It’s a shame! In 27 years of my existence mostly 200 kilometers away from the Taj, I never visited it. It was always on my bucket list. I felt the worst when I visited the Great wall of China even before I got a chance to step in Agra. However, this changed last year. Since then I have been to Agra thrice! Talk about over compensating!
All three times we drove down from New Delhi in our personal car. If you get a chance, do go for this road trip! Well maintained expressway, not too long for self-drive with adequate restaurants/dhabas on the way. It’s a beautiful drive.
The car park is around two kilometers away from Taj entry. It’s a well maintained clean pathway with souvenir shops and restaurants on both sides. Most of the shopkeepers and guides are well versed with English mostly to converse with the international crowd. If you don’t want to walk, there is Government electric vehicle available with nominal payments or you could take a ride on a traditional tanga (horse carriage). However, I think tanga is not allowed in that area. An observation as my tanga-wala was very nervous and hurried. You must bring your passport (for international travelers) and any valid address Id card (for Indians) to enter the Taj compound.
The main entrance has a red Mughal structure which acts as a gateway to the main monument. Wile entering, it provides dark tone in contrast with the bright front view of the Taj to make that perfect first impression. That moment surely made an everlasting imprint in my mind.
As I came out of the entrance dome, it took a few seconds for the grandeur to sink in. The beauty of Taj can’t be described in words..it’s a sensation..you can just feel it when you see it! There are good spots to get some amazing clicks, but it is hard to get one without people. There are just too many of them. You will have to stroll around the reflecting pool and gardens to reach the monument. I didn’t realize how long I walked as I was just trying not to fall in the pool, battling the immense crowd of tourists and school kids.
While buying the tickets you get two options, one for just the monument and an additional one for mausoleum. We took the full tour. For the second part, you either need to take off your shoes and keep them just outside the Taj where shoe racks are available. But the person who claimed to be guarding them didn’t look official or trustworthy! The other option is to buy shoe covers which are available for nominal prices but cash only. The tour is basically a quick round in a queue inside the main structure which houses grave replicas of Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal. To be honest, the tour was a little crowded and not that impressive! I didn’t see any place where one could sit or get out of the queue, so, you gotta keep moving.
Once you’re out, you could sit on the porch to take a close look at the beautiful designs, calligraphy and admire the fine intricate carvings. There’s beauty all around..if you take a twirl on the porch, you see the mirror image mosques on two sides and river Yamuna on the third! It took us around three hours to complete our tour, we read all the historical placards, waited for a good photo spot, sat for some time on the Taj porch, took the mausoleum tour. Recommended to wear comfortable shoes and dress in layers (to take them off in summers and put them on in winters) as you’re exposed to the elements for quite some time. Let’s close the tour with a fun fact. The surrounding minarets of the Taj have a slight outward tilt to save the main structure from earth-quake damages. Makes you wonder about the engineering advancements and futuristic vision.
Unfortunately, I still haven’t explored anything else in Agra. I stayed in two great properties but as my stays were short didn’t get to use a lot of the amenities.
Jaypee Palace hotel: This one complements the grandeur of the Taj. Vast gardens, huge lobbies, good sized pool. I also found the staff extremely friendly. On our request, the chef changed the flavor of cake we ordered at the last minute as the little birthday girl wasn’t fond of chocolate 😊 They had organized a spectacular live classical dance show on full moon night over the pool side.
Courtyard by Marriott: This one has a great pool with a good pool side resto-bar. It isn’t as grand as Jaypee, however, it’s pretty and neat with decent service.