Photo Story: The Things We Loved and Hated About Agra
I must confess: I was never in awe of Taj Mahal. I have visited it at least three times before, but never was I so smitten by it. I appreciated the mausoleum but not to the extent of it ruling my mind for days later.
But this visit was different though I don’t know why. May be it was the company (my husband and 8-month-old daughter). I can’t stop thinking about its perfection, grandeur, and the vision with which it was created. I am reading a study about its architecture by a research scholar now. Incidentally, he too wasn’t fascinated by Taj as much as he was with other Mughal work. Until he started a detailed research on Taj Mahal. He mentions that Not only was Taj meant to be a tribute to Mumtaz Mahal, it was to be the finest symbol of Mughal architecture and show Shahjahan’s might. It was something that people would remember for years to come, wrote a historian during Shahjahan’s time. But I wonder if they realized then that it will continue to impact people so much as 400 years later?
We reached Agra on the day of Holi for the long weekend. The Taj Mahal was closed because it was a Friday. We decided on visiting the mausoleum early morning for the better weather since we were travelling with our baby.
We reached the premises at 6:15am, also hoping that it’d be less crowded. Once we reached there, we realized there isn’t any time of the day when the crowd is less at the Taj! There were long queues at the ticket counter and the entry point. Guides, coming to us like hunters looking for prey, tried to convince us to hire one of them. “It will take you at least two hours if you stand in these queues. If you hire me, I’ll get the ticket for you and you wouldn’t have to stand in the queue either.” (He said he’d charge Rs 1500 for that and for clicking pictures at the right spots. And yeah some information about Taj Mahal as well.)
We got tempted for a second because standing in the line for two hours with a baby did not seem wise. But then we looked closely. The line for Indian tourists was really small. The line is further divided gender wise. So it would hardly take us 10 minutes to be inside. But to an onlooker the difference isn’t conspicuous. And so it’s easy to understand why so many people just slide in and meet the guide inside thinking they saved so much time.
Corruption. deceit. All in front of the marvel that stands for purity, love, and authenticity…and everything that’s just the opposite of all the misdemeanor going on within its premises…
ON A LIGHTER NOTE
We decided against hiring a guide partly because of the deceitful behaviour outside and partly because we doubted our eight-month-old baby would be patient enough. But we overheard a lot of guides narrating history in amusing styles. There was this one guide giving an animated talk about the Taj. The group of six international tourists seemed quite interested in what he was saying. At the end of his talk, he asked if they had any questions.
“When can we get something to eat? I’m starving,” said one of the girls in the group in an extremely sincere tone. I felt like hugging her — my soul sister.
A tonga is a symbol of yore. From mythological heroes, kings of ancient India, Mughal emperors, British rulers to tourists… these horse-driven carriages have ferried a remarkable group of passengers. And they have left an indelible mark on the checkered history and popular imagination of India. The mode of transportation is no longer seen on Delhi roads after the government took it off the street about 6-7 years ago. But in Agra, you can take this fun ride near Taj Mahal.
The visit to one of the seven wonders of the world was riveting even though the scenario outside did upset us a bit. What also irked us a bit was the security check stopping us from taking our baby’s book inside. It was a book of ABC that our daughter loves…loved (we had to give it up) to look at while having her milk.
I am quite curious to know why is a baby’s book or any book for that matter not allowed inside Taj Mahal? Any logical reason?
Another thing that disappointed us about Agra was the lack of activities or place to visit. Sure, there are places like Fatehpur Sikri, Agra Fort, Akbar Tomb, et al. But doesn’t the city, that gets the thousands of visitors it gets every day (30,000 approx), deserve more? Doesn’t it deserve to be well kept at least? There are parts that are well maintained in terms of infrastructure. But the location we were in (Taj Nagari), despite being so close to the mausoleum, was so dirty and unkempt. It’s definitely not a city you’d like to walk around in.
Being food lovers, Abhinav and I love knowing a place through its food. So we began our search for some local dishes or restaurants serving tastes that represent Agra. All we found were a few eateries appeasing international tourists. These are bohemian places similar to the ones you can find in Rishikesh or McLeodganj. Like, the Bob Marley Restaurant. Built in the balcony of what looks like someone’s home previously, it has limited seating. The food served is simple, “home made”. We liked the ambiance, simple flavours as well as the prices.
There are a couple of more similar restaurants nearby, like Bamboo Cafe, Good Vibes. Needless to say, these are places you’d enjoy if you are with young travellers. I can’t imagine my parents or aunts liking these much. For them, I’d recommend Taj Mahal restaurant:
The restaurant offers North Indian, South Indian, and Chinese cuisines. We had butter chicken (extremely tender and flavorful), roti, and pineapple raita. The food has a decent flavour not something you’d remember though; but the service is something that you would.
We left Agra with happy memories. But one question loomed large as we passed the ungroomed city that was once a glorious abode to the emperor, who was known for his architectural achievements: what would he have thought of the present-day Agra?