The Champagne Backpacker: Michael's Round the World Trip 2005-2007-- The Adventure of a Lifetime travel blog

Entrance to the Taj Mahal

First View of the Taj Mahal

Taj

Taj

Taj

Indians Rest on the Taj

Two Indian Women Walk Along the Base of the Taj

Indian Family Strike a Pose

Taj

Taj

Agra Fort

Fruit Vendor in Agra Market

Cow And Dog Amongst Roadside Trash

Agra Fort

Woman Inside Agra Fort

View of the Taj Mahal From Agra Fort

Fatepur Sikri

Fatepur Sikri

Fatepur Sikri

Fatepur Sikri


AGRA, INDIA. The city of Agra is about a three hour bus ride southeast of Delhi. Agra is famous for undoubtedly the most beautiful building in the world—the Taj Mahal. The Taj was built by Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial for his second wife, who died giving birth to their 14th child. I visited the Taj on the late afternoon of my arrival. Many people visit the Taj as a day trip from Delhi. The entrance fee reflects the disparate treatment of foreigners and Indians at many of India's tourist sites. Here the entrance fee was 750 rupees ($17) for foreigners versus 20 rupees ($0.45) for Indians. All foreigners begrudgingly pay the fee, at the same time probably wondering how Indians would feel if they had to pay 37.5 times the local rate. I spent the afternoon wandering the grounds of the Taj and around and inside the Taj itself. Photographs really don't capture the beauty of this building, which stark white marble that change color throughout the day. The Taj is particularly striking at dawn and dusk.

Agra the city is just as tough to visit as Delhi. The touts are relentless. The constant hassle and interruptions takes a toll on one's patience. For myself, I've found that the best way in dealing with the touts is to simply ignore them and not respond at all. I've tried being nice and saying "No, thank you." However, by responding, it gives the touts an opening to follow you and continue making conversation. Usually they follow up with one of these questions: 1) What is your name? 2) Where are you from? 3) Where are you staying? (If I'm in the mood of responding, I like to say "The Happy Hotel"; If you tell them your hotel name, they will stalk you for the rest of your stay). Touts are simply one of the realities of traveling, particularly India.

What surprised me most of Agra was the open sewers. In my travels around the world, I had not seen this before. Not even in the Middle East or Africa. In the old city, which surrounds the Taj Mahal on three sides (the fourth side is the Yamuna River), open sewer trenches line both sides of the narrow streets (about a quarter to a third of a meter wide). To enter any building, you must frequently step over the trenches, careful not to trip. Indeed, one of the big dangers of travel in India is tripping in the streets. You must always be alert as to where you are walking or you could find yourself falling into an open manhole or other unmarked danger in the street. If there are sidewalks, they are usually filled with merchandise for sale, vendor's carts, parked motorbikes, and other obstacles. Thus, it's usually easier (but more dangerous) to walk in the streets as most people do. The narrow streets are shared by everyone: people, cycle rickshaws, bicyclists, motorcycles, autorickshaws, cars, buses, trucks, fruit and vegetable vendors, cows, camels, and dogs. Speaking of dogs, my sister advised me to get shots for rabies prior to visiting India. She was right. Everywhere you walk, there are dogs wandering the streets. You can hear them barking and fighting over territory at night. In contrast, I have yet to see one cat. I suspect all the dogs have something to do with the lack of cats.

Just a little north of Agra is the town of Fatehpur Sikri, a World-Heritage site and short lived capital of the Mughal emire between 1571 and 1585. It makes a nice complement to visiting the Taj Mahal.



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