Country #68 - India

The Taj Mahal

Today was quite the whirlwind but it was absolutely incredible! I landed in New Delhi around 4am after sleeping for maybe two hours on the plane. Going through the immigration eVisa line was a breeze and the immigration officer was very welcoming. Though I’m not sure if being wished good luck for taking on India on my own was encouraging or concerning. Upon exiting the terminal I called an Uber and went to my hotel, the Suncourt Hotel Yatri. I had about an hour to drop off my bags and make it to the train station.

I somehow made it with about ten minutes to spare! I found my seat in the EC (Executive Class) part of the train, which was less than five dollars more than a regular ticket and to me at least it was totally worth it when traveling in India. It included a bigger seat as well as water and a meal. The train ride itself took about two hours and before I knew it I was in Agra. After extensively researching the best way to visit Agra by myself I was left with no other option than to hire a private guide: there were no group tour options and it didn’t seem like the safest option to do it all on my own. Plus, at the last minute, I lucked out and found a highly rated guide for only $30 for the day.

I met Happy, my guide, as I stepped off of the train. He walked me to the car where I met my driver for the day who was also the owner of the tour company. They were both very kind and it was really interesting to talk with them and spend the day with them. We drove to our first stop and all I have to say was that the roads were a sight all on their own. There were animals everywhere (cows, monkeys, dogs, cats, water buffalo, goats) as well as tons of people and cars. Also, the smog in India is a really real thing and it will make you sneeze and there is nothing you can do about it except for hope not to get sick from it.

The first stop for the day was the Baby Taj. In many ways, it is a miniature version of the Taj Mahal (hence the name) but it’s definitely not exactly the same. I enjoyed learning about the history from Happy and then spending time walking through and around the Baby Taj on my own. After I finished walking around we headed back to the car where we then drove to the obvious main attraction, the Taj Mahal.

When we got to the Taj there were separate security lines for males and females as well as for tourists versus locals. There were lines everywhere, but thankfully mine only took about twenty minutes to get through. The lines for the locals were so long! I met Happy after security and we walked along to the entrance and then there it was! As massive and stunning as you might imagine. From the distance at first glance it did not even look real.

Our first task was to take tons of pictures, and Happy was an obvious professional at this. He knew all of the spots and angles to take pictures from and we got many great shots in a short amount of time. As we were taking pictures we also started the informational part of the tour, which was quite interesting. As there were no informational plaques or audio guide options having a guide proved to be essential to actually learning about the history of the Taj Mahal.

When we got close to the Taj I walked around the Mosque area to the side for a bit, and then afterwards we went inside. One of my favorite parts was seeing and learning about the marble and the work involved to adorn it with the semi-precious stones. All of the precious stones were stolen by the British, of course. It was crazy to imagine just how much more immaculate the Taj must have looked before everything of value was stolen. The stones that were there, though, were really quite cool, especially the two local stones: the Black Star and the Star Ruby. It was really cool to see how the Star Ruby would look like fire when light was shined on it. Walking through was quick but really very cool to see.

After we finished we sat for a short break before heading back to the car. It was still a bit early for lunch so we headed to a local shop where I bought a tiny version of the Black Star and also bought my mom a gift. For lunch I had Indian, of course, and the chicken that I had (along with the cheese naan) was quite tasty. After lunch, we stopped by a marble shop where there were demonstrations of how they actually would make it in the Taj. I know it was touristy, but I bought a small trinket anyways.

Our last official stop of the day, then, was the Agra Fort. It did not take a long time to see but it was really cool and you should definitely visit when making the trip to Agra. The architecture was really stunning especially in just the detail that was put into everything. There was tons of history to learn about here as well! After learning a lot and taking plenty of pictures we headed back to the car. I still had an hour and a half until I needed to be at the train station so we went to my driver’s house to visit his family, as he lived right by the train station and we were out of things to see in Agra.

DSC00811.JPG

It was really cool to meet his family! They didn’t speak English apart from his son, but I really enjoyed getting to meet them and talking with them. We talked about travel, obviously, as well as just India in general and it was a very enjoyable conversation. My favorite part for sure, though, came when I mentioned how interesting it was for me to see all of the animals on the street. His son then nonchalantly mentioned that, ya know, they have a pet goat on their roof. And not just any pet goat, but a three-month-old baby pet goat! I was asked if I wanted to meet him and I think my response is pretty obvious. He was adorable and it was quite the highlight of my day to have a surprise meeting with a baby goat.

IMG_3708.JPG

After an hour I said goodbye to everyone and headed to the train station. The train back was about an hour and a half and I was served a meal again. Everything was going great until I struggled to find an Uber to take me back to my hotel. There were plenty of Ubers available but three times in a row the drivers canceled on me. I finally found my last driver and headed to the hotel in tons of traffic. It took about an hour to get there, and once I did I was so tired. A big thanks to Suncourt Hotel Yatri for a great room in the heart of New Delhi. I literally collapsed within minutes of entering my room.

It was incredible and I’m so glad to have been able to visit one of the seven wonders of the world. It is honestly no surprise that the Taj is such a famous landmark as seeing it in person you realize just how grand and immaculate it really is. It is unlike any structure I have ever seen before or will ever see in the future, and I definitely recommend a visit if you ever have the opportunity. It was a rushed visit to India but I had a great day and I’m so glad I spent it visiting the Taj Mahal!

68 countries down, 129 to go.

To learn more about Suncourt Hotel Yatri click here.