Day Six - Agra to Jaipur
So today was my most anticipated day of the whole trip, Lou does the Taj Mahal!
A pre breakfast departure from the Radisson was to ensure we saw the Taj in its best light and it took just minutes to get there. We were closest to the East Gate which is the most popular due to its location to hotels, however we entered the West Gate to avoid the crowd. There were monkeys everywhere but I was well and truly over 'omg how cute' and clutched my bag a little tighter. The entry tickets were purchased and we queued, male separate from female, and enjoyed quite an enthusiastic double squeeze pat down?!
Again the size of the site, as with many we've visited, was unexpected - the Taj isn't just the Taj building, it's a huge riverside block with many perfectly symmetrical buildings complementing the white marble beauty. I had my 'I can't believe I am actually standing here' moment and away we went. Our guide walked us around the gardens area for the 15,000 photo opportunities and retold the story of Shah Jahan and his wife Mumtaz Mahal. All my life I had attached a romantic notion to the Taj, something like Aladdin but without the flying carpet- but I couldn't be further from the truth! This is a long and sordid story of marrying for money and title, battles and death, in fact whilst Mumtaz Mahal was entombed there many years after her death on a battlefield having her 17th child, so are Shah Jahans first and second wife, in separate areas of the Taj Mahal site!
The very impressive Taj took 17 years to build and you can see why when you are shown the intricacies of the building and told of the engineering that had to go into keeping the riverside wonder safe from collapse. The especially chosen crystallised marble was sourced from over 40kms away and is encrusted with precious stones in extremely fine detail. We then left for a visit to a marble factory where the ancient art work of crafting marble and precious stones together was shown to us. This is a dying art, much like the authentic rugs, but I now understand why the pieces cost as much as they do, the skill and time required is incredible.
Then off to Agra Fort, which stands close to the Taj in stark contrast as its built in red sandstone. The sandstone is incredibly hot, so visits here need to be early in the day. This Fort was a crocodile and snake filled moat surrounded, well thought out premise housing the royalty who enjoyed a very lavish life. This, like every story I have heard so far, included a lot of fighting, wine and concubines - 500 of them though in this instance. Another#whitegirl paparazzi moment with the locals and we were done!
After lunch at a locally recommended restaurant (thankfully not another bloody buffet), we set off for the 240 km drive to Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan known as the Pink City.
The Rajasthan women dress so much brighter and the men have the big white turbans and impressive twisted moustaches. Every guide we have has really talked up Jaipur over everywhere else so have left most of my shopping till this part of the trip, the markets are so close I can hardly contain myself!