To Agra for the Taj Mahal

This was to be another day with a large part spent on the road. Agra is about 240 km from Jaipur and is the third apex on the golden triangle with Delhi and Jaipur. The major attraction is the Taj Mahal which was what we were going to see.

Roads and traffic being as they are in India we were set for another early start today, departing at 7:30 am. The goal was to reach Agra with time to rest in our hotel before seeing the Taj Mahal at sunset.

Majella did not survive her meals yesterday as well as she had hoped. By the time we went to bed she was feeling bloated and was up a couple of times through the night. My ginger lemon tea had helped and I was feeling better than I had. We were up at 6:30 am, took precautionary medication including for rehydration, and restricted breakfast to dry toast and black coffee with an added banana for me.

Our bus was on the road soon after 7:30 am with a very quiet group of passengers. We had discovered at breakfast that almost everybody was feeling a bit seedy. The only exceptions seemed to be Rob, the young English man, who was able to face the hotel breakfast buffet and the young Ulster couple who have been avoiding local food and eating as plain as they can. That strategy has apparently been successful for the past few months of travel in Asia but would not work for us because, unlike them, we like to try different food.

There was traffic in Jaipur but it was not yet full on as we drove out. The highway was mostly in good condition and traffic there moved freely most of the time. As usual the air was filled with smoke and the country was dry and dusty. There were some crops growing in fields along the way but also a lot of bare or sparsely treed ground. Occasionally we passed clusters of habitation and there was a section of a few km where the road was bordered by workshops making and selling marble statuary.

A bit more than 2 hours out we made a comfort stop. That was on the other side of the divided highway so our driver found a break in the median strip, crossed over, and drove back a few hundred metres to access it. That was fine but we were taken aback when he resumed our journey by turning right toward the oncoming traffic and driving on the edge up the wrong side of the highway to access the same break in the median strip. Apparently the rule is just appear confident and do what you want.

As we approached Agra the country showed more green crops and there were occasional ponds and small patches of wetlands visible. Despite that, the overall impression was still of dry and dusty country though evidently it is fertile when water is available.

We arrived at our hotel on the outskirts of Agra about 1:00 pm. It had been selected for proximity to the Taj Mahal rather than the city. A few of the group went off with Ruby to eat lunch but those of us needing rest stayed behind. Majella did manage some sleep, she said more than she had last night, and I caught up with some email and other tasks. We took that opportunity to phone Lucas in Sydney for his birthday. He was busy decorating his cake and described what he was doing with it.

At 3:15 pm we all met in the lobby and boarded the bus for the Taj Mahal where the plan was for us to enjoy the sunset. Traffic was busy so the bus had to park further away than expected and there was no shuttle available so we had to walk what seemed like a kilometre or more to the entry. The walk took its toll on Majella who was still feeling seedy. That took until about 4:00 pm.

Ruby distributed entry tokens, shoe covers, and water and introduced our guide. Once inside we had a few minutes to admire the mausoleum from the end of the reflective pool before our guide took 20 minutes or so to explain the history and architecture of the  site. It had taken 20000 people 22 years from 1632 to build the monument to the beloved wife of the Mughal emperor. The marble used was carted by elephant and camel from about 350 km west.

From then we had until 6:30 pm to explore the site and visit the interior of the mausoleum wearing the supplied shoe covers. Majella was not feeling well and I was still not 100% so we took it slowly and paused a few times to sit and rest as we walked down the side of the reflecting pool and around to enter the mausoleum. The interior is impressive but moving quickly through a crowded space does not make for the best viewing opportunity. 

Exit from the mausoleum was at the back, above the River Yamuna, a tributary of the Ganges. We spent some time there enjoying the cool air in the shadow of the Taj Mahal before making our way back slowly to the entrance and eventually to our meeting place at the coffee shop outside.

The Taj Mahal is a beautiful building. Majella likened her reaction to her response to St Peters in Rome: surely the money could have been better spent alleviating the distress of the poor. From another perspective, building it did provide employment for 20000 people for 20 years. Visitors are currently limited to 40000 per day which might be about 20 million rupees (about $400 000) per day of income from admission and the additional value of the accommodation and other services around about. Perhaps it was money well spent for the local economy when amortised over hundreds of years.

On the way back to the bus we strolled through a local market event but none of our group was buying. We did buy at a general store where we stopped for a chance to pick up any provisions we might want for the train journey tomorrow. That includes breakfast after a 7:00 am start from the hotel. We bought some muesli bars, ginger, mint, and lemon green tea, and other snacks. Mum will be pleased to know we found some ginger ale to help with settling our stomachs.

Those going out to dinner, about half the group, were dropped at a restaurant and the bus took the rest of us back to our hotel. As we arrived a wedding procession was going by with the groom riding in a carriage preceded by spinning lights and a loud band. That capped the day nicely and we retired for a cup of ginger, mint, and lemon green tea and sleep. The green tea made it more bitter than I would prefer but with all those herbs it must do us some good.

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