Usually I’d dread waking up early during a vacation. I’m just terribly lazy that way, but today was going to be different. Today would be the day where my friends and I would get to visit one of the new 7 wonders of the world and actually step inside to see what it’s like. I sprung out of bed and quickly at the buzz of my alarm headed to grab breakfast at the dining hall, got ready, and waited in anticipation for our guide to show up at 9am to take us out. After exchanging cheery good morning pleasantries, as per routine our guide then proceeded to tell us what we would be doing for the day.
Itinerary for day 3:
- Taj Mahal
- Jama Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri
- Chand Baori stepwell
- Drive to Jaipur
Since our hotel was relatively nearby the Taj Mahal, our guide took us for a leisure stroll down the street to the entrance. I knew it was going to be crowded, but I didn’t expect crowds amounting to a black Friday sale. It wasn’t too overwhelming, but I’m glad we had a guide to sort everything out for us, from getting us tickets to accompanying us through the gates. I would highly suggest getting a guide if you want to have a smooth transition of your stay in India. Sometimes you even get expedited treatment at famous sites when you’re ushered alongside a local guide. The entrance fee per person for a foreigner costs 1000 rupees when we went back in February, but according to the Taj Mahal ticketing website it has now been raised to 1100 rupees (as of August 2018). Locals just pay a small fee of 50 rupees to enter, which is a huge contrast to what tourists are charged, a whopping 22 times price hike, yikes!
First you line up to get in through the main gates where your tickets will be checked and scanned. Security checks came next, you’d first have to walk through metal detectors and have all your belongings x rayed. Felt like I was going through an airport. Thirdly, every single person gets their body/bags/belongings manually checked. How thorough is this pat down you ask? I actually had my camera lens cap in the front pocket of my shirt, and I was instructed to remove it and show the guards what was it. My entire backpack was emptied, they even rummaged through every single charging cable I had in my little pouch. I tried to make friendly conversation by saying “wow, this is stricter than at the airport”. The guard who was helping me pack up my emptied backpack said “yes, I’m sorry it has to be like this, but a few months ago we caught someone trying to sneak in a bomb”. Ok fair enough, this is much-needed if a bomb is trying to be snuck in. “Thank you and have a good day!” I said and smiled at the guard, and she waved me on.
Our guide patiently waited for all 3 of us before embarking on a historical verbal journey through time as we slowly walked to the main gates leading to the entrance of the garden. The Great gate, or also known as Darwaza-i rauza stood magnificently in front of us, which is the main passage way into the gardens and reflecting pool of the Taj Mahal.
I got extremely excited when I caught a glimpse of the beautiful white marbled Taj Mahal through the archway of the great gate through the sea of people. Tried my best to get a good picture, but it’s hard to do when what felt like the entire country showed up with us, the more the merrier!
It was such a marvel to be in the presence of such amazing architecture. One of the things that I clearly remembered our guide telling us was that the four minarets surrounding the main structure were built tilted slightly outwards from the main structure in case of a collapse, that they will crumble outwards and leave the building unscathed. How ingenious.
There are 2 red buildings on the west and east side of the Taj Mahal, which mirrors one another. To the building on the west, it is a mosque, and the one on the east it is a guest house. Our guide told us to visit inside the mausoleum before going on to explore the mosque before the crowds get too massive. As photos are strictly prohibited inside the mausoleum, we only took memories with us as we excited the area. Inside there is a replica tomb built on top of the real tomb of Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal.
Words really can’t describe how magnificent and large this wondrous place is. I think I could stay here for 2 days just trying to photograph everything in sight. A drone shot here would also be epic, unfortunately it is strictly prohibited as well. We quickly moved on to visit the mosque on the western side of the building, to get a couple of photos of the marble masterpiece before leaving.
After wrapping up that unbelievably amazing first activity of the day, we headed back to the hotel to grab our stuff and checked out of the hotel. We were now on our way to Jaipur with 2 more pit stops before ending our day. About an hour into the journey, we made a stop in Fatehpur Sikri to visit another Jama Masjid, which happens to be one of the largest mosque in all of India. When we arrive it looked somewhat similar to the one in Delhi, the blend of Persian and Islamic architecture here was beautiful. Everyone had to put their shoes outside, and for anyone wearing shorts you’d have to rent a wrap to cover your legs before entering.
Back into the car we went, our last stop of the day before heading over to Jaipur would be to visit the Chand Baori stepwells. This wasn’t actually included in the itinerary, but after seeing it circulating on YouTube for years we made it a point make sure to visit this marvel. Built back in 800CE, it makes this step well almost 3 thousand years old which still stands proudly today.
Our driver dropped us off by the little entrance, which opened to a huge courtyard filled with birds, there was no entrance fee and the place was relatively empty. I was quite surprised that we had the entire place to ourselves. We hired a random guy by the entrance who became our guide for the next 20 minutes in the area. With a depth at almost 13 storeys down, it was quite deep, a place to seek refuge from the blazing heat back in the days. Also a place to collect water in the arid Rajasthan desert.
Sadly you weren’t allowed to walk down the steps, but other blogs did mention their ways of bribing a guard to let them in to get a photo or two before popping right back over the fence. With the looming sunset in the horizon, we listened intently to our guide and took all our pictures of the heritage site before making our way back to our car.
The things that I had seen today would have been so amazing if drone usage was not banned in India. I kept saying that in my head like a broken record, but here’s to hoping for better drone regulations in the near future. Now, we’re off to Jaipur, Goodbye Agra! It’s been an extremely tiring and humid day.