With all my hopes and dreams of Taj visit, I booked two tickets of Volvo bus from the Delhi based tour operator Panickers Travels. The per ticket costs only INR 750. Being a travel writer I have written so many fictitious and imaginary contents on Taj Mahal visit. Now I virtually prepared for Agra tour which is one of the most inquisitive dreams of my life. Since childhood when I read about Taj Mahal I hope that I will visit Taj one day, what is the secret behind this great Monument of Love.I toured Agra with my fiancé, as this monument of love should be toured with the loved ones. We got into Panickers Bus at 6.25 near Ashram petrol pump. It was hurry in preparation. We waited at Ashram and the chilly winter fogs shattered us, for a moment I lost the spirit of the tour.
We reached Agra around 11 am. Then the tour guide of the Panickers introduced him taking the speaker of the bus and welcomed us to Agra. We all the group got down and headed towards the Agra Fort, the capital hub of the Mughals. The red sandstone building caught my attention at first sight. And I felt that really Mughals had a competent Defence system to protect themselves from the intruders, even it is tough enough for them to establish a kingdom in a foreign land. No doubt, Mughal are cunning and brilliant in invading kingdoms, but they suffered a lot in the hands of soldiers of Ahom kingdom in Assam. Mughal attacked Assam for 17 times and returned back saying that “this is a land of tantra-mantra”.
The tour guide helped us in booking the ticket, we took the queue. In the Indian ticket counter, a young foreign couple also was waiting. Might they have no idea that Indian Tourism takes high entry fees from foreigners? A security guard dressed in typical dress came and said, ‘’foreigner ticket go down” (he meant that foreigners have to buy the entry ticket downstairs counter) they seemed helpless for a moment. I would say, ''you have to book the ticket at the downstairs counter''. They got it easily and proceeded towards the counter.
We followed the guide, he told us stories behind the palace, garden, and arts works on the walls, etc, when he was telling about the harem ladies that Akbar kept, one of the fellow travelers joked, what is this harem ladies?. The tour guide replied in a humorous tone, “girl friends’’. If Akbar will be a modern king definitely they will be called girl friends and they might blackmail him like the girl friends of Tiger Woods and Bill Clinton. Alas! The harem ladies had no freedom of expression…
We explored each palace and halls of Agra Fort and the palace of Shah Jahan and the location where Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son. It seems that the guide wanted to hide the tragic end of Shah Jahan, he wanted to glorify only the glory of Mughals and even he told us not to question about Jodha Bai, and but it is worth mentioning that he mentioned about the Akbar’s marriage to a Hindu lady. Agra was founded by the Sikandar Lodi, a Delhi sultanate. Before that Agra Fort was occupied by the Sikarwar Rajputs. The Mughal emperors who lived in this fort are Babar, Humayun, Akbar, Jehangir, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. Even Sher Shah Suri, the Afghan general of Babur and the founder of the Suri dynasty also lived in this fort.
No doubt Jodha Bai is itself a controversy. Akbar married a Hindu princes namely Rajkumari Hira Kunwari Sahiba, the eldest daughter of Kachawas Rajput, Raja Bharmal, Raja of Amer (former Jaipur), and his son Jehangir also married a Hindu princess namely Princess Manmati and Shah Jahan was son of Jehangir and of this Rajput princess.
By the way the Agra Fort visit was quite satisfying. A major part of the Fort is now prohibited for the public as it is the under use by the Indian Army; the British used Agra Fort as the military treasury. Even there is a grave of a British General inside the fort. Hi British, want to mark an icon in the Mughal Fort???
Then we were taken to UP Handicrafts Emporium. An official of the emporium gave a demonstration of the marble paintings and the carvings of the stone on marble plate. Then the mini Taj story. We had taken into a comparatively dark room than the previous one. The same man showed us the mini Taj made out of marble, even placing on a light, how marble Taj is different from other cheap Taj replica found in the outside market. Taj is said as the symbol of love, peace and perfection. For a moment I could not keep my impulsive mind, I thought “I want to have a mini Taj at my dream home” My fiancé never stopped me till now when I want to buy something in a market. He got ready to give me a mini Taj. (Sometimes when are in a brawl he tells me that I have looted him. Virtually true. When some of my Delhiites friends say about the dowry how much they have to give to the groom’s family, I used to tell them I will take dowry instead of giving him. Say No to dowry in the 21st century…)
Frankly speaking later I thought I have wasted 850 Rs as the Taj doesn’t seem impressive when I place it in my reading table. It looks pale, yet I want to keep it as one of the secret belongings and will décor it in a style to feel its beauty.
After lunch, we did proceed towards Taj Mahal. When the bus reached the parking place I have a view of the Oberoi Amarvilas, the luxury five star deluxe hotel of Oberoi group. I have written so many times on this hotel, about its lavishness and spa centre. We walked about 10 to 15 minutes from the East Gate parking to the main entrance of Taj. The horse and camel drawn cart first caught my attention; I took some photographs in the mobile. The tour guide helped us booking the ticket earlier, and then we took our own way to explore the jewel of Mughal architecture, Taj Mahal, the most extravagantly made monument on this world.
The guide told us that around two hours we have to get back to the bus, they are very conscious about time…I was frustrated a lot hearing this, though I knew it earlier that one day Agra trip is hectic and one gets little time to explore Agra. We proceeded towards Taj, walked past the garden. The photographers followed us and we did not give any attention. By the way I want to reach Taj and want to touch it and feel. More than architecture the story behind Taj fascinated me. I want to examine the love, passion, pain behind this great monument of love.
There was a long queue, I wanted to take the queue but my fiancé said we should ask the tour guide before taking the queue as we have to reach the parking gate in time. We got 1.30 hours to explore Taj. The guide suggested that it will take long time to enter inside Taj, so we should explore it from outside only. My dream shattered. With a sad mind we walked around Taj, touched its walls, posed photographs (too much photographing takes away the joy of traveling). Himu consoled me that we would come again for overnight stay…
After walking around Taj, we sat on a bench of the garden. Then I thought Taj tour memories should be kept, we should have at least one join photograph. We posed for a joint photograph. The tour guide initially told us that we should avoid the photographers. Yet we thought we should have a photograph. We posed for three photographs, and then he took 50 Rs advance and told us that he would come back after half an hour. We waited for almost 45 minutes but he didn’t come back to give our photographs. We were hurry to reach the bus.
I feel the beauty of Taj when I sat on the bench in the garden, Taj seems more beautiful from a distance. The halcyon ambience adds more beauty and depth to this monument. The mythical River Yamuna flows near it; there I feel something different which is inexpressive in words. But my journey was unfinished; I want to come again to explore Taj.
On the way back we visited Mathura, the birthplace of Lord Krishna. I didn’t explore anything here as already I lost my spirit. We had coffee only in Mathura. In the bus, we had little conversation and but one of the fellow passengers told us that they got a chance to enter into Taj and there is photographs of Shah Jahan and Mumtaj Mahal inside Taj.