I didn’t know there’s a place called Agra. What the world knows is a tomb called Taj Mahal.
It was late afternoon when we arrived after a long hours of drive from New Delhi. Crossing the long bridge covered by rays of the feisty sun – It looked like a gloomy painting while watching the black birds flying over the bridge, and there was I seated excitedly looking forward to see the famous Taj Mahal.
And we moved to town proper, where combination of beauty and human imperfection resembled. Self-realization stroked my thoughts – I was heading to see the most beautiful thing built by human, yet, also to see the most unacceptable consequence of modern civilization, poverty. I have seen same faces of poverty in my own country, but this time, it stroked my inner sensibilities, because I was not expecting to see jolly underprivileged kids and old folks again, not in a majestic place, Agra.
The mood changed when I entered the regal Jaypee Palace Hotel, I felt like a royalty, a prince perhaps, greeted by a servant in a regal-looking Indian dress. When he slightly vowed and said Namaste, I thought I was in a different dimension. The memories I have seen earlier were suddenly erased by a different picture of Agra, a place of luxury, a hidden paradise from a vulgar reality just a few meters away.
After dinner, it was time for us to experience the real Agra. So we went out at night, rented an Indian tricycle for 600 rupees (450 pesos) that brought us around the city. It was 7pm; the weather was cold, where some parts of India were snowing. Most of the city streets were dim, but we felt very safe. I got my first haircut in a traditional Indian barbershop; they were surprised having their first-ever Filipino customer, and ahem, they thought I looked like the famous Shahrukh Khan. The highlight of the night trip was our everlasting curiosity of beefless McDonald’s and KFC’s, both still served fried chicken.
And here’s the highlight! We woke up early in the morning and started queuing around 6am at the entrance of Taj. Tourists from all over the world flocked to the gate waiting to see a revelation of what human creativity can offer, in the name of love. It was guarded by high-walls and fortresses, decorated by small minarets. The huge uncovered gate inside the complex, which looked like a window from a Persian palace was the final entranced to the Taj. From the outside, I got the magical glimpse of Taj, slightly covered by mysterious fog. The view starting from the gate was heavenly-like. It was more than magical, it was surreal, but it was real.
My admiration for Taj was never ending. The symmetrical garden took my breath-away, it gave a superb excitement on what to expect inside. When I was nearer to the Taj, I felt it was a gigantic artistic creation that fell down from the sky. It’s twice the tall of Manila’s CCP. The Qur’anic calligraphy all over the mausoleum was extremely out-of-this-world creation, not even a genius can ever do that kind of art, style and dedication.
Taj Mahal was only a glimpse of what Agra can offer. Not so far away was another UNESCO heritage, the Agra Fort or the Red Fort, it’s a huge-walled-city, where inside were former palaces of Muslim emperors. It’s the place where Emperor Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj was kept in prison by his own son, due to differences in religious thoughts. He was kept in a room, where he could see his beautiful Taj Mahal. Upon entering the Fort, I realized that those huge walls and huge gates of kingdoms and walled-cities I have seen in LOTR trilogy, Troy, Gladiator & other similar movies were all real.
Suddenly, I was facing an ancient city. It was unbelievably perfectly organized and planned city on top of the hill. It was another world-heritage site, the Fatehpur Sikri, where small palaces of the emperor’s wives – one Hindu, one Christian and one Muslim lived together in a community. Each palace represents a tremendous showcase of ancient art, design – a replica of their religious beliefs.
Agra is guarded by gigantic walls, composed of different walled-cities. From Agra’s golden years until today’s overly-meaningful world, Agra still manage to give beauty, inspiration, and the opportunity to learn knowledge from the past – it’s triumph, it’s sorrow, and most of all, the immortal power of love.
I almost forgot the hassles and haggles outside those gigantic walls. #
The traditional Indian barber shop. They put too much ointment, but it was really fun
My friend with the tricycle driver
The hotel at dawn
Early morning scene outside Taj gate
Friends in front of the grand gate to Taj
Look at that amazing view from the gate’s door
And that’s me
And another me doing the jump shot
Our head shot. LOL
Look at the Quránic verses, inside and outside of Taj
And me doing some stupid pose
At the back of Taj is a river
The symmetrical graden, a view from the Taj
The Agra Fort
The huge gate of the Fort
This one is like a scene in a Hollywood movie
Indian school boys bumming in Agra Fort
Watch out for Indian paparazzis, they will secretly take a photo of yours, and when you go out, there is no way but to pay and take that photo as a souvenir
At Fatehpur Sikri
One of the ancient drawings of the Hindu wife
The city center of Fatehpur Sikri
Amazing interior of a restaurant where we had our lunch