When we boarded the GT express, my friend and I were slowly switching ourselves from our busy work lives, into a short holiday. The transition took a few hours to finally happen as we learnt to ignore the constant noises the blackberry would make to get our attention. Traveling in a II AC compartment, we were well stocked on sleep, before we reached Agra at 2 am. We decided to wait till 4 am in the waiting room, till when we planned to scour for places to stay, closer to either the station or Taj Mahal. We managed to get a steal of a deal at a hotel near the east entrance of the Taj. 2 nights in an AC room, overlooking the Taj Mahal at Rs 900 totally for both of us.
Once we got the deal, we called up the hotel at 4 am, waking up the hotel receptionist, and checked on what would be an approximate auto fare to the hotel from the railway station. With a figure of 80 rupees in mind, we decided to go catch an auto rickshaw, and we saw scores of people who wanted to be our personal travel consultant. One man, wanted us to pay for him giving information on where the auto stand was, while another one was just wanting to be our personal unsolicited guide, with the hope of extracting a final price. We ignored the unsolicited advances, and after haggling on the price, we settled at 100 rupees, a few rupees more than expected.
We arrived at Hotel Taj Palace, eager to finish our ablutions and head off the crack of Sunrise to see the Taj Mahal. Since we were on the street, leading to the east gate of the Taj Mahal, vehicles were not allowed beyond a point, so we had to factor in some walking. We left our room at 5 30 am, and quickly met a cycle rickshaw wall, who saw the tripod and camera in my hand, and sensed that my immediate friend was the sunrise. So he gave us a package deal. 40 rupees for plying us to the counter and then in the opposite direction to the gate entrance. We took the deal and were done with the whole process in 15 minutes. I had with me my phone, iPad, Camera Bag, Camera and tripod. I learnt that tripods are not allowed inside the Taj, so I had to leave it at a antique store, and hope it would not vanish by the time I am out of the Taj Mahal. No electronic items are allowed inside the Taj, but I was able to take the iPad inside, since I could show that it had a mobile signal and could take photos.
Once inside the Taj, it feels like a different world. The Mughal empire did not quite believe in minimalism, by the look of the buildings leading to the Taj Mahal. The gardens in green, the buildings in red and the here size of the complex, puts you in awe of the place. A guide seems to tell an un suspecting foreigner that the first few rooms before the entrance to the Taj Mahal, were courtesan quarters. The Mughals seem to have craftily planned their entertainment needs, while building the Taj Mahal. While people say this mausoleum is a reflection of Shahjahan’s love and remembrance towards his wife-Mumtaz, the entrance to the mausoleum it also reflects the love and passion of the Mughal rulers towards their courtesans. Some loose talk from a guide to a tourist revealed that there were close to a 100 rooms.
We entered the Taj through the Southern end, from which you get the post card version of that perfect picture of the 4 pillars flanking the giant dome, 6 am, and the were already close to 200 people holding the Taj in their hands and letting the world on Zuckerberg’s planet know about it. I stood their mesmerized by the whiteness of the Taj, and the subsequent glow when the sun from the east shone on its dome and pillars. Maybe it was the marble, or probably the whiteness and the aura that the place was radiating, I immediately felt at ease. The Taj’s south end entrance has a building that runs west, for a fair distance. It has little visitors and that made it my haunt to walk through the empty corridors and feel even more at ease. This section has photographs of other places of interest in India, and makes for a good read to know about some places and if you want a quiet siesta amidst history, this place is a good place to earmark.
As you walk across the southern end, there are gardens flanking the pathway to the Taj, and on the pathway are many water pools and slabs to sit. Some of these slabs are elevated and give you a good photograph of yourself against the background of the Taj. My friend and I tried some jumping stunt from the slab, while the shot was taken from the ground level slab.
As you approach the actual main tomb, you need to deposit your slippers on the southeastern and southwestern ends. We decided to go to the eastern end of the Taj, and sit near the building adjacent to the Taj. It gave some beautiful views of the Taj, drenched in the golden hue of the sun. The eastern end adjacent building overlooks the small road that leads right into the banks of the Yamuna. The only people who have a view of the princely Taj and the byline leading to the Yamuna are the guards who sit atop in control rooms.
The surrounding buildings are so beautiful and peaceful, that you can relax by the shade under the trees or the buildings and observe that Mondays don’t run as fast as it does back in the cities. Right besides the eastern side, runs the lane that runs through an Akhara, and brings you to the Yamuna river. This was probably another part of our trip that I would treasure. As I approached the Yamuna, post a long session at the Taj, I came there with my camera kit and tripod, waiting to earmark a territory for shooting the hues of the sunset. There was something beautiful about the simplicity of the banks of the Yamuna, the pace of life here, the magnificence of the Taj donning the banks, that I am not able to pin point, but it made me sit for a whole half hour taking in the scenery, before I started shooting.
There was a policeman who was sitting by the steps of the Yamuna and humming a yesteryear Bollywood number by the sunset (‘Tujhse Naaraz Nahi’ from ‘Masoom’), and I responded by you tubing that song and playing it on my iPad, and he was quite surprised to see the same song playing, and turned towards me with a smile. I showed him the iPad and the instant nature of how the web delivers what you want right away. So he played the role of requesting songs, while I played the role of a DJ in getting the song and playing it for him. Quite an uncommon way of spending a sunset with a stranger, but looking at his joy over listening to Kishore da, I decided to engage myself in a short conversation with him on the songs of the yore.
With the sun threatening to come down, I go on my knees and requested a boatman to take me on the Yamuna to the other side of the land, so as to help me take the reflection of the Taj on the Yamuna. He said he would stop near the land, but I would have to be on the boat and take my shots, as only locals can walk on that side of the Yamuna, with heavy police protection in that zone. Viewing the Taj during a sunset from the Yamuna, was one of the most relaxing ways to spend an evening that was pregnant with the expectation that it would show all the colors that VIBGYOR had.
The walk back to the Taj east end gate entrance amidst the streetlights ranks very high on my experiences. It took me a different world that I wanted to take along with me. The yellow halogen lighting of the streets, with the eerie noises of the forest nearby, with the Taj for company, made me feel like a king walking in darkness of the night, to gather knowledge about his subjects. Despite the illumination of the moon and the street light, the ensuing darkness was just enough to pretend that you were invisible and just viewing this little street as an entity. An entity that you wish you could pack and take along, and get transported to, whenever you feel like. In the era of wish click and go, Agra should only be a few hours away from the urban chaos of the southern cities of Bangalore and Chennai. I shall soon be back in search of the silence, that this lane offers, in anonymity to reflect on life.