Our first day in Agra was spent at its Red Fort and honestly, it was my favorite part. It’s the sister monument to the Taj Mahal and just as intricately decorated… just less crowded, which is always nice.
The fort itself is more of a walled city and was ruled by Emporer Shah Jahan in the early 1600s. When he became ill, his son decided to take over the throne and had his father put on house arrest as the only thing he cared about toward the end of his life was building the Taj Mahal for one of his wives and himself to be buried in. From the room he spent his final days in here at the fort he could watch over the construction of the Taj.
The next day we woke up at 5am to get our spot in line at the Taj Mahal! The best times to see the Taj are at sunrise and sunset, obviously (like with most world famous monuments) sunrise will always be less crowded… But we were still in line for a while as everyone’s bags were being searched and had to go through metal detectors. Since the Taj is evidently the main attraction bringing tourists to the country they take its safety VERY seriously.
Lines are separated between men and women when entering the Taj Mahal which is where I noticed an American girl in full Indian attire, hands covered in Henna… but it wasn’t really that part that caught my attention. She had a huge bag and the guards were telling her she couldn’t bring most of her things in… which is when she said, “God, I’m about to punch someone in the *** face.” If you’re traveling to a new country it makes sense to want to wear a few pieces of the local garb, to try and fit in and take some unwanted attention away from yourself. BUT if you’re going to deck yourself out in a full saree just for your crappy Instagram post and can’t even respect local customs and rules you probably shouldn’t be traveling at all. Please, I beg of you, if you’re planning on traveling for the first time… DON’T be like this girl, don’t make all us westerners look like a bunch of assholes!
Another disturbing sight at the Taj was when some locals which I guess were considered “untouchables,” were beaten with sticks by guards and told to make way for the tourists as we walked to the space they were in. I mean, these people seemed like they were there for their own spiritual reasons and they were being chased away just so that we could get a photo. The caste system is very strong in India, and for me it was a little hard to see so blatantly.
For a different view of the Taj our guide got us an auto rickshaw which we took to his friend’s hostile, there we had this view (above). I really love this shot because it gives you a real sense of what the country is like. Yes, the monuments are beautiful but the rest of the city lives in poverty… and these homes are actually REALLY nice compared to some of the shanty towns we saw, people literally living in shacks made of tarps and cardboard boxes.
Our last day in Agra we asked our guide to take us to see a real village, somewhere no other tourists would be and so he took us to his friend’s farm. This experience was much better than the Taj, in my opinion. We got a tour of their home and all the local children came to say hello, even though they were all super shy. One of the fathers said “they’re very excited, it’s their first time seeing white people.”
Here we learned what everyday life is like in India, we learned that almost everyone there was a vegetarian and that the entire family lives together in the same house. There were three or four generations living together in the house we visited. They were very warm, inviting, and wanted to show us EVERYTHING!
At first India was very shocking. There were cows roaming freely, pooping wherever they’d like, and I mean WHEREVER- so watch your step! The traffic was AWFUL, think downtown Los Angeles during rush hour with NO RULES. But when I think back, I’m glad I saw it for myself. I’m glad my idea of India is what I saw with my own eyes. Yeah, there were sad parts, there were parts where we felt sick… uncontrollably sick… but in a way, it was like seeing the world for the first time. The grittiness of life for real people… people that actually seemed pretty happy just as they were and they wanted us to know it. I’m not sure if I’ll be back to India at any point, but if you consider yourself a traveler, this is a place you must explore. It’s that raw, unprocessed perspective of life that I think we’re all searching for.