Breakfast with Taj view
With more than 3 million visitors each year, the Taj Mahal is the most important tourist attraction in India. They say one can not leave India without visiting the Taj Mahal. We believe they are right.
One first indicator of the importance this monument has for the national tourism branch was that suddenly the number of foreign passengers in our train increased considerably. While on the previous train we had apparently been the only foreigners, at least in our wagon, now we seemed to be surrounded by gringos – which admitted made the trip a little more relaxing for us, as we had some more reliable people to ask where we actually had to get off (in Indian trains there is no such thing as a loudspeaker announcement about the next stops, nor advices on signs, you have to figure out yourself where to get off).
Our first contact with the Taj Mahal was when having breakfast in the rooftop restaurant of our hostel. Earlier that day, when we had just arrived at the hostel, we went up to the terrace to check out the view so much praised in our travel guide, but as it was foggy we couldn´t see a thing and so already thought that we fell into another tourist trickery, but once the fog vanished and the sun came out again, the Taj Mahal appeared right in front of us in its maximum splendor.
We visited the Taj the same day, fearing that the next day the fog could return. It was January 26th , Indian Independence day and a Sunday, so no chance to avoid any crowds. Unexpectedly, despite the multitude of people around, walking, talking, pushing and shouting, the park in front of the mausoleum is still large enough to find a peaceful spot to sit down and contemplate it. And in a very surprising way this white marble giant is able to transmit you peace and calm and let you forget everything around you.
So we spent quite some time just sitting and watching, as the scramble and pushing around by the police guards to get inside was more similar to a cattle shed than to a holy site (one should not forget that the Taj is also a mosque, that’s why it’s always closed on Fridays).
Agra as a town, or at least the part we saw of it, turns around the Taj. While this is to now one’s surprise, the city still has another world heritage site to offer: Agra fort, another building brought to its current form in the Mughal era and which actually was to become the prison of Shah Jahan, the erector of the Taj, after having been thrown over by his own son, Aurangzeb. While this might sound quite cruel, intra family betrayal seemed to be a common practice among the Mughal dynasty, as Shan Jahan himself once killed all brothers who were potential competitors on the throne. Still the fort is huge and a very interesting place to visit and one can even enter the space reserved as the former emperor´s prison and get a glimpse at the distant perspective he had on his beloved Taj Mahal – and with it the body of its favourite wife Mumtaz – for the last years of his life.