Sheela and I are up before 5 AM and eager to get going so we can see the sunrise over the Taj. Sheela manages to get hot water delivered to our room, and we make some instant coffee to help us wake up. Breakfast will have to wait, because they don't start serving until 7. We meet our driver outside at 6:30. It is already beginning to get light, but there is a dense fog.
We arrive at the entrance and walk into the visitors center. It costs only 20 rupees (about 30 cents) for Indian nationals, and 750 rupees (about $12) for foreign visitors, a difference that seems quite reasonable to me. We climb into the open air taxi they provide and ride up to the entrance. As we arrive, we are surrounded by vendors, each assuring us he has the best souvenirs at the best price. Once inside the gates, it all quiets down. We are early enough to beat the crowds, but it is still foggy. As we go through the east gate and reach the point where everyone gasps at the beauty, this is what we see.
So stay with me here, it does get better. We walk around inside the Taj, and are rewarded for our early rising with few visitors and quiet surroundings. We are able to inspect the fantastic floral designs and calligraphy up close.
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan I as a mausoleum and funerary garden for his third wife, Empress Mumtaz, who died in 1631 giving birth to her 13th child. Shah Jahan is said to have been so devastated by her death that his hair turned white in the few months following her passing. The Taj is located on the banks of the Yamuna River, one of the two primary rivers of India, and is surrounded by beautiful fountains and gardens. It is constructed of beautiful white marble, and is adorned inside and out with amazing floral designs and calligraphy that are made from inlaid semi-precious stones from around the world. The Taj, the gardens and the outbuildings are all perfectly symmetrical except that the Empress's coffin is in the middle of the main room of the mausoleum, while the Shah's coffin is to one side. (It's important to note which gate you come in, because one could easily accidentally go out the wrong gate and wonder where their transportation is!)
We took our time exploring the Taj, the gardens, and the outbuildings, hoping that the fog would lift. We even took our time going through the museum. But the fog just seemed to get denser. We were getting hungry, and were wishing we'd brought a snack. We also hadn't checked out of our hotel, so we needed to get back in time to do that. Finally we sat down on a bench and just looked in the direction of the Taj. And very slowly, the outlines of the building began to emerge. We were finally able to see everything, even the crescent moon on top. There was some magic in the appearance of the Taj out of the fog that made up for the initial disappointment. All well worth the effort to see what Rabindranath Tagore called "a tear drop on the cheek of time."
We were requested not to take pictures inside the Taj building. Many people did, but I didn't.
Transporting the bricks that are made in the area surrounding Agra. Agra itself is a poor city.