Agra

We departed Dehli by train very early in the morning. Our guide hired a porter to carry our luggage. With a single graceful sweep of an arm a porter can fling a heavily loaded suitcase onto their head. Then with a second dip and sweep they deftly hoist a second case onto the first. They weave expertly through the mêlée of people, dogs and assorted goods carrying double the weight I can normally cope with at a drag.

Tea and biscuits are served as the train rattles out of Dehli. The urban trappings gradually dwindling and replaced by rural accoutrements; trees, crops meandering river beds.

We arrived at Agra as the intense heat of the day was starting to kick in. Temperatures were consistently around 40° Celsius. We weren’t mad dogs. Most of the dogs in India find somewhere shady. After settling in to Utkarsh Villas, a somewhat odd hotel that could do with some improvements, we saw out the heat of the day by reading and sorting photos.

In the late afternoon we set off to see Agra Fort. This palace, built on the site of earlier palaces, was constructed over 8 years (1565-1573) by about 4000 builders. Overseeing the construction was the Moghul emperor, Akbar. The buildings remaining today are made of red standstone and white marble. The layout and component buildings are similar to the Red Fort, with an area for public audience. Special marble private halls for the emperor’s wives and ladies. The emperor who built the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan, was imprisoned here by his son, Aurangzeb, for 8 years.

There are two moats around Agra Fort. The first had water and the second had tigers. It makes for an impressive triathlon; swimming, climbing, running then a bit more climbing. For extra security these days there is an Indian Road to be crossed as well!

We woke early the next day to catch the sunrise and early morning light on the Taj Mahal. We had a short wait before the gates opened and were extremely grateful for our guides tip to slather on the insect repellent. A group of French tourists were almost driven mad with swarms of them. The air was thick with them.

This building stopped me in my tracks. It is stunning. A marvel. Our guide ensured we were the first and only visitors into the mausoleum. No mean feat considering about 25,000 visitors were expected to turn up for that day.

It is hauntingly beautiful. The gentle morning breeze stirs rushes around the enormous octagonal dome making an eerie whooooo sound as if angels are singing in mourning for the dead empress of Shah Jahan, Mumtaz Mahal.

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