REPORT 2 - Sept. 2000
India - Agra
We arrived on the 6.00am Shatabdi express, and immediately saw Agra was not as aggressive as it's neighbour, Delhi, which automatically warmed us to it. The train ride had been very pleasant, with comfortable roomy seats and food being served constantly. There was a nasty surprise, however, as we tucked into our breakfasts and looked out of the windows, as we soon realised what all the people squatting by the side of the tracks with bottles of water were doing!
The people of Agra were much more friendly and it was a lot cheaper than Delhi, our room was only half the price of the night before. We opted to stay in the Taj Ganj area of the city, which is where all the budget accommodation clusters, just south of the Taj Mahal. The area was very unclean, with just one big stretch of road lined with stalls and restaurants. The narrow alley was home to as many animals as people and it was soon normal to see camels wandering down the street and the traffic hold up to be just another herd of donkeys passing by.
Agra is a large city with many attractions but many more people are now opting to make Agra only a day trip from Delhi. We saw surprisingly few tourists and everybody seemed desperate for our money. One rick-shaw driver sat outside the hotel, Shanti Lodge,our entire stay just waiting for us to come out in the hope of a fare of no more than 20-30p. We only opted to stay for two nights as the sites can be seen in a day. This year they have introduced a new tourist day pass which covers five tourist attractions and costs 500 rupees, about £8. This is very expensive in India considering last year the entrance price to the Taj Mahal was only 12 rupees (about 20p). Many travellers with last year's guidebooks were very surprised!
Agra's attractions are however worth the cost, but like most tourists, we only visited two out of the five attractions on offer, but that took up most of our day.
Having seen so many pictures of it, we thought we knew what the Taj Mahal looked like, but never did we imagine a building could be so beautiful. Pictures just do not do it justice. Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan built the Taj as a tomb for his wife who died giving birth to the couple's 14th child. Construction began in 1632, 20,000 people worked on it continuously for twenty-one years and the best marble, gems and craftsman were imported from all over the world.
As we sat with the crowds and watched the sun go down on the Taj, the subtle light changes were wonderful to watch as it glowed yellow just before dusk, we could not take our eyes off it. As we walked closer to it, from every angle and viewpoint it seemed more amazing than before and as the sun set, we sat transfixed; it was an experience we would never forget.
The story of the Taj has a sad ending however, when in 1658, Shah Jahan's son, Aurangzeb, staged a coup and imprisoned his father in Agra fort, where for the rest of his life, he could only stare across the Yamuna river at his masterpiece. Believe the hype, the Taj Mahal is the ultimate must see in India!
Over shadowed a little by the Taj Mahal, Agra fort is a very impressive piece of Muhal architecture. It is just across the river from the Taj Mahal and its high red sandstone walls are 2.5km long. It was the Emperor Akbar who started construction in 1565 and still evident are the many exquisite marble palaces and royal chambers. There is also a large courtyard with beautiful gardens that the Emperor would have used as his court when in town. This large fort is remarkably still complete, even though much off it is off limits to visitors. It is sad, however, to look up at the tower where Emperor Shah Jahan was imprisoned and could only look out at his beloved wife's tomb.
I, being a bit more historically minded than Jon, enjoyed the architecture and particularly the fine detail of the marble palaces. Jon, however, has reached the conclusion that once you have seen one fort, you have seen them all and moaned most of the way around.
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Produced by John Bentham - Copyright 2000/01 Jonathan Enoch & Elizabeth Wigg / John Bentham
an Outlaw23 initiative