After a pretty good nights sleep at the Coral Tree (apart from a bit of intense dog barking at 3am!) we woke up at 7am & had a breakfast of banana, toast, spinach parcels & a fried egg. After informing our host about the lack of hot water in the shower, she told us that we need to press the big switch in the bathroom to activate it. This had been lost in translation last night through the housemaid so it was a relief to know for tonight & she also said that if the room was cold again, we could have a heater - result!
When we left the Homestay Mr Singh & our guide for the day, Rajkumer (son of king) Sharma were already waiting outside in the car for us, so after a quick good morning to the night watchman based outside the gate on a temporary bed (who appeared to have just woken up!) we wound our way through the dogs & the pigs on the street, got in the car and set off for the Taj Mahal.
The ticket office for East Gate is only a few hundreds yards from the Coral Tree, so within minutes, we'd bought our tickets (1000 rupees each, approx £8.00) and having passed through the security check point, were in the grounds of the Taj Mahal. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taj_Mahal
As you can see, the weather was quite foggy this morning but apparently it could've been a lot worse as visibility can be so poor at this time of the year that on passing through the main gate, the monument can be barely visible, if at all. Although I would have liked to have got there an hour earlier (but was talked out of it!) to be honest it would have probably been even foggier so I am grateful for what we did get & the crowds weren't too bad at that time either.
It turns out that as well as being a very knowledgeable guide, Raj was also a very keen & experienced Taj Mahal photographer and at every opportunity and to our immense amusement had us posing the cheesiest of poses to which you can now take the mick! We are actually very grateful as otherwise there would've been no decent photos of the two of us together otherwise, including the main blog photo which I love, so thanks Raj :)
The view we'd come for..
Due to heavy pollution in India, every few years the Taj has to be cleaned, hence the scaffolding. First they use a mud pack & then wash it off with a gentle soap & water mix. The difference between before and after cleaning is really noticeable when you see it but I just love the way some of the workers are wearing their hard hats but still have bare feet! Only in India...
It's only when you see the intricate detail of the inlaid gemstones within the marble of the Taj Mahal that you can appreciate just how many thousands of man hours went into creating this incredible shrine from a king to his favourite wife nearly 400 years ago. During the day as the sun rises & sets giving way to the moon, it changes from orange to blue/white due to the translucency of the marble from which it's made.
Normally I'm not keen on organised tours as they are an excuse to pressure you into spending money but Raj had decided that we should go and see how the ancient art of inlaying marble with semi & precious stones is carried out and as an artist this intrigued me. We were driven to Handicraft Marble Industries in Agra where most of the craftsmen are descendents of the original artisans of the Taj Mahal & we got to see them honing their craft which was nothing short of incredible. All the gems are hand carved to make up their individual shapes; some into tiny slivers, which are then inlaid into the perfectly matching chiselled out shapes in the marble using the same glue compound which is still being used over 400 years later.
the whole thing is then smoothed off to give a perfect finish. To see this being done on a tiny scale is amazing but then to imagine it being carried out on the scale of the Taj Mahal, it's no surprise that it is one of the seven wonders of the world.
After leaving the marble artists we went to go and see the Agra Fort but on arrival we took one look at the hoardes & decided we'd rather not!
These are views from the road!
After another very nice, curry based lunch, we left the restaurant & discovered the neighbourhood snake charmer had arrived outside with a very calm python & a baby cobra, still in training.
Shoes & Bags!
Having finished our sightseeing for the day, Raj went off home (with a 2000r tip) & on Lees instruction , Mr Singh was now on a mission to find him a shop selling good cheap leather shoes & possibly a back pack to replace the one he has with a snapped back strap.one that's back strap snapped. We'd heard that Agra loves its leather so we were hoping to snatch a bargain!
2 hours & 5 shops later, having been presented with every leather back pack, & pair of size 12s in the shops; with the staff becoming more keen, Lee becoming more annoyed & Mr Singh looking like he'd detached himself from his body - my fussy fiancé decided on two pairs of shoes having given up on his dream of the perfect bag, for now :)
Car full of happy bunnies, we took Mr Singh for a quick drink at a very nice hotel in Agra & then home for a veggie meal with the other guests.
I have more photos to add but can barely keep my eyes open so will add tomorrow!