Baby Taj, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo
Baby Taj, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo
Baby Taj, doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo
*repeat until insane*
Once upon a December, Sameer and I went to India.
Which was significant for me, because it was my first ever time there.
We spent a lot of time at his parent’s home, bonding with the cat, and eating the most delicious foods cooked by his mom. But we also did a short trip to Agra, Ranthambore, and Jaipur… so that we could see amazing things like this:
(doo-doo, doo-doo, doo-doo)
I was very lucky in the travel, because two of my BFFs from Germany had already engaged the Sameer Travel Services to plan their own Perfect Indian Trip in October. So from them, him, his mother, Chirag the actual-travel agent, and a few others, we already had a pretty good idea of what we could and should do.
In the end, we figured that this trip should prioritize family (plus Delhi), so it came down to a day and a half in Agra, a day in Ranthambore, and two days-ish in Jaipur.
Here’s how it began.
We got collected early by the driver, to try to get out of the Delhi city area as fast as possible. Lots of driving followed, until at some point we stopped at a small eatery. We weren’t super hungry, having already been given some delicious Poha (beaten rice with curry leaves, tumeric, peanuts and some veggies). So took just a tiny portion of Idli (fluffy steamed rice cakes that are the cousin of fluffy chinese bao), with sambar (lentil-based vegetable stew that leans towards ‘soup’ in consistency). I also decided to try some Chaas, which Sameer translated as ‘buttermilk’ but which I think is more accurately ‘sulfur lassi’.
Interesting to try, but while Iman may have convinced me with the Iranian Doogh that I actually do want salt in my yogurt drink, I fear that the sulfur of Chaas will never be my go-to flavour for refreshment.
We hit the road again, and made our way to Agra.
Our driver dropped us off at a hotel, where we were welcomed first with some red forehead dots, and then by confusion. It turned out that we were in very much the wrong place.
The driver was called back, we went to the right place, at which point he explained that he would no longer be driving us (confusing as we’d booked through the days), because of a family emergency, and that his ‘cousin’ would instead take over.
Slightly more confusion, Sameer called the travel agent, we all agreed it was probably fine, and we entered the second hotel, where the staff were confused by our already-dotted foreheads, but decided to add a bit of yellow anyway.
We settled in, went up to the roof to ensure that our Taj View hotel did indeed have a Taj View, and then were rejoined by our driver 2.0, who was actually very nice and also had a fancier car.
Our first stop of the day was Agra Fort, not to be confused with the Red Fort in Delhi.
Despite it’s attempts to be actually quite red:
For those of you who hate selfies, you’ll be happy to know that it’s fairly common practice to hire a guide at each of the individual sites. And while those guides can be pretty good at sharing the history of the location, and guiding you through to the best spots, one of their key roles also seems to be taking lots and lots of photos.
Our guide at Agra Fort was really good at making my legs look super long, and also took some of my favourite photos of us from the trip, so a big kudos to him.
Anyway, back to the entrance of the fort.
The Fort is strongly associated with India’s Mughal Empire, but existed before they arrived on the subcontinent. Barbur- the founder of the Empire, stayed there briefly, and then his son and heir, Humayun, was crowned there in 1530.
But it was Akbar (Ah, Akbar!) who made it his capital in 1558, rebuilding it from a rundown condition with red sandstone from Rajasthan. And then, for the next 80 or so years, it served as a key residence for the Mughals, until they moved the capital to Delhi in 1638.
The main tourist entrance has an outer gate (the back of it is shown in the left photo) and an inner gate (right- Amar Singh Gate), with the bit in between designed to allow the appropriate amount of greeting for the arriving Kings. The upper levels of the Amar Singh Gate includes windows, through which ladies can shower flowers upon welcomed guests.
To get properly into the fort, you then have to got through a fairly narrow alleyway, which our guide explained was designed to be particularly echoey, in order to prevent sneak attacks.
If anyone suspicious was found in the alley, water and oil could be conveniently poured on them from the pipes above, and boulders could also be rolled down the incline.
This building is the Jahangiri Mahal, built by Akbar to hold his various wives. If you peer closely enough at the photo, you’ll notice a huge bathing bowl (the Hauz-i-Jahangiri), famously made out of a single piece of stone and used by Akbar’s son Jahangir.
We went through into the building, and admired the beautifully detailed pillars and walls.
From there we headed to the two golden pavilions built for the two favourite daughters of Shah Jahan- aka 5th Mughal Emperor Taj Builder.
Our guide pointed out the secret windows (which you can’t notice from the outside), as well as the Taj Views….
… and then paused for a bit and checked with Sameer where I was from, before explaining that the British had removed all the gold from the pavilions, literally melting it out of the ceilings in the process.
The ‘Princess Pavillions’ surround the Musamman Burj, one of the most important buildings of the Fort.
An absolute stunner of a building, filled with intricate marble and inlay work, the Musamman Burj was used as a prison for Emperor Shah Jahan.
Our guide told us that his son decided to take over about the time that papa Shah announced a desire to match the large white marble Taj with an even more budget-breaking Belgium black marble building.
(which to be honestly, seemed not an unreasonable justification for taking over the reign in my opinion).
Shah Jahan spent the last 8 years of his life in the palace/prison, where at least he got a good view of his beloved Taj.
After spending some time admiring the pretty prison, we gandered at some gardens, stopping briefly by the Anguri Bagh (Garden of Grapes)…
… as well as Machchi Bhawan- a large garden area that apparently used to contain fountains, and was also the local market place for the women of the Fort (if the women can’t go to the market…)
Sadly, the Sheesh Mahal (Mirrors Palace/ Bathroom) was closed, due to past damage form tourists, so we could only sneak a look through the bars…
…. but we did get a longer look at the black onyx Throne of Jahangir.
And for me, a big highlight of the day (sorry history), was seeing this cannonball hole:
And this very happy bird who lived in it.
Other beautiful structures included Nagina Mosque:
And the Diwan-i-Khas- a fancy greeting place where Shah Jahan received courtiers and state guests.
This used to be quite opulent, containing an incredible Peacock Throne which original had the Koh-i-noor diamond in it (which I think was first yoinked across to Persia before ‘arriving’ with the Brits), as well as various other beautiful items that were plundered following the Indian Rebellion in the mid 1800s.
Overall, the theme of the fort (and many other things we saw), was a strong combination of ‘THIS IS INCREDIBLE’ and ‘But WOW what has been stolen from here….’
After the fort, we went across to the Baby Taj….
….which is actually called the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah.
The ‘I’timād-ud-Daulah’ part is a person- or more accurately a title, meaning ‘pillar of the state’- but in this case specifically refers to the father of the wife of Jahangir, fourth Mughal emperor.
(If you’re playing at home it goes Babur, Humayun, Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan, Aurangzeb….)
((It’s a royal family so things are not super linear. Papa Pillar of the State was not only the father of Jahangir’s wife, but also grandfather of Shah Jahan’s wife Mumtāz Mahāl (aka, the woman who inspired the Taj Mahal))).
The baby Taj is also refered to as the jewel box, I guess because of it’s quite small size, but also because of the incredibly intricate inlay work on the outside.
You just keep changing scale, and it gets more and more detailed!
The inside is also incredibly beautiful:
We also really liked the gatehouses on either side (I think maybe Sameer preferred them from the main event?), and spent a little bit of time waving down to a man who was standing on the edge of the Yamuna River below.
^does it looks a bit too much like I’m positioning Sameer by his neck??
And that was it, our first day in Agra.
We went back to the hotel and ate a very fancy Thali on the roof (which, theoretically had the Taj in the background)….
… quickly played ‘who looks like which Mughal emperor:
(I think I have Jahnigir down, but Sameer needs to still work a it on his Aurangzeb….)
And went to bed quite early, in preparation for a sunrise Taj.
Obviously, it would be wrong not to end on our favourite Burd-Derp with Taj photo:
20th December 2023