Agra Fort and Taj Mahal.....Wow!

#1 Jan 6th, 2008, 18:50
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ok so I've seen numerous photos of the Taj Mahal - as probably everyone has - but it doesn't really prepare you for your first visit there does it? When you get that first glimpse of the white marble monument as you come through one of the gates (especially if it happens to be early morning when the sun is just starting to rise) it literally just takes you breath away doesn't it (or maybe I'm just turning into a mushy sap)!

So we visited the Taj Mahal, Agra Fort, and Fatehpur Sikri over the weekend, and here's a few impressions.

Getting there

We took a car from Delhi to Agra, with the intention of visiting Fatehpur Sikri on the afternoon we arrived, and then the Taj next day at dawn followed by Agra fort in the afternoon. The drive from Delhi to Agra was great. A few delays along the way but our driver was able to maintain a steady 100k most of the way. One of the highlights for the kids was keeping a look out for what they called "camel trains" - lines of carts pulled by camels, usually loaded up with an unbelievably high load of straw/hay (so much so that in many cases you couldn't even see the wheels of the cart)!

Once we got into Agra it was a different story. Narrow roads with numerous roading projects going on meant the trip across town to where we were staying was a crawl. Finally made it to our accommodation, had a bite to eat, and then off to Fatehpur Sikri.

Not a happy time....

My expectation of Fatehpur Sikri was coloured by my wife's description of the place when she visited some 18 years ago as a backpacker. At that time it didn't seem to be on the tourist map - so according to her it was deserted (her group of foreigners were the only people there), and there was a sum total of 2 touts. Well....it certainly is on the tourist map now. From the time we stepped out of the car to the time we left we were mobbed. Of course touts are everywhere - and you can't begrudge someone making a living (plus most of them are pretty interesting if you can engage them in a conversation). I think the difference here is that this was the first place we visited that had touts both inside and outside the complex - so literally you couldn't get a moments peace.

We engaged a guide so that we could get a better run down of the place (which we did - and it was great), and also fend off some of the other guides and touts (which was partially successful). I wont go into details since it is such an interesting place. Well worth the visit, but be prepared for a continuous sales pitch!

The next day - Taj Mahal

We got there about 7.15-7.30 in the morning and entered via the east gate (there would have been barely 20 people at the east gate, and maybe 4-500 inside the grounds). The security check provided yet another hightlight (I can see this being a regular pattern). Instead of putting his arms out to the side for the usual security pat down, my 4 year old son stuck his arms straight up in the air as if it were a hold up! Needless to say the security guard flashed him a big smile, kissed his own fingertips before touching each side of my sons face. My fair hair 8 year old daughter got a similar reception from the female guard during her pat down!

As mentioned above - the first glimpse of the Taj certainly took my breath away. I think its the fact that once you get through one of the entrances, and then go through main gate and get your first look at the Taj through the archway - its a lot bigger and closer than it looks in the photos! Even now, I look at the photos I took - and it doesn't seem nearly as big as in real life. If this is a monument to love - than that was one big love Shah Jahan had for his wife!

One of the things I noticed was the quiet reverence a number of people displayed as they got closer to the monument, not to mention the odd tear here and there as people tried to take in the significance of the place. Of course there was the odd noisy hoon as well, but overall a lovely place to be first thing in the morning.

Naturally - I'll refrain from providing any details as that would be the ultimate spoiler. We will definitely enjoy more visits there accompanying friends that visit us here in India

Agra Fort

So after about an hour and a half at the Taj - it was off to find breakfast, pack up our stuff and head to the Agra fort. What an unexpected surprise it turned out to be (yes Shashank - you were right - its a great place). The size of the complex is most impressive - more so when you realise that large parts of it are still not accessible due to renovation work going on.

Compared to the Red Fort in Delhi - this was just another scale altogether. Also unlike the Red Fort where most of the buildings are roped off - this was almost the exact opposite (it meant keeping a close eye on the smaller ones since in some cases like the viewing platform on the fortress wall looking towards the Taj - the only barrier is the original marble fence on the edge of the wall - which only comes up to knee height, so the fall would be a good 50-60 meters into the ditch below)?

So the highlights for us were....

a) the size of the place - we spent 2 and a half hours there and it still wasn't enough. We're going back at some point.
b) the information scattered around (about things like the water storage and heating system, the underground apartments, stuff like that).
c)Getting up close to some of the buildings, etc
d)seeing the final living space of Shah Jahan looking out towards the Taj - very sad.

So again - no more details here, you'll have to see it for yourself.

In summary.....

If we were doing the trip again - we might do it over a couple of days and do the Taj and Fatehpur Sikri both early in the morning (maybe there would be less touts at Fatehpur as a result). Maybe due to the popularity of the Taj, the fort wasn't really that busy which is a shame - since this is where Shah Jahan lived his final years before being buried at the Taj, so its like another part of the story that needs to be read - not to mention the fact its a great place to see just on its own.
#2 Jan 7th, 2008, 06:23
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Good write up BB. Seeing Fatehpur Sikri also reminds us how liberal (Moderate) Akbar was and how open to ideas (Architectural and otherwise) from other religions.
I have seen Taj may be about 10 times from when I was a kid in Delhi to my college days and then as a tourist. It is still an awe inspiring experience. Thanks for the report.
#3 Jan 7th, 2008, 10:10
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yeah....going into a place like that and seeing all the different influences incorporated into the building was definitely an eye opener.

10 visits! wow! Still, I can imagine it being kind of place I could go back to again and again as well.
#4 Jan 7th, 2008, 10:45
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good to Know BB that you had a good time..somehow I get more satisfaction by knowing that Kids enjoyed it.., still there were couple of more places in Agra that you could have seen, but anyways..will let you for the next time !!
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#5 Jan 7th, 2008, 10:55
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yeah, we didn't see everything only because we know we will be back there a few times yet. Thanks again for your recommendation/ suggestion re the fort as it was the main reason we went there and thoroughly enjoyed it.
#6 Jan 7th, 2008, 11:26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by brownboy66 View Post Thanks again for your recommendation/ suggestion re the fort as it was the main reason we went there and thoroughly enjoyed it.
You are welcome !! By the way did you experience the same things as I did, like I found Agra fort to be more organized, clean, less crowded, less dusty etc..
#7 Jan 7th, 2008, 13:54
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Definitely! The work they are doing there is impressive, and I really like the way information was laid out as you came to each new part of the fort. The work they are doing on restoring the gardens, stonework, etc - is great. I would guess, also, that one of the reasons its seems less crowded is that its just so much bigger!
#8 Feb 24th, 2008, 19:37
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Hi BB - I was in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri a few weeks after you and your family - totally wow, as you say (and we had a similar feeling about the FS touts).

We saw the Taj, Agra Fort, Itidad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj) and Fatehpur Sikri in a day and a half (with car, driver and guide). If I was going back (which I would, at the drop of a hat), I would aim to see those four spectaculars over four days, if the schedule allowed, which would leave much more time for mooching around, plucking up the nerve to actually buy some stuff, checking out the local restaurants/cafes, and generally soaking up the atmosphere of the place a bit more.

While we were at the Fort, we chanced on a small film crew at work - apparently making some kind of religious film. To an onlooker, they looked like guys I wouldn't buy a used car from, in what seemed like polyester outfits, posing and singing with the distant view of the Taj in the background. Not the makings of the next Bollywood blockbuster, but it would be interesting to see the final product!
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Day 9 Agra Fort with film crew 2.jpg 
Last edited by Kingstonian; Feb 24th, 2008 at 20:57..
#9 Feb 25th, 2008, 17:19
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Wow, is Fatehpur Sikri really that bad?

I'd heard tons of great things about it, and was really excited to go - but the knowledge that there are touts even inside the complex really puts me off going (one of the reason I'm happy to pay the foreigner price is that it generally buys you a few hours of peace and relative privacy). Especially since I've already done the ghost city thing at Hampi and the cool Islamic architecture thing in Lucknow.

If you had a choice of either the fort or Fatehpur Sikri, which would you pick?
#10 Feb 25th, 2008, 17:23
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The Taj Mahal is definitely up there with the D'Uomo and the few other famous monuments that really surpass expectations... it really does, as you say, take your breath away - we saw a few tears too. One of the great experiences of my life so far!
#11 Feb 25th, 2008, 18:20
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Originally Posted by the opoponax View Post If you had a choice of either the fort or Fatehpur Sikri, which would you pick?
I'd go for the fort - but that's just me. Fatehpur Sikri is still amazing - but the touts hit you in the car park, then touts at the entrance, then touts inside. As I said in my original post - its kind of hard to sit quietly and get a sense of the place when someone is constantly in your ear. At the same time - its worth doing once.

Re the agra fort - other end of the scale. Incredibly huge, very quiet, extremely interesting, plus a touch of sadness to see the immaculate prison Shah Jahan spent his last days in. How torturous would it be to spend the last years of you life with a panoramic view of your graveyard!

Quote:
Originally Posted by kingstonian Hi BB - I was in Agra and Fatehpur Sikri a few weeks after you and your family - totally wow, as you say (and we had a similar feeling about the FS touts).
Nice post king! And how interesting to come across a film shoot. What did you think of the baby Taj? We're saving that for another day.
#12 Feb 25th, 2008, 18:31
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No mention of Dayal Bagh?
#13 Feb 25th, 2008, 18:48
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Enjoyed reading your account, BB. Like Mrs BB I also saw Fatehpur Sikri without a lot of harassment(in '99) - in fact of all places it was the most quiet and deserted. I thought it was wonderful. There was some quaali singing outside which set a nice atmosphere.
The Taj.. an absolute must see. It brought tears to my eyes as soon as I saw it through that arched entrance gate. What a magnificent building, and deservedly one of the Wonders of the World. Also the Fort. Yes, totally agree with you - it's magnificent. And had I not been on the ghastly Panicker's tour could have spent easily another couple of hours there. I keep telling myself I will go back one day...
btw are they still selling those hideous leather whips outside where buses and vehicles are parking??
Every cloud has a silver lining!
#14 Feb 25th, 2008, 23:26
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Originally Posted by the opoponax:
If you had a choice of either the fort or Fatehpur Sikri, which would you pick?

I'd probably second brownboy's vote for Agra Fort - but once I tuned out the touts, and decided they were just part of the general entertainment/scenery, I found Fatehpur Sikri fascinating - or maybe it was our guide's account of the doings of Akbar. I loved that he seems to have tried to break down some barriers - chosing a Hindu wife, and a Muslim wife, and a Christian wife (the Hindu wife scored Big Time as she was so clever as to give him a son). The story is there to be seen in the remains of Fatehpur Sikri. It made me want to find out a whole lot more about Akbar (haven't done that yet).

jyotirmoy: No mention of Dayal Bagh?
Has anyone else been there? I'd have liked to visit, but too little time. Any pics?

brownboy66: What did you think of the baby Taj? We're saving that for another day.
The Baby Taj (Itimad-ud-Daulah) was another great trip, I thought - not over the others, but definitely worth a good look. I'd seen Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, and then the Taj - the Baby Taj helps fill in the picture. You can then understand even more clearly how stunning the inlay and carving work in the Taj is - when you see the example of the earlier inlay and painted decoration in the Baby Taj. I was staggered, really, seeing the cultural context of Humayun's Tomb, and the Baby Taj, which the Taj Mahal then takes to the ultimate in style, craftsmanship, imagination .... (sorry - I get carried away!). I find it rather poignant that as tourists we tend to know the name of the man who commissioned it, and even the name of the woman who inspired it. But not the name of the man whose imagination conceived the whole, and who designed, engineered, created it.

But back to the Baby Taj (pic below) - it's on a much smaller scale, and so is really much more approachable, in some ways. Also, you can touch and see more, as it's much quieter (or was when I was there), and less protected. You can take photographs inside. I thought the paintings were delightful. I certainly didn't see any touts inside (only the guy who looks after your shoes while you visit).

(Re film shoots - OT I know - also came across a BBC2 film crew in Moti Mahal Restaurant in Old Delhi a week before - filming a scene there for the next series of "An Island Parish". I was asked to change tables to move out of shot (fair enough!), and was rewarded with a glass of wine, which went down nicely along with a friendly, pleasant chat with the Island chef and his wife from the series. They are still travelling in India - maybe other IMers have come across them?)
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Day 9 Itimad-ud-Daulah.jpg 
#15 Feb 26th, 2008, 05:53
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Sadly we missed FS due to the terrible terrible road from Jaipur to Agra - it was just closing when we finally reached the turn-off. It will have to wait for another day.
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