Agra is at once overwhelming. It was my first taste of the India I had heard about prior to my departure (because my Couchsurf host prevented me from having to encounter this scene in Delhi), which is to say my first brush with scam artists, irrepressible tuk tuk drivers and even more persistent rickshaw caddies.
Rickshaw drivers will follow you, sometimes for several kilometers in the case of two girls I witnessed from a safe pace behind. They need three, four, five no’s, forcing us to be rude, or sometimes downright mean, before they finally relent.
It’s not just the drivers though. On first arrival, it seems there is so much to see and so little time, thanks to a quickened schedule suggested by several other travelers who said one day in Agra is enough. But soon, when that day is finished, you realize everything worth seeing has been done, and anything else isn’t worth the hassle.
I arrived via an overnight bus from the religious center of Haridwar. The journey was a sleepless ten hours, despite my delight to see an actual bed instead of the chair I expected. But it was cold – large gaps between the seal and the window, which extended the length of my upper-berth bed, didn’t let me forget – and no blankets were provided. I was shivering under three scarves draped and tucked over my body and dreaming of even the dirtiest blanket to place on top. Not to mention, the roads are riddled with potholes larger than squat toilets, and frequent stops are made for food and chai.
Nevertheless, I arrived with just enough time to drop my bag at the Taj Guesthouse (I desperately needed my own space by this point) and catch the sunrise opening of what is said to be the most beautiful building in the world: the Taj Mahal. The lack of other early risers left the palace stunningly serene. I was afraid I would get there and be disappointed.
I certainly was not.
is the most visited site in all of India, attracting somewhere between two and four million people annually. This white marble masterpiece, encrusted with semi-precious stones, was built by the 5th Mughal Emperor, Shah Jahan, in memory of his third but most beloved wife, a Muslim Persian Princess who died after birthing their 13th child. It is now recognized as an UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Eighth Wonders of the World.
The Taj sits on the bank of the River Yamuna, not far downstream from the famous– the first base of the . After visiting this and what is commonly known as the Baby Taj, the first structure in the area to be built entirely of white marble, I returned to see the big Taj at sunset.
Afterward, I bought a sterling silver ring inspired by the big Taj from one of those pushy (but polite) touts that drove me so crazy. It’s sides are cut into an intricate lace patter, imitating the many lattice windows, and it’s topped with a purple jewel like the ones that glimmer when the sun hits the beautiful marble building.
I guess it’s fair to say I desperately wanted to bring a piece of the Taj Mahal home with me.
Do you think it’s most beautiful building in the world? Can you top it?