6 February 2014

Taj Mahal - legendary!

Fun fact: Indians don't smile in family photos!
The most incredible thing I have ever seen is the Taj Mahal, a jewel strangely surrounded by the chaotic city of Agra. It is one of those really famous must see sights that are just as astounding in reality as in photos: Put it on your Bucket list!

I'm not gonna sugarcoat traveling in India. Most places are dirty, smelly, chaotic and people are so desperate to trick you into buying their goods or services that they are bordering evil. My starting point in New Delhi was close to a nightmare, a lot because I chose a hotel that was dodgy in a street that was super scary(don't book a hotel in advance when you go to India! It's better to give a little bit more effort and have a look at a few places before you decide).
Most beautifully trimmed lawn ever!

It would've been natural to do Agra and the Taj Mahal next, as it is only three hours by train away, but after the culture shock in New Delhi, being scowled at and hawked by Indian men, I couldn't imagine it being any better in Agra, the probably most touristy place in India. I longed for sun, beach and chilling out in Goa. Read more about this wonderful decision here. Long story short I traveled all the way down south before I had gained the courage to go to Agra. It also helped that I traveled with a lovely English couple by then.
By sunrise,  and no the palace isn't crooked, the photo is!

Agra city itself is polluted, crowded and dirty, and I recommend going straight to the area around the palace where there is accommodation for every budget. There are about thirteen to the dozen pretty basic places to stay. Like everywhere else in India; shop around and don't be afraid to haggle! Traveling more than five weeks in India had made me repulsively cheap and I was haggling for everything even if it was only a matter of cents. Even though India is the cheapest country I've been to, I just got used to the currency knowing exactly how much I could get for a dollar. A lunch would be not much more than a dollar, or at a local place where they don't charge more because you're a tourist, less than that. You can get a room for between 3 and 12 dollars, but because we mostly travelled in a group we were able to share a room between two or three.
The Agra Fort; In hindsight there's nothing average about it!

Another sight that Agra is notorious for is the Agra fort. It cost about 250 rupees to get in, which we decided was way too much for what we thought looked pretty average from the outside. Thinking back I guess I could've spent 4 dollars to see something that has a place on the Unesco World Heritage List, but knowing how many cups of street chai(Indian milk tea) that could give me, I thought I'd rather have my 50 chai. It's not even a cup of coffee in Norway!
A strange contrast between really poor to grandeur! 

Also, if you're not super cheap you can actually get a taxi or a bus tour from New Delhi to Agra. I got an offer from a travel agent for 1700 rupees, but you can most definitely haggle down to about half of that (the train is from 70(general) to about 500(AC)). It's either way very cheap, and if you're more people it adds up to nothing. When I think about the hassle of taking crammed trains(fighting over seats and barely fitting our backpacks) and haggling over taxis and accommodation, taking a day trip to see the palace wouldn't have been a bad idea. I thought it was good to spend a couple of days though, the area around Taj Mahal is interesting and seeing the palace from the rooftop of our hotel was nothing less than legendary. If my only goal with the trip was to see the Taj Mahal though, and I wasn't supercheap, I would've taken a taxi.

The best time to see the Taj Mahal is by sunrise. The gates open at about 6, but it's good to get there a little bit early so the queue is shorter. First of all the sun gives the palace a spectacular glow, secondly, even though the line to get in that early is quite long, it takes a little while before the area is saturated with people(3 million visitors a year).
After eight it was impossible to get a photo without strangers in them!

The entrance fee is 750 rupees(about 12 dollars) for foreigners and 20 for Indian nationals. This might seem a bit unfair, but I would've paid even more to see something that amazing if I had to. I met a traveler who was so annoyed that foreigners had to pay that much more, that he refused to go inside. S*** principles, this amazing construction and a testament to a man's love for his wife, could not go unseen. Only place I have at least a hundred photos from!


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