There aren’t many things that will get me out of bed before 6am. Without being able to instantly down a decent coffee, there are even fewer. But seeing the sunrise over the Taj Mahal on Valentines Day with my 13 trusty Valentines, yeah, that made the cut.
I don’t know why I was so excited to see a building. Maybe it’s the history behind it, a great 17th century love story where an Empress dies in childbirth leaving the Shah to erect a magnificent tomb in her honour. Or maybe it’s the “Wonder of the World” status, of this marble creation built by elephants and thousands of men before the time of cranes and OH&S. Or perhaps it was just the sheer fame of the Islamic structure, visited and marvelled at by millions of people every single year. Whatever the reason was, I knew I was about to experience something extraordinary! (As did my fellow traveller Caitlin, who likened it to the feeling she had before she saw JT live- big call).
In my experience of visiting worldly monuments, I often find myself underwhelmed (e.g. The Mona Lisa, the leaning tower of Pisa, the Parthenon). But the Taj Mahal was just as grand and amazing as it is made out to be. Not only is it huge and stunningly beautiful from a distance, but close up all the intricate details are so perfectly designed and created that I have a whole new respect for Islamic artists and their patience. I think we were all still so in awe of the Taj as we were leaving that we all bought tacky, over-priced merchandise from the stalls out the front just to savour the memory.
As if we had not experienced enough historical/architectural amazingness for one day, we back up our visit to the Taj with a visit to Agra Fort. The masterpiece and home of some of India’s most famous dynasties, the most well known being the Mughals.
400 years ago, to get into Agra Fort, you would need to overcome a moat filled with crocodiles, a 15 foot wall with men tipping hot oil on you, a ledge swarming with lions and tigers, and another 15 foot wall with men tipping hot oil on you (just to be safe). Today, we just presented our ticket and strolled through a pretty slack security check. Our in-country guide Adi was a bundle of information within the walls of the Fort, taking us from room to room and describing what it was used for and who had lived there. Even after centuries of degradation the palace is still pretty mind blowing. I can’t even begin to imagine how breath-taking it would have been with its gold and jewel encrusted rooms.
And before we knew it, it was time for the final dinner. True to form, it was spicy and delicious, full of laughs, and left us all with impressive food babies. With our stomachs content and our bags packed all we had to do was get on a train to Delhi and be in bed by 11:30. Or that’s how it would have worked… If our train wasn’t running 2 hours late.
Now I really do think there is a charm to India’s chaotic and bustling nature, but I cannot bring myself to see the light in the train stations. They are dirty, packed with commuters and homeless people, and the stench of the “human waste” on the track does not make for a happy Caity. Nor does the weight of my pack (which has definitely been stacking on the kgs since I arrived) which needs to be lugged around said station. But that’s the thing about India, you have to be flexible and patient, because you’re frustration will get you nowhere.
My head finally hit the pillow at 2:30am. I wasn’t in a marble palace, and my bed wasn’t golden or encrusted in jewels, but after a 5:30 start I had never been more grateful for sleep. What a day!
Caity Hall, Melbourne