Agra & Tordi
We left Varanasi on an overnight sleeper train to Agra the home of the Taj Mahal. Our train was to be 12 hours but it wouldn't be a proper experience without a delay which was 6 hours for us, so after 18hours on a stuffy train we were pretty happy to get off it. If you are doing a sleeper train it can be hard getting seats together but make sure you are there early as there is a rush to get luggage stowed in your area, some people bring the kitchen sink with them so space can be minimal.
One saving grace was peaking a sight of the Taj from the train window. It gave us all goosebumps as we nerded out on what we would witness the following day. Before that though we had Agra to explore so we freshened up and headed out for a bite to eat. We went traditional and headed to a South Indian restaurant. Apparently South Indian food is dryer than north India which is more curry based. Needless to say you need a translator for the menu or else the fate is in the gods. One of the most prominent item on the menu were Dosa. These are rice paper wraps with curried potatoes, onion, garlic in the middle, it was yum. We have the other dips as well, pickle, coconut yoghurt, and chilli. It was so tasty I'm going to try make back in the uk. I was persuaded to order the paper dosa which I think is a parody to dosas see photo, most are a normal size!
After lunch we headed to the Agra fort which was absolutely amazing. This fort was the main residence of the mogal empire in the 1600’s used as a walled city when Agra was the then capital of India. The terracotta vibrancy sends an energy that almost burns you, especially in the heat. As you weave through the high gates and entrance you walk along a rough cobbled path to the main buildings.
During our visit we only cover 1/4 of the plot as some of the fort is still used by the Indian army today. It is massive. We explored various buildings used by the families, the wives, mistresses and emperor. They shifted between terracotta buildings to marble all with overwhelming detail. There are also a number of optical illusions which make it a lot of fun to play in! We got a good view of the Taj here also.
After the fort we split up, one group headed to a garden area at the back of the Taj to watch the sun set on it, while myself and two others headed to nerd out at a building which is known as the Baby Taj. Named so as it inspired the Taj Mahal. I was built by the Mogal empire in 1622 in just 6 years which is astonishing. The building is a tomb and a number of outbuildings which proportionally synchronise the tomb in the centre. While the outer buildings are impressive in themselves it is only as you approach the centre of the site to the tomb you become awestruck. The structure is built from marble but is encrusted with inlays of other materials like onyx and topaz.
We really enjoyed this and learning the Mogal story about its creation. It was close to being one f the highlights of the trip and a wonderful preamble to the main event. We ate street food this night which was interesting... I had a potato curry pot and then a type of tomato Dahl with fried bread. Most food in India is fried which can be waring.
We headed home to prep for the visit we had all been waiting for - the Taj Mahal
Visiting the Taj Mahal is popular, so you need to go early! We wanted to be one of the first people there. They open the doors 30 mins before sunrise so we headed out 1hr pre sunrise, and joined a queue of about 50 people. By the time we were entering, the queue behind us was massive. You can't really take many things into the grounds and it's quicker if you don't have a big bag to search, I just brought a camera as they give you a bottle of water with your ticket. It's quite funny as you go through there's a mad rush to get there, no one looks at any of the other bindings or the entrance gates which are lovely too. We all were giddy with excitement and trying to wake up our faces to get our money shot photos! Turned the bend under the entrance we see the Taj is the dusky fog - wow - got to get a closer look at this! We headed to the main platform to take our photos along with the world and its uncle, but we got some great shots. Funnily there were a number of tourists at a particular bench they thought was the princess Diana bench however apparently it is the one behind but for some reason everyone always thinks it's the other one! There was certainly a lot of fanfare around it. We each took just over an hour to explore the grounds and go into the Taj. We went into the Taj which is a bit of a queue and a walk around the tomb while it isn't as impressive as the exterior I still found myself almost in tears, overwhelmed by the beauty, the scale and the story.
The Taj Mahal was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan (reigned from 1628 to 1658), to house the tomb of his favourite wife. In today's money would have cost over $800m!!
I could have stayed all day here but alas we were on the road again to a village called Tordi 7 hr drive away.
Tordi Who knew I would one day stay in a palace! Well tonight was the night, we rock up to a small village at sundown after learning all about the caste system on the ride down. We were to be guests in the old disused palace of Tordi! The white building had lots of twists and turns up to the best roof terrace which I sneaked some yoga on the following morning.
We went to bed early as yet again we wanted to be up for sunrise so at 5.30 we all left to hike up to the fort at the hillside of the town. Unfortunately it was a cloudy morning so not he best sunrise but nice to have chai masala and biscuits from the top. After playing with the drone we headed back down and did a village walk it learn more about the caste and history of the people who live in Tordi. Historically Tordi had been a village home to untouchables which isn't really on a caste system, they were deemed unhealthy, unhygienic so other people would avoid them. This perception came through the work they would do which no one else in society would do such as cleaning. They were ostracised in society making it very difficult for them to make a living. As we walked through the village we saw signs on some of the houses which indicates that the family received a government grant to build a bathroom in the front of the house, something which is not common in the society. More and more the government is trying to provide these grants to those most in need. We also met a potter and some of us had a go with limited success! Before long it was time to get going again to the much awaited Jaipur!