India is a country of contrasts. A country that does challenge a traveller in many ways. We were two females who traveled across India from Varanasi to Udaipur by train. A trip that changed our views of many aspects of life. We were not prepared for the heartbreaking poverty. Both of us started the trip at a time where we were mentally and physically tired. Our jobs were beeing reorganized. India tought us never again to complaine about our jobs. On the contrary. India tought us to appreciate our jobs. A few days ago I read my diary from this trip and desided to share some pages.
Although Agra is most often associated with the Taj Mahal, the legacy of the Mughal empire has left a remarkable selection of architectural masterpieces: a magnificent fort, fascinating mausoleums and tombs. But all this beauty has also a downside which made our stay challenging : the hordes of touts, unofficial guides, souvenir vendors, rickshaw-wallahs etc. whose persistance put our patiance to a test. Despite all the challenges, Agra surpassed all our expectations. It is just as magical as you might have heard.
Our hotel in Agra was on the east side of Taj Mahal and only one kilometer away, because we wanted to visit more than once. Agra draws lots of tourists, mainly because of Taj Mahal. The city was the capital of the Mughal empire form 1526 and for the next 100 years the city witnessed the building of some the most extravagant monuments the world has seen. The first thing we did was exploring Agra Fort.
It is a massive, red sandstone fort and palace built between 1565 - 1573 as a military structure. Shah Jahan added elegance and white marbles to the fort and upgraded it to a palace. He was imprisoned by his own son and spent 8 years in one of the towers. But at least he could look at his beloved Taj Mahal every day.
The outer walls rise over 20 meters. Inside there is a large amount of buildings for different purposes, forming a city within the city.
Agra Fort is impressive. When looking at Taj Mahal I tried to imagine how it must have been for Shah Jahan to be imprisoned here.
The women's bazaar. The women could stand up here looking down on the goods without being seen.
Our second day we went to Fatehpur Sikri, a fortified ghosttown about 40 km. from Agra. This magnificent ancient fort was the short-lived capital of the Mughal empire in the 16th century under the reign of emperor Akbar. Abandoned after15 years due to unsufficient water supply. Through the hotel we arranged for a taxi to take us. The driver started the journey by filling up with gas, demanding that we pay. We refused showing the note with the amount allready payed, including everything. He accepted, but didn't talk to us the rest of that trip!
We entered the Jama Masjid mosque through the impressive gate – the Victory Gate, built to commemorate Akbar's military victory in Gujarat. Soon we were surrounded by «guides». We declined all offers. One of them was too persistent. He said he was a guide who worked for the state. We tried to overlook him and went our own way, but he followed us closely and kept talking. It was totally impossible to shake him off!
The tomb of Shaikh Salim Chishti is a superb white marble tomb. The city of Fatehpur Sikri was built to honour Salem Chisti, a famous sufi saint. He predicted the birth of Akbars heir and when the prophecy came true, Akbar built his new capital here. The Jama Masjd is stunning. A real shame that we were not «free» to enjoy it.
After visiting the mosque we went back to pick up our shoes. We wanted to visit the palaces. Then we were demanded to pay for the "guided" tour. A long and persistent discustion around the payment. A discussion that did not end in our favor! But in order to finish him off , we ended up paying. We were rather angry as we walked over to the palaces. We were not able to enjoy this place properly. But at least we got to go there without a «guide».
The palace of the Christian wife
The palace buildings are situated beside the mosque. There are three palaces – one for each of Akbars favorite wives. One was Hindu, one a Christian and one a Muslim.
A day of annoyances from start to finish. When we ate dinner from room service, we wondered if we were going to go through the same hassle in the Taj Mahal?
Our plan was a visit at sunrise. As soon as we left the hotel, a little boy came running towards us. He pointed in the opposite direction of the Taj Mahal and asked "tickets to the Taj Mahal?" We waved him away and walked in the opposite direction, determined not to be fooled again. At the entrance we realized that we should have bought a ticket in advance. I had to get a rickshaw to take me to the ticket office. It turned out that the ticket had to be bought at the place the little boy had pointed out earlier!
We lost that sunrise moment, because we did not believe a litle boy. But the Taj Mahal was free of guides! This white marble building that came into our sight as we entered, was a magical moment. This place will take your breath away. I can't even find words to sum up the beauty of it.
Taj Mahal is considered the greatest architectural achievement in islamic art. A mausoleum situated in a vast garden by the river. Built by emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal who died when she gave birth to their 14th child. It took him 22 years and most of the royal treasury to build this beautiful memorial to eternal love. The beauty of these magnificent masterpieces we have seen in Agra did weigh up on all these other challenges.
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