Early in the start from Jaipur. On the way to Agra we stopped in Fatehpur Sikri, the short-lived capital of the Mughal empire that was abandoned shortly after its completion due to paucity of water. It is definitely worth a stop, as it is one of the best preserved collection of Mughal architecture in India.
Continuing to Agra, a short 30 min drive, a bus full of 100+ Indians, overtook a rickshaw. After two days in the Indian roads, I had stopped worrying about vehicles driving on the wrong side of the road. Somehow Indian drivers avoid collision in the last moment. But this time was different. When the driver tried to pull it back, the bus started sliding… Fear! At 12 o clock the death-bus, out of control. On the left, trees, no escape. On the right, a couple of Tatas and some cows. About thirty meters before we met our creator, the bus driver managed to take control and men and cows got out in one piece. The way the Indians drive is the only thing that can draw your attention away from the overdose of colors, smells and filth.
Agra, is dirty. Well, dirty is a understatement. Most of the roads are not paved, muddy waters are running everywhere, while people and animals wonder around and blend nicely into the scenery. Once you get used to it, you learn to enjoy. For starters, people look happy. I am not sure if they are happy, as India scores 115 of 155 in the world happiness report. But they certainly look happier that in my home country and most of the countries I have visited. I guess it has to do with the culture.
We settled in the Agra Radisson, 2km away form the Taj Mahal. The hotel is new and uninspiring, but the rooms are nice. Actually we were upgrade to a spacious junior suite, with a large living room and a lovely bathroom. The only downside was the view form the window: a dirty neighborhood. We are indeed in India. We stayed and dined in the hotel restaurant, as we were tired form the morning drive. The food, typically Indian was very decent.
Next morning we woke up before dawn. Quick breakfast, packing and straight to the Taj Mahal to catch the sunrise. What’s interesting is that there are two queues to pass the security check and Indians seem to be very serious about this. Not only here, but anywhere with security checks, there is always two lines. One for boys and one for girls.
Whatever you read about the Taj Mahal, no matter how many pictures or movies you have seen, you are completely unprepared for what you are going to experience. I am not normally thrilled visiting famous monuments as usually there is a lot of associated hype. But this time, I was totally taken aback from the sight of this magnificent building under the early morning sun. Taj Mahal is undeniably the most beautiful monument in the world. I am far from having checked the top-100, but I call Athens home and grew up believing that Parthenon is on the top of the list. Well, that’s the beauty of traveling, it turns your world upside down. When I saw Taj Mahal, I immediately felt the magic and wanted to learn everything about Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal and their story. Go early, line up first to catch the early sun and avoid the crowds. It is absolutely worth it.
After a couple of hours, we visited Agra Fort, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The most memorable spot is Muasamman Burj, a tower with a wonderful view of the Taj Mahal, where Shah Jahah lived his last days.
In the afternoon we took the way back to Delhi, normally a four hour trip – for 200km – but with the rush hour traffic in Delhi it took us close to six hours to reach our hotel.
Next: New Delhi