We have an early start today for our drive Jaipur to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal. We still have time for a quick breakfast before departing, then make our way outside where Ranjit is waiting, all the Rajvila staff accompany us with our luggage. Abhishek has even joined his staff this morning so that he can bid us farewell, he is looking incredibly handsome again, so I give him my best flirty smile before getting into the car as gracefully as I can.
The Jaipur to Agra route is actually pleasant and there are points of interest on the way that you can stop at to break up the drive. Ishveen suggests that we stop at a place called Abhaneri which is about 2 hours from Jaipur. It feels like a quick drive for me, as soon as we set off I fall asleep; I am pretty sure we all slept except for poor Ranjit.
The car pulls up after two hours in Abhaneri. We park outside the sight we are visiting called Chand Baori. This is a step well which is similar to the Panna Meena ka Kund that we saw in Jaipur however this is a lot bigger. The step well leads quite a way down so it has protective barriers surrounding it for safety reasons as well as preserving the history. Chand Baori is over a thousand years old which is reflected in the architecture. The stone work surrounding it has carvings and statues. Ishveen was right that Abhaneri is a good stop off point, there are a lot of historical sites like this that you can make quick photo stops at on a long drive.
We walk back to the car after fifteen minutes, I notice that the sun is in full force today it is still quite early but very hot. Abhaneri is not a major tourist spot so as we step towards the car there is a large crowd of traders waiting to sell anything and everything to us. As we attempt to get in the car we have all sorts of products thrusted in front of us to buy, one trader in particular is showing me a handmade windmill on a stick and shouting various bargain prices. My lack of interest in the windmill makes the trader believe I don’t want it because it is too expensive, he keeps offering me lower rates in the hope we can have a sale. The truth is, other than the fact that I don’t need a windmill but today is actually the hottest day of my trip so far, there isn’t even the slightest gust of wind anywhere so I politely advise my salesman friend that a windmill will be of no use today (well, ever – but he doesn’t need to know that). Once I am sat in the car, windmill on a stick man is still shouting prices through the window which I eventually shout “NO THANKS I DON’T WANT IT”. He looks taken a back and slightly shocked, I sit silently back in the car and offer him an awkward smile, he turns away from me sulking. I decide to look over to Dipali who is having a much easier time than me, she has made a friend! A very cute little boy, perhaps aged 6 or 7 years has run to Dipali’s side of the window and is waving at her with a huge excited smile across his face. I am not sure if he thinks she is a celebrity because of all the traders surrounding our car, he looks completely star struck and won’t take his eyes off her. When she waves back, he is beaming at her, she has made his day. Everyone wants to sell us something, this young lad just wants to see what all the fuss is about and is content with Dipali waving and smiling back at him. As the car pulls away, Dipali and her friend continue to wave until he is eventually out of sight.
The next stop on our drive is to Fatehpur Sikri, this will take about another two hours’ drive. This stop is a famous historical tourist site that I am excited to see which follows on from the Rajasthan royal era and Mughal empire. I saw a famous Bollywood film a few years ago which is about a famous Mughal Emperor known as Akbar. In the film they cover a brief outline of his life, his reign and how much he was loved by his people. The main focus of the film is his love story to a Hindu princess named Jodha. The joining of a Muslim emperor to a Hindu princess changed history in a positive way gaining wide admiration for the emperor. My reason for wanting to go to Fatehpur Sikhri is that I am a sucker for a love story.
Fatehpur Sikri is an ancient city which Akbar founded and built as a walled city. You will also find Jodhabai’s Palace which is the palace Akbar built for his queen. We are finally pulling into the main car park area located at the bottom of a hill which is the nearest point a car can get to, from here on you need to take a shuttle bus to the top of the hill or walk it if you feel fit enough. Ishveen asks Ranjit if he would like to join us, he declines and chuckles to himself which I wonder to myself why he found that so funny. The shuttle bus is parked and fellow tourists are boarding, we join and quickly grab a seat on the bus. The bus is now filled to its capacity with passengers sitting and standing. I thought that the bus would drive off now as he is completely full but nooooo! Our bus driver is looking to pile as many passengers on as possible to see if he can make us pass out. He finally moves off at a slow struggling pace, there is one man practically hanging onto the ledge, hitching a lift like Marty Mcfly in the skateboard scene from Back to the Future.
It is a short trip up to the entrance of the ancient city, there is a small charge to enter and if you don’t have a guide booked already then don’t worry, there is no shortage of guides outside! The guides are ready to swarm the tourists and offer their services and knowledge, you can bargain for the best rate. We decide to take one of the guides up on his offer, he is very persistent but only cost us all about GBP £5 each (USD $7). It is advisable to have a guide when visiting for a better understanding of what you are looking at and the history behind it all. Through our guide we saw the Royal Courts and Jodhabai’s Palace with all her private quarters. As we walk around our guide is telling us all the ancient stories whilst we snap away at the beautiful historical architecture. Whilst walking around we start noticing the heat of the sun is getting stronger and stronger, we are all starting to melt. I stop paying attention to the guide as I believe the sun is starting to cook my brains. There is a mosque that we saw from the outside but didn’t enter for a closer look as we have been in the heat for an hour walking around, to enter the mosque you are required to remove your shoes. The thought of walking across a hot floor is not on my agenda today, fire walking is something I need to gear myself up for! It is now so hot that it feels as if someone is blowing a hairdryer permanently in to our faces. We started the tour with a lot of enthusiasm and asked the guide lots of questions however the heatwave starts to make us lose interest and become a bit irritable. It is time to end our tour and let our guide move on to a new set of clients. I recommend the visit to Fatehpur however time it well, do not try walking around in the peak of the heat.
All we can think of now is the air conditioning in the car, I hope Ranjit has the AC so cold that there is frost developing inside. We find the shuttle to head back down towards the car park, there is already a pile of people squashing themselves into the bus and even sitting on the roof of the bus, basically any possible space available. I am already hot and all my clothes are soaked with sweat so the thought of rubbing shoulders with sweatier people does not seem too appealing. We decide (because we are crazy) to start walking down the hill. Part of our plan is to stop a rickshaw along the way to get us quickly back down the hill, we can then call Ranjit to meet us. It sounds like such a simple plan and we find a rickshaw very quickly and climb in however the driver is a little boy of about ten years old who has a sidekick sat with him who is another little boy of about 8 or 9 years. It doesn’t seem right or perhaps even legal but I am too hot to care, we ask these little boys to get us down the hill ASAP, their driving turns out to be better than some adult drivers that I know. We get to the bottom of the hill but cannot get a hold of Ranjit to collect us from this point, I start to wonder if I will be left here to cook! We start to walk some more, the car park is only a few metres away, as we walk I start to replay the conversation we had with Ranjit in the car inviting him to join us on our tour, his laughter when he declined the invitation is starting to ring in my ears, he knew that we would all cook alive in the heat, he was laughing at our stupidity. We finally found our car and Ranjit in the car park, I don’t think Ranjit recognised us, our clothes had wet patches, our hair is soaked with sweat and increased into a fluffy sweaty bush, and our faces are so red that it looks as if our heads would blow up. Ranjit let out another chuckle when he realised that the hot mess walking towards him was us. He unlocked the car for us which we all dived into, Ranjit of course looked as cool as a cucumber with the car and himself chilling in the shade the whole time. The three of us vowed to always trust Ranjit’s judgement.
The remainder of the drive is approximately another hour to Agra, before we know it Ranjit is pulling into the entrance of the Oberoi Amamrvilas, another stunning Oberoi property. The hotel looks like another palace, as you walk towards the lobby you will pass beautiful fountains and arches. As we approach the hotel I see signs pointing to the Taj Mahal but I didn’t realise how close the Amarvilas is to the Taj, the hotel boasts to have the very best view of Agra’s famous landmark. As we are being guided to our room I stop to take a quick peek through one of the windows in the lobby and gasp in excitement at seeing the best view of the Taj, I also find out that we have been upgraded to a premier balcony room which is the room you should always ask for. All the rooms at the hotel has a Taj Mahal view but to add the balcony so that you can sit out and look is a fantastic bonus.
I saw the Taj Mahal five years ago on my last trip which I did as a day trip from Delhi. We are spending the night in Agra and with the balcony and my exclusive view of the Taj, it has made me excited as if this is my first time. All the rooms in the Amamrvilas allow you to lay back and look at the Taj, you cannot help but feel mesmerised by your view. We have a tour scheduled this evening so we have about an hour to freshen up after our sweat fest in Fatehpur. Just before we head out to the lobby, Ishveen knocks on our door looking really pale and unwell, she asks if we would be upset if she skips the tour this evening as she is not feeling to good. Judging by the way she looks it wouldn’t be ideal for her to do anything but go to bed, we feel guilty leaving her however Ishveen reassures us that she will be fine after a rest. I am wondering if the heat wave has made her unwell, it was such a powerful heat and one that I have definitely not walked around in before.
Dipali and I reach the lobby and meet our guide who is waiting for us. He is a young guy who introduces himself as Anurag or for short “Anu”. I notice that he has a hint of an American accent so perhaps he has lived or studied in America. Ranjit is waiting in the car, we all set off and Anu turns to ask us what we know about the Taj Mahal and tells us some of the famous history. He seems pleased that we know quite a bit already about Agra’s famous monument, instead we ask Anu to tell us about himself. We find out that Anu did in fact live in the United States for many years working, hence the American twang in his accent. He would have still been living there but he had to return to India when his father fell ill so that he could look after his mother. I love getting to know people from all over the place and it breaks the ice and changes the atmosphere to feel like friends talking as opposed to Anu working for us.
My first time to the Taj Mahal I paid an entrance fee and walked inside and around the grounds visiting the Mausoleum and the famous Princess Diana bench. During that trip five years ago I remembered that behind the Taj is the Yamuna River and this has a huge garden on the other side. I thought that the view from the garden would probably be amazing so as this is my second visit to the Taj as well as Dipali’s we decided to visit from the garden side. The garden is known as Mehtab Bagh which means Moonlight Garden. If you are visiting Agra for the first time I do recommend doing a full tour of the Taj and perhaps the garden later if you have time.
The garden was built by Shah Jahan on the opposite side of the Yamuna River. There is a very small charge to enter the garden however if you want an uninterrupted view of the Taj which isn’t overcrowded with tourists, then I highly recommend visiting here. Time the visit to be around sunset, the view of the Taj is stunning but when that sun sets behind the Taj, it creates a glossy travel magazine image for you. We found a perfect spot and as the sky is turning from pink to orange to purple my camera is permanently snapping away. The tour with Anu turns out to be a double bonus, I am learning some photography tips as Anu is a photographer and helps me capture my images with maximum colours and allowing the sky to create the Taj in a silhouette effect. Our lighting is perfect as we are in time for the sunset.
The garden has such a nice feel about it that we don’t want to leave, we start to talk about all the epic stories that are attached to the Taj. The most famous story is the romantic story of how Shah Jahan built the Taj as a gift and a symbol of his love for his favourite wife Mumtaz. Shah Jahan was devastated when Mumtaz passed away giving birth to their 14th child, he built it as a final resting place for his beloved. There are many other stories and even conspiracy theories surrounding the truth behind the Taj however the romantic story is the favourite for most, let’s face it, we all love a bit of romance.
We set off back to the hotel but just before we arrive we take a quick detour to a bag shop to purchase a light weight overnight bag. Our next destination is Varanasi, we are travelling in and out from Delhi so have decided to send our bags ahead to the Delhi hotel and pack a small overnight bag, this also allows us to avoid paying for excess baggage, domestic economy flights in India have a 15KG allowance, any extra is at a small charge. We find a small bag and suit case shop; prices are very attractive for good quality bags. We find two that we like which we successfully haggle down to a reduced rate and then happily set off again towards the Amarvilas. Once we arrive back at our hotel we thank Anu for a great tour and run off to see if Ishveen is feeling better. Luckily Ishveen looks a lot better, the colour has returned to her face after a well needed rest.
We decide to dine at the hotel tonight, the signature restaurant is Espahan. This is the hotels speciality Indian restaurant set in a traditional Rajasthan palace setting, the lighting is dipped and creates a romantic mystical feel. Along with your dinner and located at the front of the restaurant is live classical Indian music which sets a perfect ambience while you dine. During the peak holiday season the restaurant can book up quite quickly so pre booking is recommended.
Because we are only at the Amarvilas for 1 night we didn’t schedule a show around so after dinner we decide to have a walk around the grounds and head to the pool area which is lit up in the evening. The Amarvilas is a beautiful resort and transports you away from the noisiness of the city. The grounds are very picturesque, there are arches and pillars that are also lit up around the pool, it has regal décor, allowing you to believe you are in a palace. We definitely have our Ishveen back as we all start to stand between the arches and pillars and take pictures, some serious and some not so serious pictures.
I wouldn’t recommend more than one night in Agra as you can see everything in one day however if you wanted an extra day to stay at the hotel and use all the facilities then this will offer all the relaxing comforts you need for a luxury break plus all rooms have a Taj view.
We call it a night and head off after another tiring day. I am really excited for the trip to Varanasi, our second to last stop in India.