I decided, in a moment of madness, to rent a bicycle to get around Agra in the middle of the day. Following a spurious location on Google Maps out to a run down residential area the locals looked with bemusement at this wayward tourist trying to swerve down narrow lanes without ending up in drainage gulleys. After an hour in the midday sun I managed, light-headed, to get to the rooftop café and my first sight of the Taj in the distance.
Rehydrated I headed off to the Agra Fort where apparently my great grand uncle served in the Royal Irish Regiment in the Fort back in 1911 so it was unusual to be walking around imagining an ancestor doing likewise over a hundred years ago.
The fort itself was a mix of palace and military centre but the barracks and most additions by the British have been removed at this stage but moving around the huge red sandstone fortifications and through the royal audience areas and gardens which afforded glimpses in the distance of the Taj itself.
On my bike again I headed to Mehtab Barg – a set of gardens on the opposite bank of the river to get my first up close view and a wonderful one at that. The garden was almost empty save for a few Indian families and local kids off school for the summer holidays. This lot were all excited for a selfie (a word I’ve found is truly global).
The Taj itself was built by Mughal king Shah Jahan as a mausoleum for his third wife Mahal who died in childbirth with his 14th(!) child. Heartbroken he set out to build what in today’s money would be a $800m tomb which was completed in 1653. And it has stood there as a testament to love and loss ever since.
The best way to visit is for early morning sunrise before the heat of the day and the day-trippers from Delhi have arrived. I got up at 5am and made my way down to wander in with no queue. The place was almost empty when I arrived at that most famous of views. It really is a goosebumps moment to see these views almost completely by oneself.