Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India – Arrived in Agra at 8.15 a.m. and got a rickshaw over to the Shanti Lodge. This is a great hotel, not a two-minute walk from the Taj’s east gate, perfect. We arrived there and instead of running straight to the roof, they have got the most amazing, unobstructed view of the main gate and the Taj from the sun deck.
I waited in the lobby. I had wanted to see the Taj ever since I was about 10 years old and now that I was really there, I did not want to see it until I was standing right in front of it. Rich went straight to the roof while I ordered breakfast for two of us. He returned and after looking at the menu, Rich noticed they served “special bhang lassies.” We had been in India long enough to know that special means bhang, so we each ordered one to go along with breakfast plus it would not hurt our first viewing of the Taj Mahal. 8.45 a.m. done with breakfast and our bhang lassies, so we headed over to the Taj.
I did not look up at the building and actually closed my eyes part of the way, until Rich had me standing directly in front of this most amazing building. I had seen hundreds of photos of this building but absolutely none of them, even the national geographic photographers do this place justice, so beautiful, and so perfect plus the morning we were there, there were not a lot of people, so it was people. Both Rich and I just sat down and stared in ooh! at the Taj. Amazed by the fact that such a beautiful building was built solely as a memorial for the Taj’s wife. We must have gazed at it for an hour then we walked up to it to take a look inside.
The closer you got to the building, the more imposing and more beautiful it became. Every aspect of the building is perfect – the inlay work, the stones, and the minarets, everything. We took off our shoes and ascended the steps up onto the marble dais, the Taj sits on. It was so relaxing, walking around sans shoes so peaceful. We entered the building and were met by a self-appointed guide – his self-appointment, not ours – who showed us around the inside.
The inside dome is similar to our US capitol building dome in sheer size and the acoustical effects are astounding. The Taj was constructed with perfect echo resonance a trade our guide was not shy to demonstrate to us. He took us to the center and showed us the marble tombs, one for the wife and one for the Taj and with his flashlight, he showed us how translucent the marble and inlay work was. The inlay work consists of precious and semi-precious stones brought in from all over the world, Malachite from Africa, Onyx this solid blue stone, diamonds, since been removed, red and orange stones. The guide placed his flashlight directly onto the inlay work as he moved it across the design, this one of flower. Each pedal of the flower lit up as light moved across, so amazing.
Our guide had a stand behind the wife’s tomb and look out the main door – the structure was constructed so everything was perfectly symmetrical in every aspect. So from where I was standing, I could look over the tomb out the door over the fountains in front of the Taj and actually see through the doors of the main gaits, a 100 yards away, one again flawless. We walked around the building a few times, awed by its beauty. Then we moved back down to the fountains and sat admiring it for a few hours.
We were definitely banged from our bhang lassie, so after a few hours, we decided to leave and go back to the hotel. Too bad, neither one of us had bothered to take note as to where the hotel was, so we missed the turn and ended up walking down the back streets of Agra. The roads were cobblestoned and as we walked pass residential houses, the children came running out saying hello to us. Past the houses and down the road to see the locals using man-sized scales to weigh out huge bags of rice. Pigs, goats, cows, children running passed us, everyone casting us, questioning and glances as to how we ended up this far into the back streets of Agra. Every preconceived notion I had about the third world was proven true during this enlightening walk. Of course, we were banged, so were getting more and more lost, so we found a rickshaw and paid Rs. 3 to get back to our hotel. The first agreed price was Rs. 5, but he drove us no less than 100 meters so I renegotiated him down to Rs. 3 upon arrival.
Up to the hotel roof to admire the view of the Taj and sit in the sun. At about 2 p.m. the full effects of lassie overtook me and I had to go to sleep, slept until 9 p.m., up for dinner then back to sleep. The Holi festival was the next day, so I needed my rest for the celebration.