India was finally checked off my list. But I did not feel a sense of completion. Sometimes, you are able to see your fill enough to tide you over with a place in one scan, but then, with others, it takes two, three, maybe more trips just to see the whole picture. You have to immerse yourself in the culture. I knew that the fact that I did not see the Taj Mahal would eat away at my wanderlust soul until I was able to witness the magnificence.
Looking at flights and tours, I realized that if I just wanted to see the Taj Mahal, I could do it in a weekend. There are regular nonstop flights to Delhi, and there are services that will drive you down the night before or the morning of. I had heard from my friend Susan that I need to see the sunrise. It is not only the prettiest, but also it is the emptiest time. Once the day breaks, there are thousands of people in the way with their cameras and selfie sticks.
I browsed through the services and reached out with inquiries. One company, Mann Tours, replied nearly instantly. This impressed me, because they were able to match up my exact desired itinerary. Once I got the arrangements made, I began exploring the things to do in Delhi. I knew I would be getting in around 06:00 on Friday, but I was unable to head down to Agra until 02:00 on Saturday. I could sleep or explore around the hotel. Instead, I booked a day tour of the city. I figured the fatigue would be immense, but it would be worth it to see the sights around town also.
The JW Marriott was absolutely splendid. It is very close to the airport. I don’t think I Would stay there if I were trying to spend time in Delhi. Traffic is pretty terrible. I checked in, headed to my room and sacked out. I napped like a champion for 5 hours. It was time to get ready to explore. It is difficult to explain the level of perceived heat in Delhi. Hot, Humid, Sticky… Yes. It is damn near unbearable. But we had A/C in our car, and we brought plenty of water.
Our first stop was Bahá’í Lotus Temple. I was told that this is the most visited religious building in the world. I had a hard time believing this, when I know that millions upon millions descend upon the mosque in Mecca every year. But no one seemed able to explain these claims fully. So I guess it is Top 25. My guide was knowledgeable and kind. He explained the history and significance of each sight. He also gave me a fuller picture of the religious breakdown in India.
Next we headed to the ISKCON Hari Krishna temple. Sadly, it was closed mostly for an event, but we got to wander around the grounds and into a couple rooms. I have heard my parents talk about the Hari Krishna movement in America in the 60’s. It was cool to see one of the central temples.
From there we stopped in at Humayun’s Tomb. If you didn’t know any better, you might think this was the same as the Taj Mahal. The designs and layout are beautiful and inspiring. We then drove through the government and parliament area and saw the India Gate.
Our last stop for the day was Akshardham Temple. This isn’t an old building. Instead it was built as a tribute to the history of Hindu culture over the ages. Unfortunately, no cameras are allowed inside. The craftsmanship on this building is ridiculous. Every detail is perfect. This is a must-see for any traveler.
I was tired, I was hot, I was hungry. But I had one last stop. I had to get saris for my mother and nieces. One thing I find annoying about a lot of these tours is that the guide will take you to places that are Rug Museums or Soap Museums or something else. In our mind we think, “Oh it’s an exhibit. This will be fun.” In reality, they are going to show you a couple things, then use high pressure sales tactics and guilt to have you buy things that seem unattainable anywhere else. If you want to buy something, then by all means, buy it. But don’t let some local convince or pressure you to buy more than you’ve planned on. I purchased my gifts and was done.
The dinner at the hotel was actually very good. It is funny, that the indian food actually wasn’t that good. The best Indian food I have had is still from Tasneem’s King Kitchen in Nepal. Crazy, right? After dinner, it was bedtime. 01:30 comes quickly!
The day came. It was finally my day to see the Taj Mahal. I have heard horror stories about the drive down to Agra. Well, apparently, they have recently redone the highway. I slept the whole way down. We picked up our guide and made it to the gates just in time to hustle in and get a good spot.
The feeling of seeing it glisten in the sun is nearly impossible to put into words. The true beauty comes out as the sun’s rays glide up the marble sides.
The folklore and stories about the builders’ fate after completion is sad, and almost enough to make me want to skip this Wonder. But my guide is confident none of them are true. So who knows. We walked around, took pictures and learned more about the history. After my last photo, we went over to the Agra Fort. This was where the Raja lived out his final days: with a perfect view of his dead third wife’s tomb. Romantic until the end, by some standards. The heat was really wearing me down by now. It was time to head back. I couldn’t handle it.
Now, while arriving with an American passport is easy once you get the e-Visa, departing the airport is a whole additional story. You have to have a printed ticket to even get in the building. The army will prevent you from entering without. They are not afraid to give you attitude either. If you have a ticket, you can’t go in more than 6 hours before. They will force you to buy a pass and sit in this little secluded room with no bathrooms. It is pretty bad.
I waited my time, then convinced them to let me in to get my ticket. This was ridiculous. Even though the guard said there would be no way to get through the gate early, I found myself in the lounge relaxing within 10 minutes. Such a waste of resources.
Overall, was it worth it? The tiredness, the heat, the fatigue… yes of course. I had a blast. It was short, probably a little too short, but I can always go back