Not completely bored of local non-air conditioned buses (they are so luxurious after all), we jump on another local bus to the sleepy village of Abhaneri. Two and a half hours into the trip, the bus stopped on the side of the highway. It felt like in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, a fifteen year old “super roomy” Mahindra sport utility vehicle was waiting to bring us to our destination. A complete step back into time, water buffalos roamed the roads, families slept on cots outside of their clay formed homes and mud and rubbish was everywhere.
The purpose of this stop was to visit the incredible eighth century Baoris step wells. The wells were used to collect rain water for the dry season in the desert-like landscape. Hollywood was inspired by the setting using it for a scene in the Christian Bale Batman Dark Knight Rising movie but we only learned that after visiting. The truth is they are mind boggling! Mark said to Christine (with his arm hairs standing up) “I think these may be more impressive than the Colosseum in Rome”.
Meanwhile, back in the hotel room, we melt as our travel thermometer is registering a temperature of 35C with the ceiling fan running. Mark has four cold showers!
The next day, we bus three hours to Agra, home of the Taj Mahal and dare one of us say, the equally impressive “Itimad-ud-daulah”, also known as baby Taj. Agra itself is underwhelming. In fact, when one thinks it is the city (1.2 million) that welcomes visitors from around the world and rakes in millions of tourist dollars, one could understandably shake their head in disbelief. Once again, garbage is everywhere, roadways are in disrepair, sidewalks do not exist (or at least where we stayed), cows roam freely, there are no traffic rules and green algae grows in puddles beside the road.
We take a bus to Mehtab Bagh, a park built across the river from the Taj Mahal. More of a bush garden with fantastic views of the Taj Mahal, it offers little else for the $4 CDN foreigner ($0.20 domestic tourist) entrance fee.
En-route and literally meters from the majestic Taj, we are saddened by sights of thousands of people living in poverty in conditions we would never be able to cope with and have no ability to describe properly. This city makes so much money off tourism, where is it going?
The Taj Mahal, well, is the Taj Mahal.
A bit overrated? Maybe we have been travelling too long and we have seen too many fascinating structures? On this visit, garbage surrounds the marble base area, staff sit playing games on their cell phones, the museum is closed and maintenance crews are seen sweeping rubbish off the walkways and onto the grass. Google Taj Mahal and you have seen what there is to see. Bonus, you will save $20 CDN per person – a complete rip off in our opinion.
Alternately, Itimad-ud-daulah, or Baby-Taj impressed with delicately sculpted marble lattice screens.
It was built before the Taj Mahal.
It was the first of its kind to be built completely of marble, the first to be built on the banks of the same river as Taj Mahal and the first to use a large amount of pietra dura.
In summary, not to be missed and a true beautiful piece of architecture.
…Christine and Mark
($1 Canadian (CDN) equals approximately 50 Indian Rupees (INR))
- Itimad-ud-daulah Entrance (Baby Taj) – 200 INR, $4 CDN
- TaJ Mahal entrance – 1000 INR each, $20 CDN
- Mehtab Bagh Park entrance – 200 INR, $4 CDN
- Costa Coffee chai latte, large – 189 INR, $3.71 CDN (+18% tax)
- McDonalds – McChicken 87 INR, $1.70 CDN. Paneer sandwich meal 162 INR, $3.18 CDN. Brownie sundae 69 INR, $1.36 CDN (no beef burgers in India)
- Hotel Karan Villas – $32 CDN