Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Taj Mahal

After a brief unscheduled stop in Gwalior it was back on the highway the next day towards Agra. There were only 110km to cover that day, but it's still hot. The roads were in far better condition too, 4 lane highway most of the way with a much smoother surface. I could sit somewhere between 80-100km/h and only have to be alert for swerving trucks and not for large holes in the road.

The roads in Agra are much nicer than most cities too. Four lane roads in most major directions, but the two lane roads were often clear of heavy traffic. We were headed towards the Eastern Gate which is where Agoda had a few bigger hotels that had parking (and wifi). When we got closer to the Taj Mahal the GPS directed us into Taj Ganj, the small village area which was used for the builders of the Taj Mahal which contains a lot of small narrow streets, often with a stall taking up half the alley. Once we got to the eastern side of the Taj Mahal we were stopped at the exclusion zone around the area. The lonely planet mentioned this but it only said that non-polluting vehicles were allowed within the exclusion zone. Today it was all vehicles without a permit were not allowed. We were about 300m away from were we wanted to be but the police would not let us through this way. So we headed back into Taj Ganj, trying to navigate a way through the narrow streets back to the main road south of there. The GPS didn't show the alleyways in this area, and the roads were not straight, so there was a lot of guesswork as to which direction we were actually travelling. Eventually we spotted the road at the end of an alley and we were free! Finally! We would have to do a big loop around to get on the East Gate road back to where all the Hotels were, all up it was a 3km detour, but there was a McDonald's the way!

The Maharaja Mac
We found one hotel which said rooms were available on Agoda, but when we looked in there all the cheaper rooms were gone and they were left with one very expensive room, and one expensive room, both with views of the Taj Mahal. They tried lowering the price a few times to get us to stay but it was still rather a lot for what it was. We looked at a few others on the street but they were charging about 5 times what they should be for the rooms they had. We looked in one of the more expensive hotels which was on Agoda for about $30/night, but they wanted to charge about $50 for a walk in. But they did have wifi, and a pool, and air conditioning, and a restaurant. By this time it getting late so we headed across the road to a small internet cafe where we could book the fancy hotel for a cheaper rate (wifi and aircon has its price).

After we unpacked we headed down to the Oberi Amar Villas to get a drink at the bar whichis mentioned in lonely planet as something to see in Agra. The Amar Villas is the most expensive resort in Agra (21000R/night, I just looked up) and it was amazing in there, so very shiney and clean and new. If only I could ever afford to stay somewhere like that. Of course, the drinks were expensive too, $10 for a long island iced tea (it was a fancy place, had to have something fancy, but the martini was more expensive).

The next morning we got up early to beat the crowds to the Taj Mahal. We heard the gates only open at 6:15am, but sunrise was at 5:30am on that day. We walked towards the east gate and had rickshaw drivers coming up to tell us that the ticket office is in the other direction. We ignored them thinking it was a scam because the lonely planet map had the ticket office on the map next to the gate. However, it turns out they were right. The ticket office is indeed in the other direction because they moved it due to "terrorist concerns" or some such reason. We caught the electric bus back to the ticket office for 10 rupees (cheaper than what the rickshaw drivers wanted), and then paid for our 750R tickets, collected our free 500mL water bottle and shoe covers, and then took an electric bus back to the gate. They held the free bus back at the ticket office for a bit while they got video footage of this kid walking out of the office and sitting next to me. So somewhere in India there's a movie about a kid going to the Taj Mahal and where he sits next to me on the bus.

Once back in the gate there are four gated paths in: Male, high value ticket holder male, female, high value ticket holder female. Unfortunatly the signs are confusing and I ended up in the high value ticker holder line and then I went back out to get in the correct line. Then it was a pat down and a metal detector, and then we were in! What a process...

The entrance to the gardens. There are passages of the Quran around the big arch in the middle.

Classic view.

This is as far in as video cameras are allowed. My camera does video now, HA! Police that!

View slightly off centre.

People waiting to get the Princess Diana shot

Relected view.

Segregation! Well, the Indian tourists are directed to the working Mosque on the right side. 

Sun.

Time to put on the shoe covers to go upstairs onto the marble.

More of the Quran around the entrance.

Ultra wide angle panorama view. Some stitching errors in this one though.

The river just beside it.

Graffiti.

Carved marble along the base.

Some of the inlaid stones.

More carvings, and more stones inlaid into the marble.

Discarded shoe covers..

The active mosque on the right. There's another building the same on the left hand side just for symmetry.

So the Taj Mahal is quite impressive but there's not much to it other than the building itself. There are tombs inside but you're not allowed to take photos. It's got some impressive carved marble grills to let light into the centre, and the tombs are also covered in precious stones but I couldn't see much because there were a lot of people in there at the time. It's also very very echoy inside.

Awesome police bike.
And that was it for the Taj Mahal. It was off to Delhi the next day.

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