Agra & the Taj Mahal

Agra is at once overwhelming. It was my first taste of the India I had heard about prior to my departure (because my Couchsurf host prevented me from having to encounter this scene in Delhi), which is to say my first brush with scam artists, irrepressible tuk tuk drivers and even more persistent rickshaw caddies.

Rickshaw drivers will follow you, sometimes for several kilometers in the case of two girls I witnessed from a safe pace behind. They need three, four, five no’s, forcing us to be rude, or sometimes downright mean, before they finally relent.

It’s not just the drivers though. On first arrival, it seems there is so much to see and so little time, thanks to a quickened schedule suggested by several other travelers who said one day in Agra is enough. But soon, when that day is finished, you realize everything worth seeing has been done, and anything else isn’t worth the hassle.

I arrived via an overnight bus from the religious center of Haridwar. The journey was a sleepless ten hours, despite my delight to see an actual bed instead of the chair I expected. But it was cold – large gaps between the seal and the window, which extended the length of my upper-berth bed, didn’t let me forget – and no blankets were provided. I was shivering under three scarves draped and tucked over my body and dreaming of even the dirtiest blanket to place on top. Not to mention, the roads are riddled with potholes larger than squat toilets, and frequent stops are made for food and chai.

Nevertheless, I arrived with just enough time to drop my bag at the Taj Guesthouse (I desperately needed my own space by this point) and catch the sunrise opening of what is said to be the most beautiful building in the world: the Taj Mahal. The lack of other early risers left the palace stunningly serene. I was afraid I would get there and be disappointed.

The Taj Mahal

I certainly was not.

The Taj Mahal is the most visited site in all of India, attracting somewhere between two and four million people annually. This white marble masterpiece, encrusted with semi-precious stones, was built by the 5th Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his third but most beloved wife, a Muslim Persian Princess who died after birthing their 13th child. It is now recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Eighth Wonders of the World.

The Taj sits on the bank of the River Yamuna, not far downstream from the famous Red Fort – the first base of the Mughal Empire. After visiting this and what is commonly known as the Baby Taj, the first structure in the area to be built entirely of white marble, I returned to see the big Taj at sunset.

Afterward, I bought a sterling silver ring inspired by the big Taj from one of those pushy (but polite) touts that drove me so crazy. It’s sides are cut into an intricate lace patter, imitating the many lattice windows, and it’s topped with a purple jewel like the ones that glimmer when the sun hits the beautiful marble building.

I guess it’s fair to say I desperately wanted to bring a piece of the Taj Mahal home with me.

Do you think it’s most beautiful building in the world? Can you top it?

Taj Mahal Sunrise

The sunrise inside the Taj Mahal complex.

The Taj MahalTaj Mahal detail

Taj Mahal framed

The entrance to the Red Fort.

The entrance to the Red Fort.

Inside the Red Fort.

Inside the Red Fort.

Inside the Red Fort.

Inside the Red Fort.

Red Fort detail Yamuna river reflection

The baby Taj

The baby Taj.

The baby Taj

The baby Taj.

Sunset across the Yamuna from the Taj Mahal.

Sunset across the Yamuna from the Taj Mahal.


Agra & the Taj Mahal
Written by:Jessica J. Hill
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14 thoughts on “Agra & the Taj Mahal

  1. Very nice photos! I was there this morning for sunrise and it was more beautiful than I could have imagined. I always thought it would be over rated because how could it be so beautiful…its just a building. But standing there seeing it for myself rebuffed that thought. I was so pleasing to look at that it almost made me uncomfortable, haha. At the Delhi airport about to make the trek back to North America. Glad we got to share some adventures!

    • I completely understand how you felt. It’s amazing that it’s just a tomb, yet it’s so much more. It really is magnificent.

      Have a safe trip back to Alaska. It was fun traveling together – maybe I’ll make a trip to Anchorage one of these days! And you’re always welcome in Colorado, or wherever I am.

  2. Absolutely amazing shots of the Taj, especially the first one and the one as the sun was rising. I can hardly wait to read all about your experiences in India! I was at the Taj too but had a crazy experience as it took us 5 hours to drive there and 6 hours to drive back and then we flew out the same day at 1 am!!! It was insane. Plus both my dad and I got “Delhi belly” and my dad was actually hospitalized when he got home with a fever of 105 and a severe case of the runs! We had quite the time, though. I really can’t wait to read more of your adventures. I was only in India for three days but it is by far the craziest place I’ve ever been. I’m so excited to go back this May!

    • Wow, that sounds like an interesting/adventurous three days! It certainly isn’t enough time though, so I’m glad you get to go back. In fact, I wasn’t sure I even liked India until I had been there for one month. Then, something switched and I fell in love with the place. Six weeks still wasn’t enough! Come on, May!!!

      • I really wish I could go for longer but this is a business/working trip. I think however I will really see it in a new light as I’m working with NGOs and women social good bloggers while I’m there. Can hardly wait! I loved Nepal and was there for over 2 weeks. India was a tough place to adjust to but then again my stay was short.

      • Yes, I’m going as a journalist to write on maternal health. But I’m sure I’ll get more out of this trip than I would have as just a traveler!!! Stay tuned!

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