaurant where we ordered up various dishes of curries and nan bread. This is where I dove into my love of Indian cuisine and never looked back. Indian food all day… every day.
With bellies full and jet lag setting in we headed home after a successful day two in India.
That night as we were dozing off we received a phone call from the manager of the tour company we had hired for our driving services. He had felt so terrible about not having someone at the airport when we arrived that he decided to make it up to us by coming by and taking us to a wedding. He invited us to an Indian Wedding! This is when you know jet lag is ruling your life. We could not for the life of us get out of bed and go. With his eyes barely open Peter thanked the man for the generous offer, but declined. We were this close to attending an Indian wedding. Oh well something to save for next time.
The next day we took to a little more sightseeing in Agra.
We started off at Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah otherwise known as “baby Taj.”
Then off to the UNESCO World Heritage site— Agra Fort—also know as a walled city due to the magnificence in size. The walls are 70 feet in height and built of red sandstone. Built in 1565 AD under the Mughal Dynasty, it is reflective of that era art and architecture.
Afterwords it was back to the Taj Mahal for one last sunset session before we headed to our next destination: Varanasi.
We first enjoyed a view from Mughal Park which is just north of the Taj Mahal across the Yumuna River.
Then it was off for our last up close and personal view.
Our last night we opted to enjoyed our last meal at the highly reviewed restaurant at our hotel, Esphahan. The dining experience was on the intimate and upscale side with dim lights and local music being played by a live musician. We spoke with great gratitude of an already special, interesting, and great trip thus far.
There is something about being in India that instills a spiritual feel even with all the chaos. I was already developing a strong love and bond with the country.
In the morning we gathered up our things and headed back to the New Delhi airport where we caught our flight to Varanasi. But before we exited our hotel we said out last good-bye to Taj from our balcony.
“Bye Taj. We will miss you.”
As always, thank you for reading. Much love and gratitude to you all.