After our time spent in the beautiful pink city of Jaipur, ( you can read about it here: Jaipur: The Pink City of India) We were on our way for the 4 hour drive to Agra, the city that has one of the most iconic places, and structures in all of India and the World, The Taj Mahal.
It will be a 4 hour journey by car, again, on India’s not so perfect roads. On our way there to break up the long drive, we stopped at the Abhaneri Step Well. I remember first seeing this geometrical step well in the movie: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. I found it fascinating, but nothing prepared me for the awe-inspiring beauty I would behold there.
Abhaneri Step Well:
This ancient step well was built to harvest the rains. When times were tough, the local villagers had someplace to draw upon for water and also was a great place to enjoy a cooling moment when the hot Indian Sun was too much to bear. In the middle of the step well is an ancient temple dedicated to the goddess of happiness and joy , the Harshat Mata Temple. This is such an unbelievable fairy tale location in my humble opinion. I could imagine all the ancient locals in their brightly colored sari and traditional dress, washing their hands and feet at the well, and entering this beautiful temple to make offerings before they claimed out of the zig zag steps with the water for the day. Really amazing to know that the ancients had it right well before us so called modern folks did. Unfortunately from what I was told, most of the temple was damaged by the Muslim invaders in the 10th Century ( which later became under the rule of the Mughal Empire… more on that later) which destroyed some of the beauty of the temple. Entrance to the step well is free. Its nice I would assume if you pack a lunch and sat and enjoyed the many views of this splendid step well.
We left this spectacular Step well to continue our journey towards Agra. First and foremost, we were famished and needed to get sustenance. We pulled on the side of the road at a road stop rest stop restaurant. I normally would never eat street food or anything that is not from a reputable establishment as I had for forewarned that doing so before your stomach becomes acclimated to mother India, could be an epic toilet disaster. It was hard for me as I do enjoy off the beaten path type of food, but I know all too well from the multitude of stories that India is not a place to mess with , when it comes to your stomach.
Fortunately this restaurant was nice, and clean and full of local Indian and foreign travelers. The food like all of India thus far is unbelievably delicious. All for about a nice $6USD total. It is interesting to note that our beloved driver Manoj, who by this time has been officially adopted by us as , Older Brother, entered into a different part of the restaurant below, as did many other private drivers. We’ve by this point have asked him on numerous occasions to please join us for meals, to which he always kindly declines. I found out from him that the restaurants offer drivers very inexpensive, sometimes free, meals, for bringing their patrons. So it was nice to know that he is well taken cared of.
About another hour and a half , we entered the chaotic city of Agra.
Agra, is located in the state of Uttar Pradesh, is one of the largest cities in the state with a population of about 1.7 million and ranks as number 19 in India as a whole. It’s name in Hindi and Sanskrit means: ” Entrance to the Forest” . It is famous for its 3 World Unesco Heritage sites: Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sihkri , and of course one of the most iconic symbols of love and part of the 7 wonders of the World, The Taj Mahal Mausoleum . It became the capital city for the Mughal Empire during the 16th and 17th Centuries, and was home to many very famous rulers : King Humayun, Sultan Akbar, Sultan Lodi, and Shah Jahan ( who built the Taj). Before the onset of muslim domination , it was a fort for the Singh dynasty and inhabited from 1000 BC. Sultan Lodi, after conquering the Rajput king brought his Mughal capital from Delhi to Agra, and created Agra Fort to house the royal families there after.
When we pulled into the city, in all its chaos , there were the red haired henna dyed bearded rickshaw drivers, the speed racers on their motor scooters carrying with them a load of families on one, colorful fuchsia sari dressed women with their ornate vases on their heads, the occasional camel lounging around , cows directing traffic, and kids swapping stories as they enjoyed the free use of road side grass to release themselves from yesterdays dinner. The heat was on, and we could feel it even through our icy Toyota Nova .
Agra Fort: First stop, the fabled Fort of Agra. Lined with harden faces of rickshaw, private, and scooter drivers either waiting for they customers or trying to secure one, the outskirt circle of the Agra Fort was a very busy place. The touts started immediately upon exiting the car. Fortunately Manoj new how to handle them swiftly. I don’t mind them much as I know they are all trying to make a living, however, they never did learn what NO means, so it can become overwhelming . Manoj gave us a bottle of water each, to which we quickly downed, we crossed the busy street in a kind of dance so as not to become a statistic or road meat, and paid our due to enter the Fort outside its gates. I can’t remember how much it cost, but entrance and a nice audio guide ( I highly always recommend one) and we were in.
The Fort is expansive and has a nice red hue about its walls. You walk up and up past the main, secondary and third gates until you arrive at a beautiful stone courtyard with dried out plants. We did arrive in summer, the hottest months to be exact, so we weren’t expecting a lush garden. However, throughout the palace there were those little patches of green and color that showed how much the Mughal Emperors loved beautiful natural things. Basically a shell from its former existence, the Fort’s main attractions are its beautiful elaborately decorated walls following the strict muslim code of not to idolize anything, but instead decorated with geometric designs. The views of the Yamuna River, and the Taj Mahal from up here is beautiful . Just to think that the famous Humayun was crowned here, Akbar of my favorite Jodah Akbar story lived here, and his great great grandson Emperor Shah Jahan maintained his love for his favorite wife Mumtaz Mahal here. The heat of the day, and the lack of facilities to quench our thirst , oh and the onslaught of crazy paparazzi style fans trying to get a picture with sister Kelly every step we took , drained us completely , and we were ready to move on, and move on quickly.
After quenching our thirst, Manoj suggested we stop to see the ” Baby Taj” or Tomb of Itimad-Ud-Daulah. Upon arrival it really does look somewhat similar to what we were thinking the Grand Taj Mahal would be. Its free, and a peaceful but nothing to write home to mama about.
We then headed to the Yumana River to see the Taj Mahal from the River . I guess this was illegal, as about 2 minutes into our picture snapping, a police officer came to scold us. To which we quickly left. No harm done of course.
Tired, Hot, and ready to relax, we decided it was time to go and check into our hotel at the ITC Mughal Sheraton Agra Hotel. When we arrived we instructed Manoj that this time we will take not take NO for an answer and that he should be back in 2 hours to meet us and join us for Dinner. He refused and objected, but how can he try to overpower two smart and gorgeous women? He caved in.
ITC MUGHUAL SHERATON HOTEL: Lovely exterior, and interior except when it comes to your rooms. Check in was a breeze and they as usual , offered us a welcome drink. Its a very affordable 3.5 star ( in my opinion ) hotel and very close to the Taj Mahal , which is the whole reason we were there. It is a very secure hotel and you must pass your luggage and hand bags through security. You can check out my tiny review here : ITC Mughal Sheraton Agra Hotel
After resting in our humble room , hahahaha, we got ready and met Manoj outside of the entrance to the Lobby . He was dressed in a nice Linen Shirt and we crossed the extremely busy intersection to get to a most recommended Restaurant called Pinch of Spice.
When we first entered the restaurant we were greeted whole heartedly that is of course until they noticed we had our driver with us and that is when it started to go downhill. I don’t know how in the world they could tell what it is that he does especially because Manoj was dressed very decently but their lack of customer service towards him was very disturbing. Ofcourse we never let that get us down and intact demanding the attention we deserved. Embarrassed by our shout out to their prejudiced service, their quickly turned their attitude around. We told Manoj to be himself and not to worry order EVERYTHING!. Such a-holes. The food was delicious, but because of the service, i give it a 1*. It was really nice to have dinner and cocktails with Manjoj , even though he only had a beer as he wanted to be on par for us tomorrow and there after. He told us his history, how much he loves his family , and how happy he is to be able to do his job. He really is a sweet man.
We finished up our dinner and headed back to the hotel to get our luggage together and to get some rest. Tomorrow we have a 5 am wake up call and will be at the Taj Mahal Gates by 6 am to catch the sunrise and the best views of the Taj .
Morning came, and we got dressed up in our beautiful Salwar Kameez that we bought along the way. Had a lovely breakfast at the hotel , and headed out to meet Manoj and off to The Taj Mahal.
TAJ MAHAL :
The Taj Mahal is arabic for ” Crown of Palaces” it was built by Emperor Shah Jahan for his most favorite and beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It sits on the banks of the Yamuna River. It was commissioned in 1632 and wasn’t completed until 1643. It is a royal Mausoleum to house the tomb of the late queen and the most beautiful testament to love by the broken-hearted Emperor Shah Jahan. It is made completely out of marble and the tomb itself is exquisitely beautiful with Sanskrit writings of the Koran on its walls.
The entrance gates to the Taj are equally beautiful and the gardens that surrounds the tomb area are peaceful tranquil and stunning. Look out for the bench that Princess Diana sat out , which makes for a really gorgeous photo.
The mausoleum seems to float above ground, while its white form contrasts its stark surroundings. It looks unreal and surreal and even though we’ve seen palace and temples of exquisite nature, I was still blown away by the beauty of the Taj Mahal.
The four Minarets on the corner seem to me like a guiding light of upward and inward spiritual journeys. Definitely signaling to the viewer that love is above all earthly matters and more symbolic of heaven.
The grounds are awe-inspiring and like i mentioned, very tranquil. The bubbling water reminds you that life and love is ever flowing.
How inspirational this place was to me. I thought I was just going to see a structure , ok a famous structure to love, but I never knew it was going to hit me like a ton of flowers , how immensely profound the love was between the two.
If in summer leave hotel and get there by 6am.
Go to the east gate parking. Purchase your ticket and catch the free electric bus that takes you to the east gate.
Enter and enjoy. If you have an iPhone do yourself a favor and download the tour app it’s awesome and easy and I saw everyone in 2 hours that’s with taking time to absorb it all.
When you are done just make your way back out the east gate and the electric bus will take you back to the parking.
You will endure a lot of touts and people offering guide services and photo services just ignore them all
After a nice 2 hours spent basking in the glory of Love here at the Taj Mahal , we headed back to our rooms for a freshen up , grabbed our bags, checked out and were on our way with Manoj for our final drive with him as we head to New Delhi to reach the Indira Ghandi Airport for our flight to Varanasi.. I must admit that as of now our adventure has been great and amazing. Now with my heart even more full of love, I can’t imagine if there is any room left or if I’ll be amazed even more.
Mahalo & Aloha