As I boarded the train at Gaya on my way to Delhi, I got a call from a friend-colleague from Switzerland, if I can take Stefan (swiss friend from the same project) to Agra. Stefan was very eager to see the Taj Mahal and had only one weekend to accomplish it and no one else was there from the office to accompany him. My train was running late and I calculated that, at best, I could be in Delhi by Saturday 10 AM and since a match (yeah..that match) was coming in the evening which will go till 2 AM, Saturday was absolutely ruled out. I did not commit right away on the phone and said ', I will try'. However, there were no second thoughts as to what I was going to do. Since, I had never been to Agra before, the decision was rather easy.
I reached home around 11:30 AM, and after freshening up, called Stefan at his hotel, that I would be coming with him to Agra. I worked fast to get a cab booked, but it was only around 5 PM, that I finally got a cab after negotiating over the rates and type of car. I also invited a friend of mine (I had to tell him that it is free journey for him as my company would bear the cost of travelling..ooye tere ko 2000 rs dena hai...!!). So, three people started their maiden journey to Agra around 6:30 AM. The morning was beautiful as the fog was still there, but Stefan found the camels roaming on the roads more interesting. Probably, he had never seen camels before and was quite impressed. It was just a beginning of his 'first times'. This includes meeting monkeys and apes on the road sides, seeing buffaloes being carried away on trucks, cows staring at us on the highway, little children performing on signals, overloaded autos, bus without windows or doors, rampant disobeying of traffic signals, crushing a mutilated body of a dead dog (probably his soul died a little more). Neither of us had breakfast while starting, so we decided to stop at some place after covering a few kilometers. Finding this 'some place' can be a tricky business, if you are with a foreigner. You have to take care of many things - decent building, good seating arrangement etc etc.(Dhaba's food is a strict no no for the non-experimantal types). Stefan's experiment with Indian food was limited to dosas and utthapams, which he described as non-spicy and tasty. So, we stopped at a handsome looking South Indian restaurant, where we indulged in some delicacies. Satisfied, we continued ahead towards the 'city of the Taj'.
Three different pick up points, pot holes in the road and crazy traffic all played its part, as we reached Agra around noon time. We made straight to the Taj Mahal. We were greeted by exciting group of tourist guides who claimed that they will help us get tickets easy citing the fact that the queue is huge and there is so much to know about Taj Mahal that only a guide can help us in appreciating its complete beauty. Much to our chagrin, the behavior and attitude of some of the guides left much to be desired. (Sometimes, they even resorted to insults. Fortunately, they were in hindi - out of the guessing zone of Stefan). We ignored them and went ahead to the ticket counter. Here, I do not understand the reason of having different prices for Indians and foreigners.(20 against 750). I have not seen this anywhere else so far. Anyway, buying a ticket, we also hired a guide, who looked polite enough, to take us around. After a brief wait to go past the security check, we were welcomed by the grand entry door. We could see the Taj, some far away. Not in its entirety, but good enough to tell us, that something truly special awaits us on the other side. As we entered, and here I can not say for my other companions, but my heart lifted a little from its place. The sight of the Taj Mahal, its reflection in the long rectangular water body, its minarets, perfectly lined two columns of greenery, is a sight that I can not describe. For few seconds, Taj Mahal took the air out of my lungs and filled it with awe. I have seen Eiffel Tower and Leaning tower of Pisa before, and its not the same feeling. Taj Mahal in Agra, felt like my personal triumph. River Yamuna on the one side, and two symmetrical structures on east and west side (mosque on the east side and a guest house used by Shah Jahan on the west) completes the structure perfectly. I do not remember much of what the guide explained us while taking around - different types of stones, architecture, dimensions of the Taj Mahal and the minarets. We spent about two and a half hours and I was still not over it. Even multitude of photos were not enough to capture its essence in all its grandeur. It was one of those times, when you know that its better to put the camera down and just watch it...and continue watching it with your own eyes...
To be Continued...Soon