Shimla was amazing. I need to type up my notes and tell you all about it some time soon. Two days ago I arrived in Agra to see the Taj Mahal up close.
I got here in the mid afternoon, completely exhausted from the previous 20 hours traveling on three different trains. So tired. The travelling was really taking it out of me. I think I was just on a bit of a downer and was fed up with having people in my face on the trains. I checked into a fairly nice hotel and just spent the afternoon/evening watching TV.
I was soon itching to get back out there though and found a hostel to make some friends and experience more of India in a group. I found a guy called Chad from the US who seemed pretty cool. We went off to explore the sights of Agra.
It was Friday, which is the day the Taj Mahal is closed to tourists so we hired a driver and headed to Fatephur Sikri for the day. We were stubborn and refused to have a guide while we explored the sites, which in hindsight probably was a mistake as we would have learnt a lot if we had hired one but we had our eye on our budgets.
Iit was great to just wander around on our own though - you can get a bit 'toured out' after a while. There were old palaces and temples to explore and there were some beautiful gardens as well. It was amazing to see the green grass and blooming flowers, as the surrounding landscape was so arid. The highlight was the Parchessi Garden which is where they used to play Parchessi (ludo) with real humans as playing pieces! Crazy.
On Saturday we went to see the Taj Mahal. It really was incredible! There were huge queues to get in the south gate, but as a tourist you pay a high entry fee and don't have to queue at all (Indian nationals pay next to nothing to get in, but have to queue for hours). Once we were in the grounds there were still so many people it was hard to bear, but then you looked at the Taj Mahal and it was totally worth it. We took about a million photos, and even paid a man a few rupee to take photos of us in front of the TM. Shame he was an awful photographer but it was fun posing!
We went inside and saw the tombs. The Taj Mahal is even more spectacular when you get up close and can touch it. The details in the walls is beautiful. It is hard to comprehend how it was built all those years ago (they started building in 1632!).
The Taj was the thing I had most looked forward to seeing on this entire trip, and it really did live up to expectations. After seeing it, we walked to the nearby Agra Fort. It was cool to look around, but nothing compared to the Taj Mahal! I'm very glad we went though as it was such a contrast. Poor old Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal for his beloved late wife, was deposed by his son and locked up in the Red Fort, soon after the Taj Mahal was completed. He had a view over the river of the Taj Mahal so spent the rest of his days gazing at it from his prison. What torture!
So all in all, Agra was a pretty great experience - a good mix of rest and amazing culture and history.
Next stop, Jaipur.