A visit to the Taj Mahal
A visit to the Taj features as one of the top 50 things to do before I die in many wish buckets all over the world and it’s not a wish without reason. Few weeks ago we took an impromptu decision and within half an hour packed the essentials and we were on our way to the Taj……here is my experience about it……
A good way to travel from New Delhi to Agra is either by train or by road as compared to taking a flight and since it was a sudden decision we loaded ourselves in the car and took the new route to Agra i.e. using the Yamuna expressway. The Yamuna expressway is a treat and exactly what a toll road should be…..no noisy auto’s, no pedestrians trying to run across the highway, thankfully no bullock carts and no shops alongside the highway selling everything from chips to water bottles and where people just stop their cars for a cup of chai…….it’s a straight road which takes you from New Delhi to Greater Noida and right up to Agra. The toll costs about 300 for a single journey and 500 for the return trip….keep the toll slip as it is checked at the toll plazas. With a speed limit of 100 kmph it seems to be a bit of a drab specially when the road is empty barring a few vehicles and while you’re driving at a safe speed of say 110 kmph…..zoom!!! A vehicles zips by you at a speed which make you wonder if your car has been moving at all. The only down part of the Yamuna expressway is the pit stops at each toll plaza (3 of them) where the restaurants are a huge disappointment…..poorly maintained, stale food and this is enough to make sure that the next time you load your car with the soft drinks and the snacks. So a pit stop is good enough for you to stretch your legs or make a visit to the loo…..don’t expect much of a cuisine here though I did see some people smack their lips when the food arrived at their tables ….ugh!!
There are speed cameras fitted all the way so please ensure that you do not let the near empty road get the better of your judgment…..stay in the speed limit or just at the border of 110 kmph or max 120 kmph….on the way back from the Taj I must have hit a particular stretch where my speed limit would have been on the higher side…..I normally don’t prefer to go beyond 110 kmph but then as soon as I reached the 1st toll I was asked to park the car on the side and the camera had caught me speeding at 137 kmph….there was proof and with no arguments offered nor received I was let off with a fine of Rs 400…..I believe that the fines move in the range of the speed slots and the higher the speed the more heftier the fine.
Anyway, we reached Agra at about 1100 hours so basically clocking about 3 hours from our house…..one has to bear in mind that the purpose of the visit is the Taj and not the city of Agra….keep repeating that to yourself and ignore everything else. The city is dirty, narrow roads and chaos everywhere….it has no resemblance of a civilized city and from the moment that I got into Agra I was wondering whether taking my kids to the Taj was worth driving through the traffic in Agra. It is a world class heritage monument with visitors flocking from all across the world to make the Taj a part of their life experiences and yet the city wants to live off the monument without having to do anything on improving the infrastructure or the level of hygiene. Agra is a rather dirty and characterless city, so don’t spend more than a day there. The best time to visit is from November to February, otherwise it can be unbearably hot.
Touts are everywhere at Agra and the best way to handle the menace of touts is to ignore them totally even if they offer you the best discounts, help you jump the queue at the monuments, plan your itinerary etc.
We had to park the car about a km away from the location of the Taj and the balance journey can be done on foot or by a array of vehicles (battery operated, horse driven, camel driven, rickshaw’s….it resembled a mini zoo). Since I did not want to be caught out in the Taj on a day when the sun had come out nice and strong we decided to take a horse carriage to the Agra fort covering that part in the first half of the day and then visit the Taj in the second half with a long lunch break.
Agra fort was also a nice place to visit….a suggestion is to take a guide as it really helps in knowing the information and the trivia makes the place more alive and meaningful. The guides normally flash an identity card that states charges of Rs 475 but we managed to bargain him down to Rs 200….it was money well spent and the entire tour of the fort took about an hour. Took a break for a leisurely lunch such that we did not have to venture out in the afternoon sun and reached the Taj at about 3 o’clock. A simple and strong suggestion is to visit the Taj on a weekday and not on a weekend and ensure that you don’t plan a visit there on a hot sunny afternoon…..check on the weather and an early morning or a nice cool evening visit will ensure that you enjoy the Taj to the maximum.
The first glimpse of the Taj through the doorway and even the well seasoned traveler goes Wow……!! And then there is a bit of a silence as if trying to take in the sheer splendor of the monument. That said, the Taj Mahal cannot be described in mere words. I thought my wife and kids were prepared for it’s splendor but I was so wrong. You have to see it to believe it. I will not and honestly cannot attempt to place a picture in your mind.
Considering the large movement of tourists the authorities have now made the movement a bit cumbersome and hence instead of moving through the gardens and straight into the Taj they have made a somewhat circular route such that it takes the people longer to get inside the main mausoleum…..so basically one has to take a full round of the base of the Taj in an anti clock wise direction and once back to the start point take a flight of stairs and do a similar round before entering inside. No complaints on that as it gives a forced look at the full structure of the Taj from all the angles and God willing if the weather is nice then it’s a treat to watch the Yamuna banks from the parapets of the Taj.
Souveniers with intricate marble inlay works are extremely popular at Agra and one needs to be careful while buying the same as there are many fly-by-night operators who pass of even chalk as marble inlay work. Avoid purchasing at any shop recommended by your guide or Auto rickshaw driver as their recommendations are influenced by the commission that they will earn which at times is known to be as high as 30%. So, do a bit of market research before you shell out the cash.
An Australian couple we met at lunch showed us their profile update on FB to their friends after they had been to the Taj …..”Seriously people, this is THE MOST astoundingly beautiful building you will ever see. End Of Story. Just go…..”
I guess the same applies to all you guys who’ve not been there…