Monday, January 19, 2009


There is only one reason to visit Agra, the Taj Mahal. It was so incredibly beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes. Everyone should try to see it once in his/her lifetime. It was especially appealing to me because of its symmetry. The building looks the same from each side. There's a Mosque on the left of the Taj, and to maintain the balance, an identical building was constructed on the right side. We arrived at dawn to watch the building reflect the light. It was rather foggy, but we had good views.

The Taj is a mausoleum built by the emperor for his beloved wife who died in childbirth. It is claimed to be the most romantic place on earth. We saw a man propose to his girlfriend, so sweet. Pictures are not allowed inside the Taj. Within the outer walls there is an inner chamber holding the tomb of the emperor's wife. His tomb was added next to hers when he died.

The gate to enter the Taj's courtyard: In the late afternoon, we went to the almost dry river bed behind the Taj to see it at sunset.The whole building, inside and out, is ornately carved and inlaid with semi-precious stones. Along the doorways are scriptures inlaid with onyx. The letters become larger towards the top of the building so from a distance they appear uniform in size.
The Mosque:View from the Taj looking towards the gate:

In Agra, we also visited the Agra Fort for it has great views of the Taj. Unfortunately, the fog was bad in the afternoon and we only saw a white sheet. The Fort itself was very beautiful. More inlaid stone work: Carved ceiling: It may seem like a small detail, but one aspect of India drove us completely crazy—the lack of change. In Frommers and Imaginative Traveller’s trip guide, are repeated suggestions to carry small change such as 5 or 10 rupees to give as tips or to beggars. Many instances arise for the need of small denominations. For example, if you have 4 bags, then 4 bell hops will carry them 10 feet and each expect a tip. In most nice bathrooms, there is an attendant, one whom physically blocked my exit and thrust her open palm at me. I’m OK with a lot of tipping. The problem is that no one had change less than a 100 rupee note. We succeeded in getting change a few times from our hotel, but only after the manager round up the bell hops and made them empty their pockets of small bills. It was so bad that a few times we were forced to overpay at the hotels. Our rooms were pre-paid, but we would charge bottled water, beer, and meals to our room. For example, upon check out, we owed 873 rupees and handed the manager 1000 cash, but only got 100 back because there was no change! Granted we were shorted less than US$1.00, but that’s not the point. Several times, we were forced to stiff people because we had no small bills. We wondered more than once if this was a tourist scam. Towards the end of the trip, I was totally fed up when the hotel tried once again to round up the bill, and I insisted it be rounded down in my favor—I won. We probably should have used that tactic more often. Arriving in India, we changed about US$250 to rupees and here is the stack of bills we received of 100 rupee notes. Note the huge industrial staples holding the wad together. It took quiet awhile to pry the stack apart so as to not rip the bills. Fortunately, we are now able to laugh about the lack change.

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