I loved Agra. I’d heard tales that it was a filthy city only worth visiting for the Taj Mahal, full of touts, beggars and people waiting to cash-in on the tourist dollar. In actual fact it is a dirty smelly city, but I had an amazing time here, avoided the rip-offs and had two wonderful experiences that will forever be etched in my memory.
The first was a bicycle rickshaw ride taken through town on my first afternoon in Agra, shared with a lovely Spanish girl called Anna that I met at lunch in the guesthouse. She was there looking like a Bollywood beauty in her Indian clothes and we decided to visit Agra Fort together. I caught my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal here. We sat on a ledge we found in a quiet corner of the fort, enjoying the cool breeze and the view over the river. The Taj stood majestically in the misty distance. So magical and totally surreal to see it!
We then took a hop by bicycle rickshaw across the river to the ‘Baby Taj’ (Itimad-Ud-Daulah), an exquisite tomb complex, perfect from a late afternoon stroll. We turned down numerous offers of taxi rides at 10 times the ‘going rate’ but agreed upon a ride with an old man who charged a reasonable fee. The poor thing sweated in the afternoon sun to pull us two girls across town. His skinny little legs could barely push the pedals and when the street took an uphill turn we felt so guilty that we jumped out to push! Back on the flat we ended up in the middle of a festive street celebration, roaring with laughter as locals danced around us to music blaring out from speakers on passing vans. Truckloads of people passed, all waving and smiling and then the paint-throwing started.
Cheeky multi-coloured faces started appearing at the rickshaw and the next thing we knew we were covered in handfuls of brightly covered powder paint. By the time we arrived our clothes and faces were a rainbow of colours and we couldn’t stop laughing. This was an ‘essential India moment’… and we were just sailing through it enjoying the ride!
The second memory I will always cherish of Agra is (of course) the Taj Mahal. I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations but it certainly didn’t disappoint. It was magical to step through the main gate and see it there in the early morning light. It really is mesmerizing – a perfect picture of calm and symmetry which sends shivers up your spine just being near it. I shed a little tear of emotion just being there and thinking about the sad story behind its creation. My guide spoke excellent English and gave me the time and space to explore it in peace. I took a while to sit cross legged on the marble floor infront of it watching the marble walls change colours as the sky turned from cloudy to blue. It really does earn its reputation of being the most beautiful building in the world.