India (7) – Agra

We left our palatial residence in Bharatpur this morning, for the short ride onwards to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. Along the way I practiced some car photography, trying to increase my collection of ‘people on scooters’ photos. This one is a clear winner, with the most folk we’ve seen on a single scooter… not only the 4 that you see, but also a baby on the mother’s lap!
Halfway to Agra, we stopped to visit the palace ‘Fatehpur Sikri’. We didn’t know anything about the palace beforehand, and we were all impressed by the size and detail in the buildings. To reach the palace we had a choice of electric bus or tuk tuk. Eager to try another form of transport, we of course chose for the tuk tuk, quite a squash for the three of us in the back, though we’ve seen larger groups of people in them.
Fatehpur Sikri was build by the third Moghul emperor, to house himself, his three wives (one Hindu, one Musilim and one Christian) and his 500 odd concubines. Each of the three wives had their own palaces, which were not only different in scale but also ‘different different’ in architecture. Each of the palaces ornamentation contained symbols of the three religions, though confusingly, not necessarily corresponding to the wife in residence.

After we arrived in Agra, we had a brief stop at the hotel, before heading out for some lunch. After a couple days of uninspiring hotel buffet, we really enjoyed eating something with a little spice in it… not to mention the garlic naans, which have pretty much become compulsory with every restaurant meal.
In the afternoon we had guided tours of the Red Fort, and then of course the main reason to visit Agra, the Taj Mahal. After Fatehpur Sikri the red fort was a bit of a disappointment. Some interesting architecture, but the most attractive bits were behind railings and neither easy to view or photograph (especially for little people!)
On to the highlight, the Taj Mahal, which was unbelievably busy. No chance of getting a photograph of the Taj without people in it, but then we knew that before we arrived. On the plus side, the majority of the visitors were Indian, wearing traditional Indian dress, which is far more photogenic than Westerners in jeans and khakis. I also used it as an opportunity to try and focus on people photography, something I don’t find particularly easy. Some were straight shots, others hip shots.
It was quickly clear that the best view of the Taj Mahal is also the one you see in every photograph. Up close, the building loses some of its charm, as the symmetry is lost. We also entered inside the mausoleum, but there wasn’t much to see. My overriding impression was of the crush of sweaty people, and the smell of feet…
The guide had hoped to take us for a demonstration of marble inlaying, but we cried off on the grounds of exhaustion, and returned to the hotel to download our photos before dinner.

At the time of writing it’s been exactly one week since we landed in Delhi, so we’re halfway through our trip. Up until now we’ve managed to avoid our home ‘cultures’ pretty well – no Irish pubs spotted yet (surely a record!), and also no other Dutchies!

My companions’ posts for the day: Arie & Marcel.

Tried to post this last night, but after an hour or so of fighting with the exorbitantly priced hotel internet (300 rupees for one hour – that’s more than the price of a main course in a restaurant), we gave up.  Luckily managed to pick up an internet connection along the way today…

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