May 31, 2012

Heritage- Agra, Home of an ancient wonder Taj Mahal

Well, who doesn't know Agra? The home of world famous Taj Mahal, one of the ancient wonders of the world and UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was much anticipated trip with a lot of expectations which ended with mixed feelings!

Well, the package tour from Delhi which I took in a hurry was covering some of Agra and some of Mathura. I didn't have much time to go around for a better tour at late hours of the evening and I decided to go with what was available. It sounded a bit cheaper which made me think about the bus, seats, the noisy windows, AC and so on ... but, there was no time!
Next morning, I was escorted from my hotel to the travel agency in a TATA Indica. I was happy looking at the clean condition of the car and stopped worrying about the bus. But, I wasn't right. I will not talk about the mechanical, structural and hygienic condition of the bus ... Then, come the co-passengers. I was given a ladies seat, which actually means a seat beside another lady. I have observed and have experienced many times myself, that solo travelers do not have the right to sit where their reserved seat is. They will have to adjust! There is always a man asking to give up the seat and go elsewhere because his family has the right to sit together even if it is a 10 mins drive. Or there is an old woman who wants to stretch her lower limbs so you will have to stand up or take another seat. Or there is a woman who pretends to be sick and wants the window seat you are on. Well, after changing seat 3 times finally I had my seat in the back where the window shutter was shouting on a loud-speaker. Well, all the passengers were happy with me for adjusting!
The tour guide spoke English and Hindi. He re-relayed the same info in both languages which was difficult to understand for two reasons ... for the spoken languages itself and then the bus was louder than anybody else around. The bus stopped for breakfast which sold South Indian food. All north indians complained about food being southern and all the south indians complained about southern food being cooked badly in north ... in fact, the place wasn't clean. Skipped BF followed by similar lunch and dinner. It was an Agra trip with an empty stomach!

Before Taj Mahal or Agra Fort, we were taken to an Art and Crafts Emporium where they showed us a model of Taj Mahal in simulated moonlight. The shop sold many Taj models to my co-passengers ... and there we had plenty of time to shop. To see Agra Fort only 45mins were given. And the Taj Mahal was allotted 1 hour. Passengers protested and bargained for additional 30 mins. After few heated arguments 30mins were granted.
Once at Taj Mahal, I was amazed!! Not by the building but the crowd! To my amusement, in Delhi and Agra, at all the World Heritage Sites I was asked about my nationality, though I spoke hindi all the time. To prove the same I had to show my passport. None of my co-passengers were stopped though. Now, I was there at the Taj and like everyone I wanted my picture with the Taj. It was total chaos. After asking politely, with a strong tone. yelling, making faces then pushing people, photographers, guides and so on ... I got one proper picture of mine with the Taj. The picture is good, my face doesn't reflect what all I did few moments before the picture was clicked! And all this in 1.5 hrs. Oh what a relief! I didn't see the cenotaph, there was a looooooooong line which I passed.

By then sun was setting giving me opportunity to click few more pics of urban sunset! The sky was so colorful but, the color unfortunately indicates the intense air pollution.
Agra Fort, another World Heritage Site in Agra. Built of red sandstone is less crowded than Taj Mahal or it feels so because the fort is very huge. I liked the Agra Red Fort than Delhi Red Fort. In my opinion, the quality of art work in Agra fort is much superior. It was a nice experience to see Taj Mahal from Agra Fort. Though Agra Fort is a World Heritage Site there are parts which need restoration. The beautiful graffitis are withering away.
The huge and open pillared halls are so airy. The palaces, audience halls and other parts of the fort are so ornate. The intricate carving on the walls, be it on marble or sand stone, are beautiful. The lattice-work in the windows is exquisite.

These structures are so magnificent and need a lot of time to see and appreciate. I will visit Agra again soon and will never take a package tour. I was crying about the inconvenience caused than feeling good about visiting Taj Mahal. But, still I saw the Taj Mahal :)

Wah! Taj!

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