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Taj Mahal & Rabid Monkeys

Short flight or twenty-three hour train ride? Smiling flight attendants or pushy touts? Air conditioned waiting area or platforms filled with hogs and sacs of grain? The choice was obvious. Train.

Mumbai to Agra Train - Bathroom Mumbai to Agra Train - Bathroom Sink Taj Mahal East Gate

Agra Pet Pig Who Happens to Dine On TrashIt was the Indian education we yearned to experience. Sure, utilizing the squat toilet aboard the listing train was like performing brain surgery aboard a rocket ship. But for one long day and an even longer night, Ash and I became just another traveler across the Subcontinent towards Agra. Awoken before dawn with the head scarf of a yapping Indian in my face, a special Valentine’s Day card for Ash, and dang good curry were all part of the journey on rails.

At 9:30pm the following night, the train lumbered into the Agra Train Station and as we watched it chug West, a horrible stench engulfed our nasal passages. Such is traveling India. Desperate to get some sleep and a hot shower, the rickshaw dropped us a short walk from the Taj’s East Gate and the Sheela Hotel. We checked in only to discover our room was outfitted with a bucket that the staff would kindly fill with boiling water to bathe. We gladly handed over an additional $2 for a room with a proper shower!

Taj Mahal At Dawn Taj Mahal At Dawn with Minaret

Taj Mahal & AshWith the crescent moon still draped in white satin, we waited patiently for the gates to the storied Taj Mahal to swing open. Once they did, we were among the first one hundred tourists on the hollowed grounds. It was as if we had a private invitation to an exclusive viewing. And there it was, far across a vast garden and reflecting pool. The beautiful and entrancing Taj Mahal. Considered the greatest example of Mughal architecture in the world, which combines components of Persian, Indian, and Islamic styles, the Taj was completed in 1653. Thousands of craftsmen, artisans, and heavy laborers strained for twenty-three years to construct Emperor Shah Jahan’s temple dedicated to his late third wife who passed giving birth to their 14th child. What a masterpiece.

Taj Mahal Taj Mahal with Us

Taj Mahal - Dirty Diaper... Really?The Taj Mahal is one of those things that everyone learns about in grade school just like the beginning to the Gettysburg Address or Man landing on the Moon. It did not disappoint. In the early morning light, the marble radiated as we found ourselves sitting in awe. After canvassing the monument to love from all four sides and marveling at the symmetrical minarets, we dawned white slips for our slaps and proceeded inside. But not before I nearly stepped in a strategically placed dirty diaper on the steps leading to the entrance. The elegantly simple interior is focused on the central tomb and the walls are dotted with intricate calligraphy. Upon close inspection of the large marble bricks, one must be impressed with the craftsmanship performed so long ago. The Indian government recognizes the need to preserve the icon after having gone to great lengths to erect scaffold to confuse the German Luftwaffe and Japanese Air Force. Aerial bombings are less a worry today when compared to the air pollution that is slowly turning the Taj Mahal a mild yellow color. Here is to hoping that future generations may some day view its beauty.

Red Fort - Taj in Distance Red Fort

With time to kill before our evening train to New Delhi, we hired a rickshaw to the Red Fort that was built in the 16th Century. The immense size of the fort was incalculable as Ash and I explored its crumbing nooks and crannies for two hours. Maybe our minds had enough info crammed into them for one day at the Taj because we spent more time watching the resident monkeys than reading factoids. They were everywhere. Balancing on railings, scaling walls, or gallivanting around green spaces. One furry guy captured our hearts as we intently watched him play with a discarded piece of chewing gum. Cute and cuddly one minute, vicious the next. As Ash was luring a young monkey closer to her camera, his mother didn’t care too much for the human interaction. She jumped on her back with a fierce shriek and Ashley began a squirming waltz. As I moved quickly to release the angry monkey from the clearly terrified blond girl, another monkey took a swipe at my leg, scratching it. The monkeys had fired a warning shot across our bow and we fled to the dusty streets of Agra with the troop of monkeys giving a light chase all the while hissing.

Monkey with Bubble Gum Mama Monkey

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. If you are making the journey all the way to Agra, make it count. Spend the night near a gate to the Taj Mahal (we paid $6 including a hot water shower) to ensure you are one of the first to see its majesty at dawn. You will have the place to yourself and watch the hordes of tour buses arrive as you exit.
  2. Be prepared to bargain hard for nearly everything from rickshaw rides to whips. For example,we bought an authentic whip outside the Red Fort for $1 after the tout started at $10.

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