The white domed miniature replica of the Taj Mahal occupied a prestigious place in our trinket collection, this my father had brought home as a souvenir from Agra, the fascination of seeing it live was a long nurtured dream as this magnificent monument marvel has stood tall against the test of time both in my showcase and the real world.
Taj Mahal or Tej O Mahalaya the pride of India, world’s wonder and a traveler’s frenzy is the temple of curiosity, architecture, history and ancient heritage.
Our Rajasthan trip ended with Jaipur we then headed straight to Agra by taxi. We left Jaipur around 6.30pm although a little late we were relaxed because we had our room bookings in the heart of Agra in a place called ‘Hotel Siddharth’ that was just 1mile from the Taj Mahal.
It was a 4.30 hour drive and stopping for dinner only extended it by another 30 minutes, incidentally we were also stranded in a terrible traffic jam making it really late. We reached Agra only around 1.30pm in the dead of night, as we neared our location we were acutely shocked to learn that our hotel was inside the barricaded area.
The vicinity of the Taj Mahal is a highly secured one with a special 500 meter security zone and a no vehicle zone for a radius of 2kms to protect the Taj from pollution.
Had it been day time we could have probably taken cycle rickshaws to reach our hotel but at that odd hour there were no rikshaws and our many frantic calls to our hotel yielded no results as he had given up on us and didn’t pick our call at all leaving us cursing each other for all that extra shopping hour and that insensitive en route photo shoots and the many nature and nausea calls.
With heavy luggage and even heavier sleepy kids we were left with no choice but to Google up some last minute hotel bookings with a complete ‘never say die’ spirit’. Without wanting to experiment much we just looked up the South Indian Hotel chain ‘Dasa Prakash Hotel’ hoping to get some idlis at least and bingo! an a/c room was available. When we crashed on the bed it was 2.30pm and I just wished the Sun could take an off the next day.
An important note for you:
In case you have made your booking very close to the Taj Mahal make sure you check in before evening and settle down.
The advantage of staying close to Taj is you can just walk down to Taj Mahal early in the morning, be the first visitor of the day do a lot of blissful photography when the crowds are less and get back to your hotel for a leisurely breakfast. You could again visit her in the evening by 3 and spend a good 3-4hours watching the sun set in the backdrop of her majesty The Taj Mahal.
There are hotels that have an exclusive view of the Taj so make sure you run yourself thoroughly through online travel guides that gear you up with adequate information on the best possible coupons and deals, and aid you with redbus coupons.
So make no mistake like me just equip yourself with right information and right apps because you never know when a pleasant planning could go awry in travel.
Actually in a place like UP it is best if you go with package tours that arrange single day trips perfectly well.
The next day we decided to first visit Fatehpur Sikhri and then romance the Taj in the evening.
Fatehpur Sikhri is 35kms from Agra located on Vindhya hills in UP. Sikrigarh that was captured by Akbar came to be known as Fatehpur Sikri meaning victory over Sikri.
A Sufi saint named Sheikh Salim Chisti lived here by whose divine sanctifications Akbar and Jodhabai were blessed with a son who was named Salim in honour of the saint who later went on to be called Jahangir.
This huge red sandstone structure is a UNESCO certified heritage site which is full of ornamental arches, brackets, ornate meshes, jharokas, chattris and pillars typical of Rajput artmanship is an amalgamation of the Moghul, Hindu and Jain architecture.
We visited the Jama Masjid accompanied by a young guide who was only 10 years old but he saved us from the many tiring touts who usually hound you at the entrance or at the toll gate from Agra.
Never hire guides from the toll gates as they are complete outlaws, government certified guides with ID cards are better equipped with information than the locals who give biased information.
Such is the bias that they tell you that there is nothing worthwhile to see in the Jodhabai palace.
The tomb of Salim Chusti is a white structure amidst the red sandstone chattris,
people pray here and tie a sacred thread around a marble window with an immense belief that the wish will be granted.
The burials of many other descendant saints are seen here.
This is the place where the legendary Anarkali was locked up. The guide tells me that she was sent off secretly to Lahore through a secret passage underneath this door and was not killed.
Many artisans sell the miniatures of Taj Mahal and many other intricate jewellery boxes, candle stands, key chains and beautiful marble carved artifacts here.
The afternoon sun was really scorching and we decided to head back to Agra leaving the other places of interest like Panch Mahal, Jodhabai’s palace, Birbal’s house, Anup talao, Divan I khas, Rumi sultana palace, Mariyam’s palace, Jodha’s kitchen, astrologer’s kiosk, treasury house, Haramsara etc completely untouched and reserving for our next visit again.
When you make your bookings most people misguide you saying there is nothing much in Fatehpur Sikri but for somebody who loves history and heritage every place is significant and truly beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.
I for one would suggest that you reserve one whole day to spend in Fatehpur Sikri as it is really marvellous and worth your visit. The only thing is the surroundings are very dirty and the whole place is very arid and harsh with heat.
We dashed back at Das Prakash had a quick economic South Indian thali economic as in quantity because the quantity was really starved. But there was no time to bother and we quickly clung on to a local auto as they are the best to manoeuvre through those chaotic roads. We took our tickets just before the counter closed and made a grand entry only to be caught by the security as she found some Pokemon cards in my child’s pocket. No negotiation worked and we had to waste an additional 10minutes to find a locker for those silly cards as my son wouldn’t let go of it and the guard perceived it to be some electronic threat.
The wait was getting very exciting now as it was time for some grandeur and I was getting historically hysterical.
Standing amidst the crowd, the first time I saw such expanse of her splendour will always remain an unforgettable moment of my life. The view of the Taj from the arch seemed as if a pious cloud of spirituality emerged from an ocean of milk.
We kept walking in and I could not take my eyes off her as I had never seen such precision, such perfection and such astonishing symmetry that took me into some kind of spell.
South Indians normally don’t appreciate much of marble, if you look at temple deities in the south the idols are pitch black and somehow even I tend to be more religious only when it is a pitch black idol but here for the first time I witnessed this mountain of marble sparkling into our eyes with such amazing geometrical patterns in such magnitude that I completely fell in love with this marvel at once.
We clicked several pictures but something was amiss every time as nothing could ever match or mimic her.
A little History of the Taj you need to know:
The Known Theory: As per Indian text books Taj Mahal is a tomb built as a monument of love by King Shah Jehan in memory of his dear wife Mumtaz.
The Unknown Theory: Another theory as per many Indian and western historians and ancient travel diaries of foreign travellers reveals that this spectacular and majestic grandeur was originally a Vedic structure symbolic of a Shiva temple that existed much before it was usurped and converted into a tomb by Shah Jehan from the then Raja Jai Singh.
As per Professor P.N. Oak’s research it was originally built around 1155AD by one Raja Parmar Dev, as per his own court chronicle ‘Badshahnama’ Shah Jehan himself admits that he had taken one magnificent dome structured building from Raja Jai Singh and converted it into a tomb for Mumtaz’s burial. Also the Ex Maharaja of Jaipur is believed to retain orders from Shah Jehan that ordered the surrender of Taj Mahal. A wooden piece from the river side doorway of Taj was subject to carbon testing by American lab which revealed that it was at least 300years older than Shah Jehan’s time.
Now whether it is a tomb or a temple the fact remains that it would still generate the same frenzy among tourists but certain truths like although Taj Mahal is a 7storied building with 22 rooms the fact that it curiously remains locked today and even permanently sealed with walls, the many Hindu symbols and aspects that historians attach and assert like why should a tomb have 22rooms and why are they kept locked furthers a traveller’s appetite for knowing the true history.
Maybe throwing the doors open will resolve all this conflicting theories.
(Don’t forget to take a walk by the riverside and view Taj from here as this place is curiously not suggested by any guide)
Because history is not about political opinions of radical rogues but an essence of our rich traditions and legacy for enthusiastic tourists, art lovers and more importantly the people of the land with whom that history is directly connected.
History equips us to subtly understand the might of the mind at those times thereby giving an anecdote of the culture, beliefs, social and economic understanding of that period which go on to become the heritage of that land, rest all theories are insignificant.
We spent the evening perambulating the Taj in the dusky sun as the Yamuna waters appeared even darker now, it was time to go home.
The next morning we jump started early to watch her once again sans that din and watched her in serenity.
It was time to say good bye to the Taj Mahal.
We had our breakfast at Hotel Siddarth which was lot better than our Dasa Prakasha and headed for the Red fort the most luxurious jail in the world where Shah Jehan was held captive by his own son Aurangazeb.
In the noon we wanted to try the Cycle Rikshaw ride so we asked him to take us to some shopping street. We had no clue what was in store!!
He took us to one of the wholesale markets called Subash Market where the road is no more than 3feet wide and a catastrophic crowd of people and ox carts moved menacingly from all sides which is no place for you and I to shop but it did give us a feel of the real markets but I must confess I still managed to shop. Now that’s the power of women, we can shop anywhere anytime and everything.
We were over flowing with luggage and it was time to leave Agra the abode of the Taj Mahal but I did manage to pick the last but not the least the Agra Peta and soon we were heading to Mathura.
That’s it for now catch you in my next post.