The road into Agra, from about 9 till afternoon, is a procession of buses and taxis, with sweaty faces and eyes pushed up against the windows to catch a first glimpse of this Indian celebrity. An obvious tourist hotspot the level of hawkers and swindlers is astronomical as people try to sell you everything from the Taj Mahal in a slow globe, which makes no sense at all, to having your photo with monkeys on the back of a moped. Both of these sparked interest in me, but neither was something I needed or probably should have wanted. As you work your way through the maze of locals, cows that have decided the pavement is the perfect place to work on their tan, the salesmen, and the mass of other tourists you then have to tackle the complicated process of the entry system. As if a challenge of patience put in place to weed let out the weak you file round a at least three queues before making your way through security, being told you can’t have bags, go back to the cloakroom, work your way through the queues again and finally you make it in, with a piece of your brain missing somewhere in the queue system.
The Taj site is made up of two main buildings that mirror each other. The first is a large red building that you walk through the catch your first glimpse of the prized building. As always the amazingly hazy light makes it look like a postcard picture and you begin the realise why people may have made a fuss, this view seems a just prize for making your way through the queuing system. The Taj is a dazzlingly white beacon on a landscape of otherwise muted browns and greens, extenuated by the burnt red colour of the other buildings that surround it. As you make your way through the red building you come to the main garden which extends out to the Taj. Here is where you join the huge numbers of other tourists, adorned with cameras, Selfie sticks and guide books as if they were the latest fashion accessories.
You join a sort of grotesque throbbing mass of sweaty bodies, baking in the sun making their way around the conveyor belt as guards constantly move you forward to gaze as the various views of this wonder of the world. In a sort of reversed situation to how a model walks down a cat walk we marched, like a group of paparazzi to capture every angle. While the Taj is undoubtedly beautiful the painful process in which you are moved forward makes the experience a little diminished, the 34 degree heat obviously does not help, but I imagine that when Diana came to have a look she might have had a slightly different experience.
However, I think I am being a little harsh, when you do first catch a glimpse it is breathtakingly beautiful. The white stone is only accentuated in the instagram like filter of light that seems to surround everything in India. As you do make your way closer you realise how incredibly vast and ostentatious this tomb really is. I mean if I were to ask for something like this in my will , I am not sure many graveyards would have the space. As with all Indian sites the charge for a local is considerably less, meaning that the number of Indian people is huge. We going on Diwali probably only added to the numbers. Everyone was dressed in what seemed like their best with beautifully colourful saris making the walk down the garden promenade more of an experience. My white t shirt and black shorts felt a little bland. However I’m not sure my sari wearing abilities are really at their prime just yet. However, we were asked to pose in photos with numerous Indian families so my passion for fashion cannot have been that poor. I think it was probably because we were one of the only white couples around so probably added to their experience in the same way the saris did for us.
When you finally get to the monument you have to put on some crime scene style shoe covers to make sure you don’t get your grimy toes all over the brilliant white stone. The steam bath that your feet get being trapped in the sweaty enclosures, is a small price to see the incredibly marble work and stone in laying that adorns the walls. The pieces of stone were so full of patterns form their layering they looked like gems or coloured pieces of wood. The ever swirling floral patterns juxtapose with the stark white walls highlighting their skill and design. As the building is so white, having been bleached in the early 2000s the detail and design only becomes present when you get close, it otherwise being seen as a totally smooth building. From a distance it gives the impression of something otherworldly, too perfect as if one solid object. However, with closer appreciation you can see the real attention to design, pattern and adorning that cover the building. I guess as a tomb this is perfect. You can only really gain a personal appreciation when you come close, which would have been reserved to a more select audience.
From afar the very worldly square building is topped by the heavenly dome, which does give any viewer the idea of what the Taj is, an ostentatious fuck off tomb. However, closer details show the personal love and adoration of those buried within.
As we walked away and pushing our way through the crowd of tourists that seem to migrate towards you, feet wrinkled after the quick steam cook, I felt two ways about it. I had ticked of a wonder of the world and it was a super beautiful building, however the greedy person in me wanted to be able to view it from myself. As I heard a wise man say, I would rather be in the cave looking at the castle than the castle liking at the cave. The cave for this was the other side of the river, which seemed to have no one on. So with a little persuading to a driver we drive around to catch the sun set, while we sat in a pile of dirt with a few army men for company. Amongst all the fanfare that surrounds the Taj , This view, unspoilt by the mass of noise and sweat made you appreciate how amazing the Taj is and why so many people flock to it, like cats to a big shiny white piece of cat nip.
As with all Indian sites the charge for a local is considerably less, meaning that the number of Indian people is huge. We going on Diwali probably only added to the numbers.