The Taj Mahal, a wonder of the world. This was the reason for our trip to India. As we approached the city of Agra, seeing the Taj Mahal in the distance for the first time, our behavior became childlike, giddy with excitement. The mausoleum was commissioned at the request of Mughal emperor Shan Jahan, in memory of his third and favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. The Taj Mahal is said to be the finest example of Indian, Islamic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish styles of architecture. The Taj Mahal was spectacular, better than we could have imagined. Seeing it with our own eyes was a longtime dream finally fulfilled.
A short 3 1/2 hour drive from Delhi, cruising down the newly constructed Yamuna Expressway, we arrived at Agra, home of the The Taj Mahal. Most visitors sole reason to visit Agra is to see the Taj Mahal, but there are some other attractions including the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah (the Baby Taj) and Agra Fort that are worth exploring.
We began our tour of Agra at The Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, also know as the Baby Taj, because of its resemblance to the Taj Mahal. It’s said to have been a blueprint of the original. Entrance fee: 100 Indian Rupees
Want to be treated like royalty? Stay at The Oberoi Amarvillas. This is the place to do it in Agra. The service is above and beyond, catering to the needs of every guest, but done so with discretion. Located 600 meters from the Taj Mahal, this hotel transcends you back in time. The grounds of the hotel are extensive and impeccably kept, and it’s said that every room has a view of the Taj Mahal. We booked a room with a balcony, and upon arrival were upgraded to a higher floor. What a view!!
There are two excellent restaurants in the hotel, as well as a relaxing bar and lounge. We had dinner at Esphahan. This restaurant serves local Indian cuisine, offered in two seatings each evening. Try the Thali, a selection of small bowls of different Indian style meats, fish, and veggies. They will customize the spice/heat level for you as well. The staff is dressed in traditional wear and could not be more accommodating. After dinner the staff gave us a tour of the kitchen and even demonstrated how they make the naan bread in the tandoor oven.
Bellevue offers breakfast, lunch and dinner. The breakfast buffet is extensive with so many options you’ll never leave hungry. You can even order items off the al a carte menu at no extra charge. Don’t forget to try the Masala Dosa, served with a divine coconut chutney!
The spa offers a variety of body treatments. We chose a couples massage, which included a pomegranate orange body scrub, all provided in a separate spa suite. The therapists were well trained and professional. There’s nothing like a good massage to relax your mind and muscles after a day of sightseeing.
The Taj Mahal, in a word, magnificent. We arrived early in the morning just after 6am. Due to carbon monoxide emissions restrictions, no cars, buses, etc. are allowed close to the property. From the drop-off point, we walked to the entrance. Our hotel, The Oberoi Amarvillas, provided transportation by golf cart to the entrance of the Taj Mahal grounds. The Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, and the entrance fee is 750 Indian rupees for foreigners. If you’re carrying more than your camera and a water bottle, security will ask you to check your other items in their cloak room. Included with your ticket, are complimentary booties to wear over your shoes when entering the mausoleum.
After a long journey to India, we were finally standing in front of the Taj Mahal. This is not a place to rush through. This is a place to stroll and wander at leisure, admiring this masterpiece as it takes on a different look with every turn. This particular morning there were a few showers, but soon the sun and blue skies emerged. We were fortunate to see the Taj Mahal in both a sunny and cloudy setting, each creating a different but equally beautiful look. Photos do not capture the shear beauty of this place.
There is a public garden called Mehteb Bagh (Moonlight Garden), that can be reached by car across the river from the Taj Mahal. The entrance fee is 100 Indian rupees. This location offers great photo opportunities to capture a green foreground to contrast the white marble of the Taj Mahal in the distance.
Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, built by the Mughals contains centuries of history. Our guide Akram Ali, who we hired through Viator, was well versed in it’s history, and brought the Agra Fort to life. Shan Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal for his widow, destroyed some of buildings inside the fort to rebuild in his own style. It is said that Shah Jahan died in the Musamman Burj, a tower made of white marble within the fort. From that tower he was able to view theTaj Mahal. Standing in this tower we too could see the beautiful Taj Mahal across the river. Inside the fort we saw a beautiful mosque also built by Shah Jahan in white marble. The grounds are well kept and the fort itself is quite large, so give yourself at least 2 hours to visit. Entrance fee: 250 Indian Rupees
Our dream of seeing the Taj Mahal led us to Agra. Seeing the Taj Mahal with our own eyes, we understood why this is one of the wonders of the world. The journey to Agra was complete, and worth every mile getting here. In Agra, The Taj Mahal is the main attraction, but driving through this city, you’ll see a different side of life living in it’s shadow. In a country of contrasts, Agra is no exception. Many people visit Agra as a day trip from Delhi. While this can surely be done, we’re glad to have spent a few days experiencing the attractions, traditions and genuine Indian hospitality from the people of Agra.
Cy & Rich
Pictures & Video by Cy & Rich