February 3, 2013

The Taj (Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India)

Obviously you can't spend 3 1/2 months in India and not go to the Taj Mahal, and we finally did in early January. Throughout our time in India we met so many other travelers who had visited Agra (the city where the Taj is located) in Uttar Pradesh, and picked their brains for their advice on the best way to visit this world landmark. In our 3 months in India, over and over, backpackers gave us the same advice: get to Agra, see the Taj, and get out. Everyone told us that Agra, other than having the Taj, was less-than-impressive. However, because of where we were coming from (Pushkar, read here and here) and where we were going next (Ranthambore National Park, coming soon), we knew we would actually be spending 2 nights in Agra.
Taj Mahal Sneak Peek

We pushed off from Pushkar to Ajmer for our 6 hour train ride to Agra and were wrecked by the time we arrived in Agra at 2am because our train was 4 hours delayed because of the dense fog surrounding Agra (making it a 10 hour ride). We arrived at the Tourists Rest House guest house and all plans for a sunrise viewing of the Taj went out the window and, instead, we slept in and went for an afternoon viewing. The strangest thing about our time in Agra was that our guest house was located in the motorcycle repair district. For blocks in every direction from our guest house, there were tiny shops and roadside stalls loaded with motor bike parts - that was literally the only thing surrounding us. We noticed this all over India - one area of a city will be dedicated to hawking watermelons, fixing motorcycles, or selling plastic chairs. It's the complete opposite of our Western mentality, where we think it's best to be the only person in a particular neighborhood selling watermelons, and it's always funny to see block after block of one thing being sold. Actually, one of the things India has done really well with, maybe to its detriment, is keeping out large foreign corporations. Allowing a Goodyear tire shop to open up in a city like Agra would probably wipe out the tire district of the city (we saw that too!) and 100s of small businesses.

That afternoon, we ventured out to see the Taj Mahal (remembering to note the date of our visit - January 3 - so that we can stamp it in our book of 100 Wonders of the World). After paying $15 for our tickets (Indians pay 40 cents) we went through security and headed to see the Taj! It is very hard to convey the feeling of seeing such a beautiful structure in person, but it really is amazing and we spent several hours exploring the Taj and its grounds.
First glimpse of the Taj
Side note: Steph and I both read Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors before we visited the Taj, which is an historical fiction book about the construction of the Taj and was really a fantastic read and highly recommended. Knowing the story behind the Taj made it a more enjoyable experience and we tried to imagine Shah Jahan and his daughter walking the grounds, making plans for its completion.

Unfortunately, everything we had heard about Agra was true - it really is a depressing city, covered with trash and filled with poverty. We spent a bit of time walking around Agra, but the Taj is really the only remarkable thing we saw there. Luckily, it is as amazing as any site could be and a highlight of our trip so far.

You can see all of our pics from Agra and the Taj Mahal here. A few more of our favorites are below:

Inlay work of other marbles and semi-precious stones

Some detail of the marble carvings and inlay work

Steph loved the hieroglyphics inlaid around the entrance to the Taj. 

Kids play around the Taj

From the platform

Abandoned lot in downtown Agra

A boy walks his camel in downtown Agra

Chez Swain

You can see all of our pics from Agra and the Taj Mahal here.


  1. I don't know you both but still love reading your blog. Just wanted to let you know! Keep it up, excellent!!

    1. Hi Lorrie! You're friends with Danielle (Sanders) Friedrich, right? Love that friends of friends are reading!