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January 12th

We all made it to the lobby of the hotel ready to head to Agra by 4am and only had to wait half an hour for the cars to arrive.  We headed to the train station which was about an hour away so I napped a bit.  The train station was quite an experience.  There were people sleeping all over the station and it was a mix of all classes of people.  The train was really nice and comfortable compared to driving, and it took about half the time.  It was neat watching the Indian countryside slide by (when I wasn’t sleeping).  We arrived in the Agra train station and were unsure of where to meet our guide and drivers.  There were many beggars and a man with no legs pleaded with us for money for a few minutes while we tried to call our driver. Our guide showed up and we headed to our hotel through Agra.  The city was revealed to be one of the more dirty, congested, and chaotic of all we had visited thus far (which is saying something).  The poverty in Agra was probably the worst we had seen yet as well, with children and women with children tugging on shirts and tapping on windows, making eating gestures.  It was heartbreaking.  There can be no factories which produce pollution within 50km of the Taj Mahal, which I believe may exacerbate the poverty in the city.  We arrived at our hotel (the DolphInn – har har) and found it to be pretty questionable, but after seeing the crushing poverty and chaos of Agra, it was hard to complain.  The power went out shortly after we arrived and breakfast was quite an ordeal, I think they made our toast over a fire out back.  I had to argue with the manager a bit as well because they were trying to charge us way too much for breakfast, but they came around eventually.  After breakfast we loaded up in the cars and made the short drive to one of the most iconic structures in the world (and number 1 of the seven wonders according to our guide) – The Taj Mahal.

When you see the ubiquitous photos of the Taj, the less desirable aspects are conveniently excluded from view, like the scores of beggars and super-aggressive salesmen and trash and endless hokey souvenir shops.  However, even these things melted away as we passed through the massive main gate and the Taj Mahal materialized in the distance.  It was powerful, and an old white lady next to me began bawling as she glimpsed it for the first time, presumably having waited her whole life.  The Taj is perfectly symmetrical on all four sides, except for the beautiful Arabic script relaying different prayers from the Koran on each side.  The immaculate white marble is intricately inlaid with malachite, lapis lazuli, onyx, carnelian and other semi-precious stones, as well as incredible carvings and stonework which can’t be seen from afar.  It is in amazing shape considering it’s almost 400 years old.  There’s not much graffiti or looting like many other historical sites we have seen here.  The marble is translucent, and I was a bit bummed to have not seen it either at dawn or sunset as it changes from pink to white to orange, but all the more reason to return some day.  The structures surrounding the Taj are awesome too, a mosque and guest house and four large gates, everything perfectly symmetrical.  We went inside and saw replicas of the tombs located on the main floor while the real tombs are unavailable far below.  The backside looks out on a sacred river and the iconic minarets actually lean out away from the dome in case they were to ever fall they would not damage the main structure.  We all got some nice pics and spent some time just soaking it in, but then it was time to move on.

Agra Fort was next on the agenda, and it was pretty cool, but perhaps somewhat diminished after the glory of the Taj Mahal.  We saw some beautiful architecture in the fort, and were also rewarded with a nice view of the Taj from afar, sitting (seemingly) peacefully on the river.  The fort was huge, and we only saw 20% of it as the rest is still being used by the Indian Army.  Honestly, after the fort I was ready to head to the hotel.  We had been up for over 12 hours and it was only early evening.  A few of us chilled and played cards while the others went shopping before dinner. The owner of the hotel showed us some lame card tricks, which was pretty funny.  Dinner was awesome, we ate outside and the food was fantastic (wish I could remember the name of what I got!).  Pretty good day.

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Last modified on September 10th, 2015
Posted on March 31st, 2013