I have visited Agra and Mathura during the last week. I took the AC Volvo bus from Panickers Travel of Delhi. The bus was pretty decent and the service was also very prompt. The bus arrived to my pick up point near Scindia House (escorts Office corner ) of Delhi exactly by 6:00 AM as scheduled. They provided good water and cool drinks as a refreshment. The AC in the bus was OK and bus stopped at a decent hotel for breakfast. I was watching the road traffic and the scenarios of fast moving tall trees, trucks and autos packed with people. The sun was s harsh and people were covering their head and nose with clothes.
Before visiting Taj, we went to the Agra Fort. The guide explained the history of the fort, the king's palace, court and the swimming pool used by the ladies. The glimpses of Taj at a far distance could be seen from this fort. The sun was so harsh that we were always thinking of going back to the bus, rather than listening to the details narrated by the guide.
We were taken to the official UP government's handicraft emporium. The salesman explained the way how the paintings were done in the marble pieces by studding precious stones. Three workers were doing the art and a practical demo was seen. Taj miniature made of real marble stone was demonstrated by passing a light through it. It was informed and proved by him that in fake marbles light will not enter. We went to a nearby hotel called Amar. This is a decent hotel and we enjoyed the curd rice and the brown dal very well.
While travelling towards Agra, we saw many small depleted houses, debris, dust and un-clean remaining of the river. It is sad to note that the approach to the world's wonder was not kept clean by the local authorities.
Panicker took us to South gate of Taj instead of entering through the 13th gate which is very much nearer to the parking place. We were told that South gate was near the cloak room and easier to retrieve any items recovered from us like knife etc. But it was painful to walk a long way in the scorching sun towards the south gate . After entering the gate, the first sight of Taj through the gate was astonishing. We were told that it took 22 years to build this magnificent marble building as the work took place only during the light and not in the night. We could imagine the logistic issues faced those days when the transportation facilities were very less.
The photographers and the souvenir vendors nag you as you enter the Taj. The sales trick is that a free photo from your camera would be taken first and then they will press you for a professional (?) photo from their camera. I tried with one of the photographers suggested by Panicker for a single photo. He took two snaps of us at the same place. I thought he took the snaps twice, to make sure that the photo should come properly . But when we came out we were given both the photos ( one horizontal and one vertical) and were charged for both (Rs.60/- for each). There were more crowd and lot of demand for taking photos by sitting on the marble bench before the Taj. But one has to take care of his seat (?) while posing in the harsh son and the heated bench!
We had to remove shoes and run to reach the Taj Mahal's entrance. This was a horrifying exercise in the noon when the sun was at 46 degrees. It reminded me of the festival in our Tamil nadu Village where the devotees had to run over the fire pieces to prove their divinity (Thee midhi thiruvizha) ! Some people returned back not venturing the walk with bare foot.
However, as an Indian, it was a proud moment for us that we were at last at the great mahal which is a symbol of love.