16th January, 2016 – Agra.

Yesterday we visited the Hanuman statue that we had spotted from the Metro. We drove past this massive monkey-God at 5am on our way to Delhi train station.

The train was an expensive one, yet looked old fashioned. I was surprised to find free Wi-Fi on board and coffee, water and breakfast included in the ticket. It was very spacious and very comfy. Certainly a more comfy and better service than we would get in first class on a British train. We will be visiting someone’s house for dinner at some point, so on the four and a half hour journey, I tried to study some Hindu and worked on learning some phrases. The incredible landscape views were distracting me.

Arriving at Agra station was intimidating. At the exit a fight had broken out with a large group of men. Pradeep, our guide explained that they were taxi drivers vying for our business.

Straight to Agra Fort. It is a massive 2.5km square. Very plain looking from the outside, but the inside is spectacular. What was once marble decorated with jewels is now mostly bare, except for one room which is still bejewelled.

Shah Jahan was living here when he met his wife, who was working in the market within the grounds. He spotted her as she raised her veil for a moment, and in that instant he fell in love with her, renaming her Mumtaz Mahal (beautiful princess) and it is for her that he had the Taj Mahal built. As the Shah grew old and his wife had long since passed away, his plans to build an identical Taj in black was scuppered as it was felt that he had spent far too much of the public purse already. His sons put him under house arrest at the opulent and lavish fort. His daughters cared for him and he would pass the time looking over the water to the Taj Mahal. When his eyesight failed, a telescope was made for him using a diamond for the lens. Interestingly, this is the fort that the British took the Koh i Noor diamond from.

After lunch at the hotel, we set off for the Taj Mahal. We walked in through the East Gate and carried on to the next imposing brick gate.

And I saw it there, shimmering in the afternoon haze.

I cant really find words to describe it. I saw it first through this brick archway, so familiar. So huge and delicate. I got goosebumps. We walked up to it, hardly blinking so not to miss a moment. Passing the ladies on their hands and knees, cutting the lawns with scissors.  We went inside and it was so noisy (no way! – India!), marshals blowing whistles amplified in the interior hallway where the Shah and his wife were laid to rest, to keep the crowd of visitors moving.

Outside the detail is incredible The architecture a feat of mathematics, built on shock absorbing foundations. Minuets built at a 2 degree slant away from the Taj, should there be an earthquake, they fall away from Taj itself as not to destroy it.

I linger for an hour, watching the sun set on the Taj Mahal. Taking in every detail as the light changes.

Outside we are asked to pose for photos with people who are fascinated with us. On the bus back to the entrance, I sit down. A little girl behind me quickly strokes my hair and pretends she didn’t. It was very sweet.

Dumbfounded by this map of paradise, this monument to love absolute, we leave. It deserves its status as a wonder of the modern world. I’ll never forget today.

I took my last glance at her, and I vowed to return.



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