Yes, that was an abrupt trip to Agra with a parents-to-be couple. No sooner I received a call from my school friend, Sahadev inviting me to join on an Agra tour, I responded in the positive and arranged a car immediately. Sunita and I started around 12.30 pm, picking up them (Sahadev, his pregnant wife and his sister) at Vaishali Metro Station.
As we started in the afternoon, I was in the apprehension of reaching late and not getting entry. The driver assured me of reaching in 3 hours; though not good at mathematics, I figured out the reaching time would be around 3.30 pm.
Sunita showed her expertise in explaining to these fellow travelers about the majestic skyscrapers, shopping areas and other stunning architectural pieces that running beside our car in the opposite direction. Soon, we took the newly built Yamuna Expressway. I had only heard about this, but now I could clearly see its refined and state-of-the-art finish. I was in a state of awe. The express-line can be compared to any National Highways of the country. It has got width that can allow four big vehicles run at the same time. The driver geared up to 100 kph and all of a sudden we were on a bullet-ride. “You are under CCTV surveillance” – we were repeatedly notified with this in every 5 – 10 km. Amongst other notifications were – trucks and other big vehicles should not exceed the speed limit up to 60 kph and for car, it was 100 kph. Note the toll charges – it was Rs 520/- for both sides.
What used to be a pleasant ride a few hours ago suddenly became quite clumsy and narrow with terrific traffic and piles of garbage. Cyclists, bikers, pedestrians, cars and trucks compete to outdo each other. The driver was very responsible and he resorted through us through the bustling market and the slums. The sight was pretty baffling, finding the land of one of the Seven Wonders of the World in such a miserable state.
The three-hour long journey came to a halt at the parking area. It is around 500 meters away from the Mughal monument. No vehicles are allowed to go further and damage the color of the monument and increase the pollution level of the area. In no time we were surrounded by people offering a ride to the main gate of the Taj Mahal. There were battery-run vehicles, camel-driven and horse-driven conveyances. We preferred a camel-driven conveyance (Rs 100/-) that took us to the main spot via Meenabazaar, where one would find traditional items and souvenirs. The camel-jockey gave us incessant, unnecessary ‘gyan’ about the place. I inquired what he was trying to justify.
I was famished by the time, so were they. I told Sunita to place an order at Taj Restaurant adjacent to the West Gate of the Taj Mahal and Sahadev and I went to get the tickets. While Indians have to pay Rs 20-/ per ticket, international visitors are charged an amount of Rs 750/-. After a hearty meal, we proceeded for the security checks at the entrance of the west gate. We didn’t have to wait for long. There were fewer crowds at the entrance at 5 pm.
It was kind of a remainder for me of the Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi. Lush green manicured meadows, colorful flowers, thick walls and awe-striking Mughal architecture were enough to take our breath away. I could smell the aroma of majestic Mujhal Empire in the air. As we got past the two-story building-like wall, we found the outstanding monument standing in all its glory and pride. The eye-pleasing sight of the Taj Mahal was unmatched. I found the impressive structure even more beautiful and livelier than what I saw it in pictures.
Without wasting too much time being swallowed up in our own thoughts, we plunged into touristy ritual – capturing the amazing moments in our camera lens. We were not the only ones clicking pictures. There were thousands of others from different states, countries, languages and lifestyles indulged in the same activity. The white marble mausoleum standing proud, gleaming against the blue sky offers an ultimate visual retreat. In the meantime, Sunita was seen chatting with a few foreign visitors. All seemed to be very happy as if they found an old friend in her. I wondered did she crack a joke?
The Taj Mahal:
Shah Jahan, the fifth Mughla Emperor, in December 1631 began the construction of one of the greatest monuments in history. He showered his love for his beloved wife, Mumtaj Mahal and built this white domed marble mausoleum to commemorate her. It is the ultimate epitome of love.
Standing on a raised, square platform, the structure boasts awe-striking architectural designs both interiors and exteriors. The large terrace offers a plenty of space to visitors to relax and feel the soothing breeze coming over Yamuna River. Look at the four imposing minarets – each 162.5 ft. The entire mausoleum complex is adorned with beautiful flower designs and handwriting using various gems like jasper and agate.
The mausoleum also known as Crown Palace houses queen’s grave at the lower chamber. One will also notice the grave of Shah Jahan added to it later. By the time, we entered into the chamber, it was seemingly dark. The dim light was unable to eliminate the darkness completely.
It was around 7 pm. And we called it a day. From the West Gate we hired a vehicle run with battery. This time we only paid Rs 20/- (not Rs 100/- like earlier in the day). We had to make a stop at Mathura & Vrindaban. The driver suggested giving it a miss since we were running late. Though it was a short trip, I thoroughly enjoyed it with my lovely wife and friends.