Monday, September 02, 2013

India: Taj Mahal & Agra's Red Fort

Taj Mahal Agra India
Despite having barely recovered from a trip to Nepal, I found myself at the airport two days later leaving for another adventure. Jet Airways and Go India Journeys had invited me to fly to India to visit some of the country's most iconic attractions. We flew to Hong Kong where we took the Jet Airways flight to New Delhi. It was nearly midnight when our group arrived at the Hilton New Delhi Janakpuri, our home for the next two nights.

We didn't have much sleep since we had to leave for Agra first thing in the morning. But spirits were high since we were visiting the famed Taj Mahal. Agra was a four and a half hour drive on the new highway from Delhi (which includes having to navigate through Delhi's slow traffic to get to it). The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. He is also buried there.

So much has been said about the Taj Mahal, So I'll start with some things to remember before visiting the mausoleum:
(1) It's best to visit on a weekday since locals crowd the Taj Mahal during weekends. Note also that it is closed on Fridays. Also try to come during opening time for smaller crowds.
(2) There are many items which are prohibited inside the Taj Mahal. It's best to leave your bags in the hotel or the bus, rather than have to leave them in the locker area. Best if you bring only your mobile phone, camera or video camera, wallet and maybe an umbrella.
(3) Your Rp.750 ticket comes with a bottle of water and shoe covers. Make sure you take good care of your shoe covers since you will need these as you walk on the platform around the Taj Mahal. If you lose the shoe covers, you will have to leave your shoes in designated shoe racks and walk barefoot. Also, there's no guarantee you'll see your shoes again when you come back for them.
(4) Taking pictures is not allowed inside the mausoleum itself.
(5) While there's no dress code for the Taj Mahal, remember that it is a mausoleum and a place of worship. So dress appropriately.

Taj Mahal Agra India
The Taj Mahal was an interpretation of paradise as described in the Holy Koran. The water channels represented the four rivers of paradise. After the completion of the building, Shah Jahan entitled himself as Rizwan, the door keeper of paradise. In the main mausoleum, semi-precious stones such as malachite, coral, lapis lazuli, turquoise, mother of pearl, jade, jasper, yellow marble and black onyx were inlaid into the white marble from Makrana, Rajastan (360km from Agra) to produce the Taj Mahal's intricate designs. Bas relief depictions of flowers and vines as well as jaali (latticework) were carved out of the marble.

Taj Mahal Agra India
Taj Mahal Mosque
Taj Mahal Mosque is located on the left side of the Taj Majal when facing the building. Another similar building which served as a guest house was constructed on the right side for a symmetrical view, an element of Persian-style architecture.

Red Fort Agra India
The Amar Singh Gate of the Red Fort in Agra
After a late lunch at the Radisson Blu Hotel Agra (their Indian buffet was superb), we proceeded to the Agra Fort or Red Fort, where the palaces of the Mughal emperors are located. Both Taj Mahal and Agra Fort are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Agra Fort is a complex of Mughal fortifications, palaces and gardens, another must visit when in Agra.

Red Fort Agra India
A group of women sit down and rest at the Khas Mahal, a white marble palace inside Agra Fort
Red Fort Agra India
Musamman Burj at Agra Fort with the Yamuna River & Taj Mahal behind it
Red Fort Agra India
Intricate designs made of semiprecious stones inlaid in white marble decorate the Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower built by Shah Jahan for Mumtaz Mahal
We explored the complex for a little over an hour before motoring back to New Delhi. It's best to stay overnight in Agra to maximize your visit to both sites.

Jet Airways flies daily to New Delhi
Jet Airways flies daily from Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore direct to New Delhi. Passengers from Manila can take connecting or codeshare flights to these cities. 

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