We arrived in Delhi to incredible humid heat, crowds, and thick dust. June is the low season to visit the Taj Mahal and the front end of monsoon season, but we barely saw rain at all.
Our driver was waiting with a huge smile, and the boys immediately gave him the title of ‘our favorite driver’ when they saw his van loaded with Indian snacks, chips, and cold waters. His name was Jess, and he immediately let us know that other guides would take us places to buy items and get kickbacks from our purchases, but he wasn’t like that and just ‘wanted us to get the best deals’. Seemed a little fishy, But if you expect that as part of the whole India experience, it feels more humorous than insulting.
We drove the new highway from Delhi to Agra (which wasn’t built 10 years ago on our last visit), and approximately 4 hours later we were pulling into the hotel. India isn’t serene and peaceful like Bhutan, so we were eager to enjoy the air conditioning, and a nice cocktail. Dinner was in a local restaurant, with the most amazing food. Curry, biryani, dal, sag aloo, garlic naan, and cold Kingfisher beers!
After dinner we discovered some special guests in our hotel lobby; a henna tattoo artist, fortune-teller, puppet show and a pottery guy with his wheel. Super fun except the lobby was completely empty, and it was rather awkward as they all stared longingly at us, (or perhaps at our wallets, I’m not really sure) so Julian pulled me towards the fortune-teller and asked him to read my fortune. It’d be rude not to at that point, so I sat and held out my hand. He took a long and thoughtful look, as though really straining to get a good reading, and then dramatically told me that I have great health (I didn’t want to ruin his mojo and ask if the whole cancer thing I went through was just a bad dream )!
He also said I’ve had two boyfriends before (at this point Hot Hubby could barely contain his eye rolls), but my husband is ‘the one’ and a keeper, and I have two children. Spoiler alert…. the little blonde one was giggling next to me and the surly teenager was already cruising the ping-pong table for the cute Indian girls he saw earlier. Sweet fortune-teller clearly couldn’t see my college history in my lines, as I nodded in delight
My reading ended when he triumphantly pointed to his grand finale line and told me it meant ‘good job good money’. I thanked him profusely, gave him his tip, and Jules sat in the hot seat with his sweaty little hand outstretched. He told Julian he has good health and will get a good job with lots of money. He also told him he’d have three girlfriends before his wife (Julian could hardly contain his disappointment with that number) and he’d be happy. So all in all, our 400 rupees was worth ten minutes of entertainment, Hot Hubby reminded me he was a keeper, and we all felt better helping an Indian fortune-teller.
We woke the next morning at 4.45am to visit the magical Taj Mahal at sunrise. The Taj Mahal is considered one of the most beautiful and romantic buildings in the world, is one of the wonders of the world, and was built by emperor Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his beloved favorite wife who died in childbirth.
Things have changed significantly from our visit ten years ago when we had to take a horse to the entrance. We drove to the ticket office, our guide purchased the tickets, and we took an electric cart to the east entrance (cars and buses are strictly prohibited from coming within 500 meters of the Taj Mahal to prevent exhaust fumes further tarnishing the exterior).
The east entrance is for foreigners and opens half an hour before the west entrance for Indians. We cleared the new security unit, and at 5.30am when the gates opened, we rushed through for the first view of the Taj Mahal. Words cannot do the Taj Mahal justice, the incredible detail and beauty simply have to be seen to be appreciated.
It was low season and not crowded, so was quite civilized to get photographs with your family for the perfect unobstructed shot. Completely different from the pushing and shoving ten years ago, which resulted in crowded shots the whole day. It was completely amazing to actually see it in person, but we couldn’t help but feel this magical wonder of the world resembles more of a tourist attraction than a sacred mausoleum, designed to get tourists in and out with the best pictures possible.
Regardless, we soaked in this dedication of true love in awe. It was spectacular from every angle, and as the sun rose we enjoyed the most magical views. The Taj structure is perfectly symmetrical from every angle inside and out, so obvi Julian was on a mission to find a mistake.
We returned to the hotel for breakfast, relaxed, and spent the rest of the day visiting the Baby Taj, (which was the inspiration for the Taj Mahal), and Agra Fort.
Agra fort was built primarily as a military structure, but Shah Jahan transformed it into a palace. Ironically it later became his prison for eight years after his son seized power and sent him to exile, where he spent his last years staring at his beloved Taj Mahal from his prison window.
After spending the day and evening soaking up the delights of Agra, we headed back to our hotel, to prepare for our drive to Delhi the next day. We enjoyed cocktails, swiftly managed to avoid the smiling fortune-teller in the lobby, and savored our memories.
If Agra is on your travel list, I’d suggest going sooner rather than later as things are definitely changing, and in my opinion not for the better.
What were your experiences in Agra?