At 8:30am Saturday morning, we regrettably said goodbye to the magnificent Rambagh Palace and set out on the 5-hour drive to Agra. En route, we saw some pretty amazing sights, including a herd of nomads carrying all of their possessions on the backs of 40-something camels. Luckily our driver, Mr. Singh, was already driving on the wrong side of the road, so we caught them coming straight towards us. We jumped out of the car and snapped a few pictures of the procession. Along the drive we were enthusiastic about pointing out every camel, wild dog, water buffalo, monkey, cow, and elephant in sight. Mr. Singh must’ve wanted in on the fun because he began pointing out, in broken English, all kinds of animals for us to look at. One time he proclaimed “CROCODILE!” and we nearly jumped out of our seats looking around for it. He excitedly put the car in reverse (on a national highway) so that we could get a better look. Turns out, “crocodile” really meant “turtle laying on its back.” We could not stop laughing. As my dad mentioned in his post about Udaipur, the rules of the road are quite different in India. Our Agra tour guide informed us of the 3 most important things for an Indian driver: “good brakes, a good horn, and good luck,” in that order.
Our guide was also very inquisitive about why we chose to visit Agra, Why’d you come all the way to India to see the Taj? he asked, You have one in Las Vegas and Atlantic City, thanks to Donald Trump! If you can’t tell, he was quite the jokester. He told us that if it wasn’t for the Taj Mahal, nobody would come to Agra. It’s a small city (by Indian standards), 80 square kilometers and a population of 2 million people. Tourism is Agra’s #1 industry, and some houses even have mini replicas of the Taj built on their rooftops. In fact, the Taj is so important not only to the well-being of Agra but also to the country of India as a whole, that many bricklayers found themselves out of a job when pollution proved to affect the Taj’s pearly white marble. The only other attraction in Agra, according to our guide, is its mental hospital, which is the first of its kind in Asia. Apparently telling someone “I’m going to Agra” has a double meaning. Good to know!
Seeing the Taj Mahal for the first time was unreal. My dad built it up all week, calling it “ethereal” and “otherworldly” — it was both of those things, and much more. I struggled with trying to describe the experience of seeing the Taj for the first time, as it really does look like some divine intervention created it out of thin air. It floats on the horizon in perfect symmetry, and I’m told it shines like a starry sky under a full moon (due to the Taj’s inlaid mother of pearl). The Taj is a masoleum built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third (and favorite) wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Its style combines elements from Persian, Islamic, and Indian architectural styles, and is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful and romantic buildings in the world. Truly incredible.