India’s Golden Triangle Part 2: Agra – Home of the Taj Mahal
Arrival in Agra
Our second stop in India’s Golden Triangle was Agra, most famous for the Taj Mahal. When we exited the train station in Agra (Agra Cantt station), we were met with an extremely boisterous crowd of drivers volunteering to take us to our destination. There is an official system, however. At the end of the crowd toward the right-hand side, there is a small box hut. Here, we stated our destination and the gentleman handed us a carbon copy of a paper ticket with our hotel name and a fixed fee. The paper ticket was given to a driver and we followed him to the car. Seemingly, there was order to this chaos. Even though there will be many drivers offering you a discount or cheap fare, I recommend following the system. We drove to our hotel, the Radisson Blu, which was located a mere 20 minute walk from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal.
Other than the Taj Mahal, Agra was mostly filled with wedding festivities and catching up with old friends from university. Our first day was relatively relaxed. The evening was wedding night #1. It was filled with lots of music, dancing, colours, food, lavishly dressed guests, and an even more lavishly dressed bride and groom. Festivities finished at around 1am.
The Taj Mahal
The next morning, five of us set out to visit the Taj Mahal. Closer to the Taj Mahal, the road becomes pedestrian only, except for a buggy that can take you the remainder of the way for a small fare. There will be several people trying to sell you shoe covers. Don’t fall for it! Shoe covers are included in the foreigner ticket. The foreigner ticket is ₹1300 and you can get a small discount if you pay by card. The ticket includes shoe covers (for the main mausoleum) and a water bottle.
There are also many guides outside the entrance who will offer their tour services for the Taj Mahal. Try to hire a guide that has an identity card as they will be approved. There is no way to be 100% sure so we used our instinct and common sense. It also helped that some of my friends could speak Hindi! Don’t fall for the trick where the guide offers his services for free. After the guided tour, he would bring you to the shops and apply pressure for you to buy the goods.
We entered from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. Our guide provided a brief history to the Taj Mahal and its grounds. He explained that the Arabic inscriptions on each side of the East Gate were an optical illusion. As you view the inscriptions, they appear to be the same size from top to bottom. However, the lettering at the top is slightly bigger than the bottom to appear a uniform size. We snapped a few pics and walked through the East Gate. The Taj Mahal immediately came into view. It’s perfect symmetry and grandeur is hard to miss.
The Taj Mahal stands at the end of path of water and gardens. The photos don’t do it justice. It is slightly yellowed due to pollution, but the white marble still appears brilliant in the noon sunlight. The Taj Mahal changes colour in appearance depending on the time of day. It has pinkish hues in the morning, transitioning to warm white in the day and to an iridescent glowing white in moonlight.
Our guide took us around detailing the history of the Taj Mahal’s architecture. He also doubled as our photographer and knew the best spots for a snap. We spent approximately three full hours walking around before heading back to the hotel.
Our last night in Agra was the night of the wedding. The groom’s party knows how to make an entrance. Our friend rode in on a horse with friends and family dancing around him. As we entered the wedding venue, it felt as though we had walked onto a Bollywood movie set. A long night of eating, drinking and laughing with friends was the perfect ending to our two days in Agra.
Next stop – the beautiful city of Jaipur, nestled in the mountains of Rajasthan.
If you missed the other articles on India’s Golden Triangle, you can find them below. Each report has reviews of the main sights in India’s Golden Triangle and shares the usual tips & tricks!