India: Taj Mahal


I woke up in Agra at 5am, to visit the Taj. I skipped showering and it was cool outside, and I felt cold for the first time in India. I set out with two girls from my dorm whose names I either never learned or forgot. They were American and had been travelling for years. A lot of people I’ve met this country have been on the road for a year or more; it seems India is somewhere you only really hit up if you’ve got at least a little bit of backpacking know-how. I’m glad I do – the culture shock of India without a warm up in Vietnam and Cuba would have been bone-shattering.

We walked the kilometre to the Taj and bought tickets, then queued up in separate gender lines until 6am. We went through another security scanner where the thing beeped incessantly yet no guards checked us. Headed inside, went through a large red gate, and looming in the distance we saw the great white tear drop of the Taj Mahal, the marble tomb built four hundred years ago for a mourning emperor’s wife. Well, favourite wife. But that three word addition makes the whole thing far less romantic.

Interlude: while I was writing that last paragraph a huge monkey leapt onto the roof of the balcony I’m on and I shat myself.

The Taj Mahal at 6am is empty and beautiful; it is one of those special world wonders that is not ruined by its own fame. The Mona Lisa was just a painting, but the Taj Mahal is real. We took photographs, wandered the grounds and trees and long blue ponds (with the occasional water bottle casually lobbed in because people are shit), and the tomb itself. We watched the sun rise over the Taj, and watched a keen eyed little tan monkey scan the horizon.

I slept until 11am back at the hostel, already knackered from the day’s exploring in the heat and chaos. At 1pm I set out the ‘2km’ walk to the Agra Fort – 2km my arse. After a 40 minute walk in the searing heat through wild, raging markets, I arrived at the Fort. I paid inside, turned down a local guide, and explored the old building. I’d love to write more on it but… it was just… fine. Lots of rooms and gardens, a nice view of the Taj Mahal, but nothing of huge interest. The forts and tombs and palaces here are, I’m finding, mostly empty. Worth a photo from the outside, but not particularly rewarding of exploration.

Tuk tuk home via a cash point where I was offered both a sex massage and some authentic white marble, and booze time. I spent my last night in Agra drinking on the roof of the hostel with around 12 people from all over the world. And one girl there was, it turns out, from fucking Wetherby, my hometown – which baffled me to the point that when she informed me of this my immediate response was ‘fuck off’.

Hit the hay after a while because I was drunk and shattered after the day’s trekking. Agra review: come for the Taj, stay one night, bounce.

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