Fortunately the internet connection is excellent so I am able to post in real time.
After getting settled into our hotel, we ventured out to see the Taj Mahal – the reason anyone comes to Agra.
There is a no vehicle zone around the Taj Mahal – only human, animal or battery powered vehicles are permitted within a 1/2 mile of the entrance to the Taj. We left our small van and boarded two battery powered tuk tuks for the short drive to the entrance. There were many people walking and taking rickshaw style bicycle powered conveyances. I didn’t see any on the road but in the parking lot there were many buggies hooked up to horses and a few to camels for yet another means to get to the gate. I have no idea what any of these cost. The best thing about being with a guide is they handle all the money.
It was getting later in the afternoon when we arrived at the Taj Mahal entrance – East Gate – so the line was short and moved very quickly. The lines are segregated into men and women. It felt like stepping back in time to be so divided but there is a practical reason. Every visitor is frisked before entering. The women step behind a curtain for privacy, then men are openly patted down. We, myself and the men I am with, arrived at the exact same moment so there was no need to worry about getting separated. Backpacks and purses were put through the x-ray machine. My purse was not examined further nor were the backpacks of those I was with but the Indian women before and after me did have their bags gone through. I can only imagine that they don’t want any bad publicity from foreign tourists so go easy on us.
The forecourt, a wide open area you enter before you go through the gate which leads to the Taj Mahal, is every bit as beautiful as the Taj itself. I was surprised to see dogs fast asleep on the grounds, oblivious to the comings and goings of visitors. These dogs appeared to be wild but there was no dog poop around so someone is at least picking up after them. We spotted a few monkeys scaling the outer walls but none were visible within the grounds. Unlike my recent experience in Kenya, the monkeys kept their distance.
We stepped into the gate and immediately saw, framed in the arch way, the Taj Mahal. The late afternoon light radiating off its white marble exterior was spectacular. It was as if it was lit from within. We stopped, as does everyone, to take photos. This is one point where you are on a raised platform so you are looking directly at, not up at, the Taj. We then stepped down to walk beside the reflecting pool toward the Taj. In the center is another raised area where people were posing for photos. Most were staged so that they appeared to be grasping the top of the Taj or holding it in their hand. It was similar to those photos I’d had taken at the Sphinx. I convinced one of my companions to let me pose him for this rather silly but fun photo.