We set off on the drive from Delhi to Agra early Saturday morning. The traffic was atrocious and it took nearly an hour and a half to just clear Delhi, passing an elephant pulling logs on the highway before we cleared town.
The highway itself was pretty good, other than the odd motorbike or tractor going in the wrong direction.
The thing about Indian driving is, it’s mad! No one follows the rules (if there are any). There are countless near misses, constant traffic jams in towns, plus cows, oxen and dogs to avoid – but no one gets angry and we haven’t seen any fights, so somehow they make it work. What is really strange though is how quickly you get used to it. Undertaking by SUV’s, lorries bearing down on you at a junction – thats all fine, you just look up from your book and think ‘another near miss’, then back to the book again…
We arrived at our hotel, and ‘budget’ didnt do it justice The room was filthy and the toilet collapsed the minute I lifted up the seat (who leaves a seat down?). After complaining we were moved to a room that was marginally better, and we were ready to meet our guide for the evening tour.
We started at the Red Fort, still used by the army but a small portion is open to the public, we then moved on to the baby Taj, which is a magnificent little building, and there was hardly anyone there. Then for the highlight of the evening…the sunset from the other side of the river from the Taj itself – it really was beautiful and the marble seemed to change hue as the sun went down. Then it was back our hotel for a grubby nights sleep.
5:45 the next morning we were up to see sunrise at the Taj. We met our guide and walked 300m to the entrance to join the hoards of people who were already there (travel tip, we went on a Sunday and the Taj is shut on a Friday but during the rest of the week it is the best time to go as you dont have the Indian weekenders to cope with). After queuing and going through some fairly heavy security we were in, you walk past a few buildings, turn right through a gate and then – WOW!
It exceeded our expectations as the sheer scale and beauty of the building is astonishing. As the sun rises, it changes the colour of the marble and it shimmers like a jewel set in a garden. There’s not much more I can say. The pictures dont do it justice and you have to see it for yourself (but try to get a helicopter to fly you from Delhi if you can to avoid the traffic).
One thing to note, if you are planning to go there in 2016/17, is the scheduled cleaning. There was scaffold on one of the towers whilst we were there, but Bobby (our guide) told us that soon they will be cleaning the dome itself and it will be covered in scaffold for 6 months. So check before you travel, as the dome is the key piece of the structure (well it is for me).
Then it was then back to our hotel for a late breakfast before jumping into the car for the long drive to Ranthambore National Park to see the tigers (or will we?) with a stop at Fatephur Sikri Fort and mosque on the way (which was well worth a look)….