Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story.
Two weeks ago, I finally made it to the Taj Mahal. As my regular readers know I have an obsession with architecture, especially in India, so I had always wanted to visit the Taj Mahal. On my first visit to India I knew I would not see the Taj, however, I did see a smaller replica in Aurangabad, Maharastra (you can read about that here). I was hoping to make it to the Taj on my second trip to India. I came to Delhi for the Delhi Photography Festival. However, the trains were all book and I could not get a ticket to Agra. I did not want to chance a bus because I was only in Delhi 4 days. Last year, I had my train ticket to Agra from Udaipur, but I did not get on the train, I decided to stay in Udaipur another week. I missed the Taj once again.
About two months ago I was planning my exit from India to get my passport stamped. (American’s are only allowed to stay in India 180 days at a time.) During this time Meropi’s (my roommate) mom was here visiting and they had decided to visit the Taj. I was super jealous, I always wanted to go and Meropi did not care that much about seeing the Taj. So I decided when I came back from Nepal I would go through Agra. I could take the morning train from Delhi to Agra, see the Taj and then take the night train from Agra to Udaipur.
Agra, what a trip. It is a little insane. Luckily, they have a pre-paid tuk-tuk stand at the train station (Agra Cantt.). There are three gates at the Taj that you can get dropped off at, so the gates vary in price. I went to the west gate, which was 100 rupees. I got to the west gate and walked to the ticket counter. There was no one in the foreigner line, so I stepped right up and got my ticket. It costs 1000 rupees which is about 15 USD. It is worth it. They give you a bottle of water, booties to cover your shoes when you go inside the Taj, and it includes your camera (many monuments take a second charge for you to take your camera inside). The only downside was after I got my ticket I was told I had to go leave my backpack in the locker room. I had to walk back out to the road to get to the lockers. Then I had to put all of my money, passport, driver’s license and credit card in my money belt. Wearing the money belt sucked because it was so hot. My money was soaking wet when I left.
Back at the entrance of the Taj I just had to wait in a short line to get through security. The security lady was crazy, she told me I had to put my camera through the security scanner. So I stood there, then when I got up to the belt the officer there told me I could just go. As you walk up to the entrance gate, you can see the dome of the Taj above the wall. Your first full view of the Taj is framed by the pointed arch of the entryway in the gate. It is breath taking.
You walk directly inside and everyone is stopped to take a photograph of the classic view of the Taj Mahal (which you see above). I was super excited to be there, I know I had a smile on my face. I took some photographs and began walking around the garden. I walked through the garden on the left making photographs and moving closer to the monument. Once I got up to the Taj I followed a huge Indian crowed up onto the first platform. I walked all the way around the Taj on that platform before going to the top platform.
I stood in line with the Indians to get up to the second platform. I could have taken a different path, as foreigners pay so much to get in we can skip the lines. Once on the top platform I took some photographs with 3 men from the state of Punjab. They were probably in their late 30’s early 40’s, so I was not worried they would tell everyone I was their girlfriend.
I walked around the platform and took a seat on one of the large niches of the structure. It was super-hot, so I wanted to sit in the shade. There I took a photo with women from the state of Nagaland. Nagaland is in the North East and most of the residence are tribal. These women were definitely tribal, but one of them spoke perfect English. She told me she had been to the Taj before, but it was her mother’s first time. Her mother is 84. She was in amazing health and shape to be walking around in the heat. I hope one day I have a Stories from the Road post from Nagaland. The women were warm and friendly, true ambassadors for their state.
After resting, I finally went inside the Taj. It was dark inside and not the most pleasant experience. I did see the marble sarcophagus of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan, but it was crowded and there was a security guard blowing a whistle and telling everyone to keep moving. I did not stay inside long.
Back outside I walked down and walked through the garden on the right. I took more photographs and then found a shady spot to sit for a while. I was in the complex for two hours. It was a nice experience. I am also glad I went alone. Sometimes it is nice to be alone with your thoughts and it is great to be alone to make photographs. You can go where you want and spend as much time as you want.
I dreaded leaving because I knew I would have to deal with the touts and the tuk-tuk drivers. I made it through the touts pretty much unscathed. One man followed behind me asking me if I was a Hollywood star. I just ignored him. When I got out to the road, I was walking back to the locker room. A tuk-tuk driver started pacing me. He was asking me where I wanted to go. Agra Fort? Locker Room? I ignored him, then gave him a dirty look. I slowed down and walked behind his tuk-tuk to cross the street and went in the locker room.
Once I had my stuff back, I found a group of drivers not bothering anyone. I got a driver to take me to Pizza Hut. I sat there for 2 hours, eating as slowly as possible. Then I returned to the train station. My quick trip to the Taj was complete. Now I have my memories and I have made my very own photos of the Taj Mahal. Which I am sure I will share in later Stories from the Road posts.