I decided to save the best for last: the Taj Mahal, one of the eight wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and India’s most visited site. Since this tour was central to my visit, I chose to stay at Hotel Taj Resort since it’s walking distance from the East Gate. (The florescent blue accent lighting in the hallways made the place feel a bit creepy, but the rooms were clean and there’s free wifi in the lobby.) Had price not been a factor, I would have stayed across the street at in the luxurious Oberoi Amarvilas.
If you’re traveling to Agra, only budget a day here. The major sites are definitely worth the trip, but the city itself is so used to tourists that your time “experiencing India” is better spent elsewhere. It’s even possible to see everything in a (long) day trip from New Delhi – if you hire a private taxi as I did.
The Taj is a marvelous site, towering at 171 meters with precious and semiprecious stones inlaid in white marble. This choice of marble is the reason the Taj is such a stunning sight: it glows in the moonlight, which is why so many tourists visit the Taj at sunrise. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned the Taj Mahal as a mausoleum for the favorite of his three wives, Mumtaz Mahal; and it took 20,000 workers and 22 years to complete it. Four minarets were added to the site so the Taj wouldn’t look like a mosque; and they were built at an angle so that in the case of an earthquake, they would fall away from the Taj. Good planning.
I met a tour guide outside of the ticket office and I’m so happy I hired him for Rs 400. (I have no idea if I overpaid.) In addition to a wonderful history lesson, he told me about Full Moon Tickets which give you access to a special night viewing of the Taj Mahal. If I am lucky enough to return, I will definitely plan my trip during a full moon so I can see the Taj glow!
My tour guide said the Taj Mahal sees 15,000-20,000 visitors a day in winter and summer and over 60,000 visitors a day in fall and spring (better weather months). Even with the masses, I found my visit to the Taj to be quite peaceful.
Just before dusk, I spent a half hour seeing the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, which is lovingly nicknamed “Baby Taj.” If this site wasn’t on the river, I probably would have given it a thumbs down, but it overall, it rounded out my day.
My three hour journey back to New Delhi turned into five because of all the police barricades. In light of the recent rape in New Delhi, police were stopping any car with dark windows. But I arrived safely the Hotel Classic Diplomat, where accommodations were economical, clean, and comfortable: a perfect end to a perfect trip!