|I'm a bit of a curmudgeon about large tourist attractions. I can't stand the crowds and the hordes of bused in tour-drones milling about like sheep. For this reason I was going to give the Taj Mahal a miss. Despite a desperate urge to get out of India ASAP a kind of nagging guilt persuaded me to go to Agra to tick off the Taj. My first glimpse of this edifice to love showed me that it would have been utterly wrong to leave India without seeing it. It really is unbelievably impressive, I was suitably blown away! It has been fittingly described as "a tear drop on the cheek of eternity" and the energy that it projects is tragically magnificent.
It was built by the inconsolable Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his favourite wife, Mumtaz who died giving birth to their fourteenth child. Construction began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. The focus of the Taj Mahal is the white marble tomb which is inlayed with semi-precious stones, it looks more like a piece of jewelry than a building. It would have been even more moving if it were not for the crowds! The acoustics inside the tomb are unfortunate as, rather than the respectful hushed silence that would befit the final resting place of such a beloved woman, it's more like being inside a bee hive with the volume on full. You see the thing to do if you are an Indian child is to scream and scream at the top of your voice then laugh as loud as you possible can as your shrieks are echoed around the magnificent marble dome. The respectful mood is continued outside where large groups of Korean tourists take novelty shots of themselves at the Taj, jumping in unison at the Taj, lying on the floor at odd angles to each other at the Taj, doing handstands at the Taj etc. A very bizarre sight. Still the Taj seems to be unbothered by such antics.
I was not looking forward to being in Agra as the general opinion was that it was a shite-hole and to be quite honest I've had enough shite-holes for the moment. I was however pleasantly surprised. Agra seemed to me like the Disney version of India. There were actual trees and lawns giving the town the feel of a council municipal park, the only thing missing being a floral clock. For goodness sake there was even an actual golf course! Don't get me wrong it was not "clean", there were still cows and plastic bags but it seemed very Disney-esk to me. Like someone wanted to give the "it's a small world after all" impression of India with just a little bit of filth to add colour. To be quite honest I could almost see the Mickey ears on the dome of the Taj! Perhaps I just felt like this because I'd come from Amritsar which was a real down dirty Indian shite-hole. Or maybe the people who told me it was horrible have never seen anything worse? I dunno but either way I welcomed it with open arms. I was so ready for a Disney version of India and to leave on a positive happy note. The fat lady ain't sung on this country quite yet but for the moment I'm deliriously happy to be taking a break and moving to a new part of the world. Watch this space...