3 September 2012

The marble is smooth and white beneath my feet. Still cold from the night. In fact, this marble is refreshing! The Taj Mahal complex is so completely different from the streets of Agra that surround it.

I arrived in Agra last night at 3 A.M. and managed to find a damp room to sleep in for a couple hours before waking at 6 A.M. for the sunrise. Making my way to the Taj, I pass hogs rooting through heaps of trash and make a turn near a building that says “Lost Cattle Pound.” Cattle roam the streets here like the stray dogs do in the U.S.  Yet the streets of Agra in the morning are serene, if only for the knowledge of what they become as the day grows. En route to the Taj Mahal West Gate I find a small path running alongside the giant walls of the complex towards the Yamuna River. With time to kill before admission opens I stroll along the dirt path through green gardens and a troop of monkeys to find the sun rising at the river as the morning call to prayer sounds.

But this Taj Mahal really is breathtaking – intricately carved and inlaid with calligraphy and flowers – that’s the pietra dura. Inside, the center of the mausoleum feels hallowed. Auspicious. Full of echoes and voices. Surrounded by grass and reflective pools this is my refuge from the noise and smells of Agra, from the popping misfires of the autorickshaws, from the sewage dripping down the streets.  Instead, chirping of birds and hushed voices speaking in Hindi fill my ears while I sit on a marble outcrop.

 Agra Travel & Photography Tips:

DO wake early to get inside when the Taj Mahal opens (7:05 AM in September)
DO spend all morning slowly taking in the Taj Mahal
DO lodge close to the Taj – Sadiya Palace in Taj Ganj is Rs. 300 and has the best rooftop view + cafe
DON’T bring a tripod or anything similar to the Taj Mahal – they won’t let you in
DON’T bring a microphone – or at least make sure you hide it well – sometimes you get lucky
DO cross the Yamuna to see the Taj at sunset from the back but…
DON’T pay to go in Mehtab Bagh to see that view (there is a street leading to the river right before hand that is free)
DO walk through the villages and fields across the Yamuna for a different view of the Taj as a backdrop for rural life
DON’T feed the monkeys