India-Day 3: Agra

We head to the heart of the Golden Triangle sightseeing region for the next part of our journey.

An early morning train ride is not the most enjoyable way to recover from a hangover (me) but non the less we made our way to Agra on the Gatimann express. I’m vaguely aware that there was food and drink provided and that we had plenty of legroom but that’s about it. We paid for the equivalent of First Class but it’s more like a standard carriage with a bit more space and a meal included rather than what we get back home.

A new guide met us at the station and he turned out to be great, he was local to the area and very funny. Agra isn’t as busy as Delhi but there are a lot of similarities in the driving style! There were significantly more cows wandering the roadside too. It instantly felt different, a bit quieter, a bit more rural and less dirty. We were only in Agra for one night and stayed at the Oberoi Trident hotel. We headed straight there from the train station and had some time to catch up on some sleep before heading out for the day.

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We began our tour with a visit to the of Tomb Of Itmad-­Ud-­Daulah (known as the Baby Taj). Our guide was keen to show us this before we visited the Taj Mahal so that we would appreciate the difference. He also spent some time with us discussing the building methods and materials as Agra is known for it’s beautifully conceived marble inlay work that isn’t done anywhere else in the world now. The Baby Taj is made of white  marble,  jewel inlay, mosaic  and  lattice, its sometimes described as a jewel box which seems appropriate, it sets a precedent as the first Mughal building to be faced with white marble inlaid with contrasting stones.

I wasn’t too fussed about seeing the Baby Taj to begin with as I didn’t know much about it and assumed it was a small version of the well known one but I was wrong. Overlooking the Yamuna river the building is traditional in its gated design is packed full of interesting architectural features and decorative details. Our guide knew all about it’s history and it turned out he knew all the good photo spots too. As per the day before we had a mix of guided walking and then just roaming around on our own, he was very keen to take photos of us together as well which is something we don’t really have many of.

We moved on to the Agra Fort and spotted some wedding preparations being carted down the road on the way. Agra Fort was a walled imperial city founded in 1565  by  the  Emperor  Akbar  (1556-­1605) and is a well-­deserving  UNESCO World Heritage site, Its palaces, grand mosques and elaborate public hall are crafted from pink-red sandstone and are testament to an era  when  Indo­‐Muslim art, strongly marked by  influences from Persia, was at its height. Emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj  Mahal  for his deceased wife, was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in Agra Fort.

We were warned in advance to not make any eye contact with hawkers but to be honest we didn’t really find them to be any trouble and there were not many present. Once I had stopped trying to make friends with the tiny squirrels that run around all public places we took in the exterior view and headed inside.

There are a mix of cultural influences on display but I fell in love with all of the fine details and lattice work on display, I  might have to make a little video of all of the pictures we took at each site just to show how much there is to see. It struck me just how well preserved some of these monuments are and how well thought out the designs are, given the extremes of temperature and need to protect against monsoon conditions the spaces seem too open but we learnt about the different things done to ensure they were habitable all year round. At a slow pace you could easily spend about 5 hours here but we are speedy people with an efficient guide and we were lucky it was a quiet time of year.

After the fort we went to visit a craft store that makes inlaid marble objects using the same method as the Taj, a skill much prized in Agra. We learnt a lot about how the designs are created and they showed us the process followed to create a table. We went here on the suggestion of our guide but inevitably there was a showroom attached so as we sat and drank the complimentary tea they told us more about it before we wandered around to look at the array of items available. From full size wall panels to tiny intricate bowls there was a range of different designs available. I was somewhat sceptical (because lets face it, if a guide takes you to a store its usually to encourage you to buy something) but in all honesty what we saw on display was actually really good. Yes there is an element of illusion presented but regardless of that, what was on offer was still interesting and I don’t begrudge paying for something if I like it. In other words, yes- we ended up buying something…. we came home with a small table/ I didn’t feel obliged to and certainly have no problem with saying no but as a memento of a holiday goes this turned out to be a pretty good one. Price is based on the level of detail and number of gems inset so I suppose the fact that we both liked the simpler designs played to our advantage although I did fall in love with a small vase that was prices at several thousands of pounds due to its incredibly detailed pattern.

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Demonstration of marble inlay work

Shopping done and we returned to our hotel before being picked up by our driver to take us for dinner at Pinch of Spice  it was on the recommended list of mid  price restaurants I had been sent from our travel provider but to be honest, it wasn’t much different from what we would find at home. We ordered too much, the waiter was a bit rude but other than that it was fine, nice is a very good way of describing it.

After the hangover from the night before, a long day of sightseeing and the prospect of an early morning we called it a day at that point. Jordan has a story about the monkeys that we saw at the fort but it’s best not written down…

 

 

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