Travel Tales #10 – India Trip Day 4: A Dream Come True – Visiting the Taj Mahal – Distressed to Joyful; Bailey's Way
We woke up a little before 5am to begin getting ready to head to the Taj Mahal! Of course, Moni and I not only woke up late, but we also took longer to get ready than everyone else, meaning that we left later than we had originally planned for. We were hoping to arrive right at 6am when the gates opened so that we could beat the crowds and watch the sun rise over the magnificent Taj Mahal.
Once we were set, we hopped into the car and off we went! On our way, we made a quick pit-stop to pick up our tour guide who would escort us around the monument. Our driver dropped us off at the West Gate of the Taj Mahal, where we excitedly exited the vehicle and began the short trek to the entrance. On our walk, we saw so many baboons! These were the monkeys that the signs kept warning us about. Dad reminded me that they are only considered baboons if they have a red ass, just as these ones did. Some of them were so little and cute! Moni joked, saying that he doesn’t need to take me to a zoo ever again because all of India is a free zoo.
As we arrived at the entrance gate, we were first required to go through a ticket line. There was the “foreigner” line for me to stand in, then there was the “Indian resident” line where the family all lined up. My line was basically empty, and their line was packed, which both myself and Tanvi found odd. I was told that typically the early mornings at the Taj Mahal tend to be overcrowded with foreigners as Indians aren’t known for getting up early.
After going through the ticket line, we were then ushered into security lines that were separated by gender, the separate lines being a common occurrence throughout the country. At this point, we still hadn’t made it inside the Great Gate to see the Taj. Next, we began to walk from the Taj complex into the Jilaukhana, or forecourt, that stands between where you entered after purchasing your tickets and the Great Gate which leads you to the mausoleum. As we were walking through this area, Tanvi mentioned that she noticed a bunch of Bengalis (people native to the Indian state of Bengal) everywhere, which was not a usual thing to occur here in Agra. Tanvi has visited the Taj Mahal on many occasions over the years, so I trust her opinion on this subject matter. She thinks that maybe the pandemic sparked an interest for all of these villagers to take the journey to see the Taj Mahal in real life.
As we made our way towards the last gate that served as the final guard for the Taj, our guide started to quote facts about the monument, officially beginning our experience of this Wonder of the World. We then walked through the massive gate entrance to find the magical Taj Mahal staring us right in the eye. It was absolutely breathtaking! Just as my experience seeing the Grand Canyon in real life, seeing the Taj Mahal in real life was so surreal that it feels like a dream when looking back. And the photos do not do it justice!!! I wanted to stop and just stare in awe, but the crowd kept moving so we rushed to take some good photos while there were minimal people in the background.
Here, we took our first family photo with all six members of parivaar finally together – an iconic photo that we plan to hang on the wall in our apartment when we get home. We had fun with the photo ops and just getting to stare in wonder at the beauty of such a magnificent place that was built hundreds of years ago. Moni and I made sure to take the iconic “celebrity” photo on the bench that numerous celebrities, both foreign and domestic, have sat down for photo ops. I felt like a little celebrity myself as Moni was directing me to stand and pose throughout the entire day as he loves taking photos, most specifically with me as his subject.
As we continued to walk towards the wonderous Taj Mahal, I realized that we were actually going to get to walk inside of it! How cool! I didn’t purchase my entrance ticket, so I was unaware that the family had paid an extra fee for each of us to be allowed entrance inside the monument. Side note: Indian residents pay a much cheaper entrance fee than foreigners, so as a foreigner you can expect to pay roughly 1300 INR (Indian Rupees), which is approximately $16 USD.
Having a tour guide with us deemed very useful as he was able to help us bypass a ridiculously crowded line to get into the monument, while continuing to give us more fascinating history lessons along the way. Once we got through the line, we were required to put on shoe covers or to remove our shoes completely, as they do not allow shoes inside the monument. This is to help preserve the beautiful white marble and prevent it from getting dirty. I joked that we all looked as if we were wearing surgical shoe covers and that we were headed into surgery.
As we walked up to the entrance, our guide mentioned that because this was a burial monument built by a Muslim believer, that all around the entryway was a Muslim prayer written in Arabic. One commonly mistaken belief that I’ve found is that a lot of people seem to be under the impression that the Taj Mahal is a palace of some sort. Personally, I blame this on the Disney movie, Aladdin, as The Sultan’s Palace does appear to look quite a bit like the Taj. The spark notes version of the story of The Taj Mahal, adapted via my own interpretation complete with a little humor and a touch of my personality, is as follows:
The Taj Mahal was built by the fifth Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan, in 1631 in memory of his third, yet obviously favorite, wife and soul-mate Mumtaz Mahal, a Muslim Persian princess. Unfortunately, Princess Mumtaz died shortly after giving birth to their 13th child. What a tragedy! But this princess had a type-A personality and always planned ahead. So long before she died, Mumtaz made her husband commit to four promises: first, that he build the Taj as a mausoleum for her to be buried in; second, that he should never marry again; third, that he be kind to their children; and fourth, that he visit the tomb each year on her death anniversary.
Before we walked inside this marvelous structure, our tour guide told us to go up to the side and touch the hand-carved marble that was the walls. Besides the marble, there are additional colorful, precious stones that were also hand-carved and added to the walls to create an array of patterns, such as floral designs. This elaborate burial monument was built in the 17th century so not only was everything created by hand, but the entire architectural structure was put together without modern-day machinery. The total height is over 280 feet tall! Can you imagine the manpower that was required to create such a thing?!
As we made our way inside, we saw a very large sign that read, “no photos allowed”. This was a bit of a bummer at first, but then I quickly realized that this meant that the images of the inside are in my head only, reserved just for me! Although now that I think of it, this is probably a bummer for you. Guess you’ll have to plan a trip to see it for yourself. ? The tombs found within are actually replicas of the real things, which are located underneath.
Our tour guide was definitely a lively character and he told us to yell something into the dome-shaped ceiling as we walked the circle pathway that surrounded the replicated tombs. The reason for doing so is because you can hear a massive echo that carries on for quite a few seconds after yelling. I am not a fan of loud noises, so I didn’t do it, but Dad (Maulesh) did. He and the tour guide had quite a bit of fun with yelling into the ceiling.
We continued to walk around the pathway until we got to the part which led us to the exit, located on the backside of The Taj. Before exiting, our tour guide requested that Moni and I stand in a specific position so he could take a cutesy photo of us. See below.
The back side of the monument faces the right bank of the river Yamuna and across the river you can see the foundation of what was supposed to be a second Taj Mahal. Apparently the emperor had plans to build the exact same structure across the other side of the river but in black marble instead of white. This obviously never happened, but I’d heard of this “legend” before so seeing the foundation on the other side makes me think there’s more truth than myth in this story.
Walking along the mausoleum and through the gardens together as a family, we took our sweet time to enjoy the atmosphere. Looking back now, it was a dream come true and I wanted to make sure that I absorbed every bit of it while I could!
Eventually, we made our way back to the Great Gate and exited, leaving the Taj Mahal behind and taking only memories (and obviously photos) with us. From there we walked around the Bazaar streets and made a quick stop for some chai. There were a ton of monkeys running all around the streets – one in particular caught my eye because it was sitting on the rooftop of a shop, chewing on the wires that provided electricity to it.
As we made our way back to the West Gate to head back to our hotel, we were constantly approached by people (mainly children) trying to sell us things. I overheard Tanvi say, “nehin chahiye”, to them (which in Hindi means, “I don’t want that”), so I quickly adopted the phrase and just started saying “nehin chahiye” to all of the people who approached me. One of these individuals politely responded, “okay, thank you madam!” then walked away, which was surprising and humorous as these types of people tend to not give up so easily.
We made it back to the hotel just in time to indulge in the breakfast buffet! Wowza, yet another delicious breakfast provided by a 5-star hotel. I definitely ate more than I probably should have. Once we finished up breakfast, we quickly went back to our rooms to grab our bags so that we could make the trip back to Delhi, as another 4+ hour car ride was in store. The driver took us straight to the airport where we hopped on a flight from Delhi back to Mumbai where we would stay for the next 2 days to spend time with Tanvi & Jigar.
On the plane ride, we all coupled up in our seats (myself with Moni, Tanvi with Jigar and Mom with Dad). As soon as we landed, everyone made sure to look out for one another and help with bags or luggage if needed. We all exited the plane together and, with tears in my eyes, I thought to myself, “wow, this is what its like to take a trip with a loving family. I’m so happy that I get to be apart of this”.
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If you haven’t already, be sure to check the previous days of this adventure via the articles below. Enjoy, friend!