We had an early start today as we wanted to get to the Taj Mahal before the crowds arrived.
At 7am we were at the ticket counter handing over 750 rupees each (the equivalent of £7.50.) Not a huge amount to see one of the most famous sights in the world but the price for Indians was only 100 rupees!
For our money we received a ticket, a bottle of water, shoe covers and a golf buggy ride to the gate of the Taj. With no queue whatsoever we went straight to security and were searched more thoroughly than at most airports!
On either side of the Taj Mahal itself are two identical mosques facing inwards. Only one of them is an actual mosque. The other, which faces east not west, is an almost identical copy of the actual mosque – built to maintain the total symmetry of the entire site.
There really isn’t a lot to say about the Taj Mahal except that the grounds are beautiful and the Taj itself is magnificent.
After the Taj Mahal we took an auto-rickshaw to Agra Fort, a huge sprawling Mughal fort from which the Koh-I-Noor was plundered in the 1700′s.
When we left Agra Fort we fought off the rickshaw drivers and headed towards the old town of Agra to find a local restaurant that had been recommended in the Rough Guide. A lot of people had told me that the Taj Mahal was beautiful (which it was) but that Agra itself was a dump. From what I had seen of Agra I could not understand what they meant. Then we walked past a tent village and ended up in the old town and I realised exactly what they were talking about!
The bazaar area was narrow and crowded but eventually we found the restaurant that we were looking for. It was small and very basic, there was only one choice on the menu – thalis. This consisted of a metal plate with pickles, dips and two types of curry served with puri (an Indian puffed flat bread) and tasted fantastic The plate kept being topped up until you were full and the grand total, including tea and a bottle of water was 160 rupees (£1.60) between us!!
After lunch we went for another walk through the bazaar and to the local mosque and were given a brief tour by an elderly man who, of course, finished by demanding a tip!
After the mosque we carried on through the streets of the old town. The further we went the more we travelled from the normal tourist paths and the more notice people started to take of us. After an hour or so we turned towards the main roads and flagged down a rickshaw to go back to the hotel.
That evening we went for dinner at another very small local restaurant that we had seen the previous evening just opposite the Taj. As we got closer we noticed that it looked closed until we got beckoned through a small shop into a courtyard and shown upstairs to the seating area. It was a strange place, practically caged in, and decorated with very intense, flashing, coloured lights. We ordered two beers and were also offered the hookah pipe menu, with the added offer of a ‘special’ hookah – which we turned down, as we did with the ‘special’ cigarettes that were offered.
We decided to finish our beers and get out quickly, returning to the same restaurant that we had been to the previous evening.