My impression of the Taj Mahal.
Its big. Its white. Its overrun with tourists (Indian). Its overpriced.
Oh no doubt if one is architectually or romantically inclined there are definite pluses to paying a visit. I am not really partial to either inclination. Admiring a well kept and peaceful escape from the masses? Now that I am partial to. The garden surrounding the Taj is a wonderfully luscious green space that has many trees under which one can escape the sun. Simply superb! We met some young girls in the garden and that visit was their sixth or seventh time. They informed us that there's not much to see inside and the only reason they came so often was because there's nothing else to do in Agra. I suspect also that as people (Indian Nationals) under 15 years of age (as they were) get in for free, played a bit part in their frequent visitations. So bearing in mind what the girls had said, we made for the big marble edifice. As it is a Mosque one has to "de-shoe" or use the shoe covers that come complimentary with the Foreign Nationals ticket. The marble was nice and cool, but getting to the marble involved quite a "hotstep" across the baked red sand stone. So amid the squealing of young girls and women, the stiffled grunts of men, a mad dash or nonchalant stroll (depending on your disposition) was made to the foot of the marble structure. The Taj itself took a sum total of ten minutes to explore. Wandering around admiring the hard work and feeling sorry for the chaps that possibly went blind due to all the intricate work; marble inlay, carving etc. But the whole mystism thing completely passed me by. I was not moved by the dedication of the Emperor to his missus. Nor the deeply devout aspect. Nor the time it took to build. I was however moved by the price (INR 750, USD15 approx) and the distinct lack of Western tourists. It was actually quite nice to be far outnumbered by the locals at this fabled site. It must also be said that it was wonderful to see the locals sweating buckets in the heat aswell. Makes one feel almost empowered by the knowledge that people who live here can still succumb to the heat. Hurrah!
The Agra Fort was pretty interesting. Its red colour was lovely. The history impressive. And the view... Well, magnifique!! You could see the Taj across the river. What a view to wake up to! In those days minus the smog it must have been quite sublime. And although there was no lush green area, the fort was still a cool place to just chill. Mixed red stones with an extrodinarily white marble mosque palace thing. With the sun shining on it, it damn near seared your retina. Again here we Westerners were far outnumbered by the local toursits.
We also managed to take in the "Baby Taj". Built before the Taj, you can see a similar set out here as with the bigger, later version. The tomb in the middle flanked by buildings on either side, and surrounded by a wall. The work is not quite as detailed as it much bigger cousin, but for me just as interesting, just as good a spot to chill, and minus the hordes of tourists. Although probably a quarter of the size of the Taj, more time was spent just wandering here. Lack of hype, lack of knowledge, lack of toursits, equals a morning well spent and enjoyed.
Inside the walls of the monuments hawkers are not allowed. But beware: upon entering and exiting said monuments you run a gauntlet of them. Making up for their absense within. One thing I did find adorable however, was the attempt to sell us "filim" for our cameras. It was just precious. Oh and the kids outside these monuments have learnt how to look pitiful, on the verge of tears, or any number of emotions that might make you part with your money or anything else they deem valuable, at the drop of a hat. Oscar winning performances, most of 'em.