I visited the city of the Taj Mahal Agra, for the second time in my life a few years back with my wife and our small son.I had earlier visited it once for a short while, many years before marriage. Since I live in the Delhi-NCR region, I had decided that we would drive it down. And that’s what we did- in our little Maruti 800 car. Agra is some 200 kilometers from Delhi and even back then in 2006 the road was excellent all the way, though crowded at a few places. These days of course you have the super expressway, which has considerably reduced travel time, though I daresay the whole point of a journey on Indian roads is to stop by at the dhabas(highway restaurants) and gorge on the delicious fare they serve. I doubt there are any along the new expressway.
I remember our stopping for breakfast at a place called Dabchick, on the way to Agra,which is not a Dhaba really but a restaurant operated by Haryana Tourism. I wonder if it still exists today(probably does). In any case we reached Agra in about five hours, a little tired, but excited nevertheless. After checking into our hotel and refreshing ourselves, we set out to explore the markets of Agra in a tonga(a one horse carriage). While my wife and I had some experience of having traveled in a tonga in the small towns, we grew up in, my son looked at the vehicle with alarm, and we had to use all our persuasive power to convince him to sit in it.
But it really was a fun ride going down the streets of the erstwhile capital of the Mughal empire in a tonga and passing by graceful old buildings at a gentle pace. The tonga driver took us to a couple of shops that sold handicraft items, but I don’t thing we bought anything. Everything was frightfully expensive and overpriced. Instead we bought some Petha, a sticky sweet that is an Agra specialty. The Agra petha comes in a dazzling variety of colors and flavors not seen anywhere else, and should definitely be sampled by whoever comes to Agra.
We reached the gates of, the reason of Agra’s international fame, the out of this world Taj Mahal, quite late, and could not enter on account of that. It was disappointing, but we knew we would be back the next day. We were and the monument simply took our breath away. For me it was my second tryst with the monument, but I was just as awe struck this time. To say that there is something ethereal about it may sound cliched, but it is true. It is like a vision in white, and the sheer size of the monument takes you by complete surprise. And it doesn’t look very old.In fact for a mausoleum, it is quite a bright and inviting kind of place. Perhaps the legendary love story of the people who lie in the burial chambers below, Emperor Shahjhan and his beloved consort, Empress Mumtaz Mahal has something to do with it.
Inside the Taj Mahal one admired the precious stones inlaid so beautifully in the walls and the general ambiance was one of piety and reverence though the echoing sound of people filing by add a sort surreal effect. Once we were out again in the lovely gardens that surround the monument, our son who was only 5 years old then, and had never held a camera before, suddenly decided to take charge and taking the camera out of may hands pointed it at everything he could see and clicked merrily away. He even requested my wife and I to pose in front of the monument. Of course, he was pressing the wrong button all the time!
The next day we visited the Old Fort, and were quite impressed by the history of the fort. We were thoroughly mesmerized by the distant view of the Taj Mahal from there. One found particularly poignant that one could get the same view that an imprisoned Shah Jhan got of his dear wife’s final resting place across the river.
Sadly we didn’t get time to visit either Emperor Akbar’s tomb at Sikandra, though we did pass by it, or the spectacular Fathehpur Sekri, the abandoned capital city of the same emperor. But we did manage to buy quite a bit of special Agra footwear, again something for which the region in quite renowned!
We started driving back to Delhi the next day morning carrying some happy memories back home with us.