With Mimsie in the hospital, I was left to my own devices in Agra. To be honest, for being one of the most touristy cities in the country as well as the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra was pretty dumpy. I spent a few days wandering around different parts of the city, exploring the markets and sidestreets. Unfortunately, Agra is the sort of place you day trip to, or maybe the place you travel to for an overnight. Agra is not a place to spend five days. But the gods (all three million of them, because this is India after all) had the last word, and so I had plenty of time to get acquainted with the city.

When I wasn’t curled up in bed, cursing the E.coli that was sucker-punching me in the gut, I was walking through the markets and enjoying the air-conditioned coffee shop across town. I even managed to find a nearby movie theater that was playing Raajneeti, one of the biggest political thrillers of the year. Was it all in Hindi? Yes. Did I care? No. I could stare at Arjun Rampal all day:

We planned to leave Agra that Sunday, the day after Mimsie was released from the hospital, which meant that we had no choice but to see the Taj Mahal that morning. And by morning, I mean early morning. Biggest lesson learned in India: If you want to be a tourist, make sure your excursion will be over by 9 a.m. or face potential heat stroke. (By the way, the current temperature in Agra is 48 Celsius, or 128 Fahrenheit.)

And then…the Taj Mahal, the world’s most recognizable monument to love. Built 350 years ago by the emperor Shah Jahan to honor his second (and favorite) wife, Mumtaz Mahal, the Taj is perfect. It’s just perfect. Everything down to the smallest stone is symmetrical. There was thought put into each measurement within the mausoleum’s complex. Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal are buried in a crypt below the inner chamber. Though the crypt cannot be accessed by visitors, mock tombs have been constructed on the main level of the Taj to give people an idea of what is below.

You can't see it in this photo, but behind the 11 spires on top of the gate are 11 more -- 22 in total, representing the number of years it took to build the Taj Mahal. When you stand directly in the center of the Taj Mahal, all 22 are visible.

Because June is so hot, summer is generally considered to be the off-season in Agra (and the rest of the country). But in India, not even the extreme heat can chase away tourists. By 9 a.m., queues had already formed to take photos in front of some of the more popular sites, such as the Princess Diana bench (which, by the way, I found out later that our tour guide lied to us about. This is the fake Princess Diana bench — the real one is on the other side of the reflecting pool behind me.).

I might have run up to the bench crying, "I want to take a Princess Diana picture!" (And so I did.)

Mimsie hired a tour guide to show us around the complex. Normally, I hate doing this. On top of paying $15 to enter the grounds (Indian citizens pay about a dollar), we were also going to pay someone to show us around? Yes, I’m cheap. It ended up being worth it in the end — our guide was very informative and knew all the right photo angles:

Thoughts on my Indian attire? Turns out, the salwar that I'm wearing is so much lighter than anything I could get at home. Now I understand how Indians deal with the heat so well!

I have friends who have been to India several times and never visited the Taj Mahal. Go. Go go go. The Taj Mahal is legitimately one of the most stunning things I have ever seen. Once your eyes lock on it, you never want to turn away. It is the definition of love and perfection. I didn’t have a bucket list before I went to India, but if I did, this would have been on it.

We left the Taj Mahal just before 10 a.m. The crowds had already formed en masse and Mims and I, both in need of popping our next Cipro pills, were near collapse. We headed out the East Gate, wove through the backstreets of Agra and made it back to our guesthouse before the sun’s strongest rays hit.

[Still to come: Varanasi and Delhi]

Advertisements