Mumtaz’s mausoleum Taj Mahal is a great architectural wonder and is on every foreign and local traveller’s list. We had the same plans for years, but finally on 22nd May (2016) Showkat Shafi one of my friends and I decided to visit Agra, without fearing the sweltering heat of the summer. The much-awaited Agra trip had many adversities than adventure.
The Gatimaan Express Ride
Showkat booked tickets of the much-hyped Gatimaan Express, 100 minutes express train to Agra. We boarded this train from Hazrat Nizamuddin Railway station around 8 o’clock in the morning. It was said that train is fully WiFi enabled. Yes, this train has the internet facility but only to watch the worst copyright-free movies of Bollywood, Jaspal Bhatti show and some devotional songs.
The food served in the train was vegetarian. They differentiate vegetarian and non-vegetarian food on the basis of a single omelette (though, the world has yet to classify egg as vegetarian or non-vegetarian food!) Definitely, Gatimaan has failed to appease the non-vegetarians. To my amusement, the train attendant asked for a tip when it neared to the Agra Cant station.
Rickshaw Wallas Ruckus
At around 9:50 AM, we reached Agra Cant station and it presented the same sight of crowded stations across India. Red spit spotted walls, people young and old sleeping on the platforms, eating and waiting for their next trains.
Taj Mahal is around 10 minutes drive from Agra Cant station but it is very difficult to get any vehicle near the station. Cab owners overcharge you for the 10 minutes drive. The loud call of Rs.50 will sound good but don’t fall prey to this. They will confuse you with East Gate, West Gate, and full day packages afterwards. If you deny all their offers they will drop you 200 to 300 meters away from the actual location and excuse with the reason that they don’t have permission to drive you through the gates. Ola or Uber can help you in situations like these, but sometimes drivers are smarter than we expect.
The Cunning Kids
Auto Rickshaw (Three-Wheeler) dropped us around 200 metres away from one of the gates of the Taj Mahal complex. We walked down to the street and near ticket counters a few kids offered us a unique service. We stopped and carefully listened to their offer. Keeping in mind the heat wave and long queues, we readily agreed to their offer. These kids offered us entry to Taj Mahal from a VIP gate and charged us Rs.200. One of them assisted us to cross few narrow streets and after merely 3 minutes walk he dropped us near the ticket counter of another gate. It took us around 20 minutes to enquire about the nature of the gate and it wasn’t any VIP gate.
After this incident, we didn’t purchase much needed white covers for our shoes. It is mandatory to wear covers over your shoes when you are in the tomb. Else, you are supposed to walk barefoot into the complex.
The Photographers & Guides at Taj Mahal
There is no end to annoyance in and around Taj Mahal. Photographers and tour guides will offer you special entry if you say yes to their services. Tour guides know each and every complexity of this great architectural marvel and photographers know every angle how to capture best shots of you with Taj Mahal no matter whether you are photogenic or not?
The Taj Mahal is an iconic world heritage monument that draws millions of tourists every year. It is the jewel of Muslim art and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the marble stone architecture.
The pollution has affected the sheen of the Taj Mahal as yellow and rust coloured patches are quite evident on its walls. To revive its beauty, authorities have caged its minarets and are mulling to try mud therapy on its dome. These caged minarets are defacing the real beauty of the Taj Mahal. We wish to see the Taj without bamboo stick cage and free of spots very soon.
The sight at exit gate was very unpleasant. Local tourists were throwing shoe covers and empty bottles on the floor of the tomb premises. To awaken the conscious and civic sense of the people, a security guard shouts out loud to use trash bins. He was repeatedly calling “Hinsdutanio Kab badloge Tum” (when will you change Indians).
So if you are planning to visit Taj Mahal in the near future, you know what to do and what not to!