Christy and John's Travels travel blog

Family Photo at Akbar's Tomb

"Mini Taj"

Taj Mahal from Across River

Taj Mahal

Turtle Feeding at Temple

With 1.3 million people, Agra felt much smaller, but was more touristy (because of the Taj Mahal), than Jaipur.

We stayed in a small guesthouse ~ 10 minutes out of town. When we booked, we didn't realize it would be out in the middle of farmland, with no restaurants or shops and no way to walk safely back into town (given the packs of crazy dogs, lack of lights, etc). We liked the guesthouse so opted for the relatively cheap option of hiring a car and driver for the duration of our stay in Agra. This made it very easy and comfortable to get around and to see all of the sights (and so many sights to see!) Our happy driver informed us on the first day that you only need three things to drive without problems in India: good brakes, a good horn and good luck!

We visited a lot of tombs in this city, starting with a visit to Akbar's mausoleum (he's regarded as the greatest Mughal emperor). Others included the Itimad-ud-Daulah (known as the Baby Taj), Chini-ka-rauza (beautiful Iranian-influenced tomb with blue, mosaic tiles), and the remarkable Taj Mahal. Amazing how men have such a need to build elaborate memorials for themselves and loved ones in so many cultures!

The Taj Mahal was bigger, more intricate and beautiful than we imagined. Built in 1653 (after decades of construction) as a memorial to emperor Shah Jahan's "favorite wife", it was an amazing tribute. The scale, symmetry and intricacy of the building made it one of the most impressive structures we've seen.

Other stops within Agra included a Sikh temple (our first visit to a Sikh temple), a sunset view of the Taj from the Mehtah Bagh (a Mughal-style garden), and the Agra Fort and Palace (we won't mention the inevitable carpet factory and trinket shop stops that are on every Indian cab drivers itinerary (regardless of what the paying client wants)).

We did a few day trips also, including a visit to the Keoladeo Ghana National Park (an impressive bird sanctuary where we saw dozens of bird species and soft-shelled turtles).

Other sights were Fatehpur Sikri (a "ghost city" that was Agra's capital between 1571-85) and Deeg (a summer water palace that was inhabited up until the 1950's and has it's interior and original furniture still intact).

We expected the crowds, aggressive touts, excellent food, outrageous poverty, shocking sanitation (as with much of Asia: tends to be filthy outside in all public spaces, clean inside homes and private places), beautiful monuments, etc. We were caught off guard to be considered so fascinating by Indian tourists. Not since living in Japan have we been so openly stared at anywhere we've traveled. Because Indians aren't generally as reserved as Japanese, this has resulted in many approaching us and asking to take photos with their families (we've caught others just taking "sneak" pics of us). We still can't figure out why (with so many of us around) Westerners are even given a second glance, but it's hilarious having so much interest demonstrated.

From Agra, we hopped on an overnight train bound for Varanasi.

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