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57 ~ Taj Mahal in the morning misty fog

Day 16 : See it reveal itself in the rising sun - with and without PEOPLE!


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One of the highlights of the trip that I was looking forward to was to see and capture through my lens the “cleaned up” Taj Mahal (Taj) just finished last year peeping through Agra’s famous morning winter fog and then see it reveal itself in the rising sun - with and without PEOPLE! I wasn’t disappointed.

With the alarm set for 6am / 06:00 it was a really early morning rise and a short 15 minute walk back to the Taj. To me the only advantage with the Amar Hotel was its location and closeness to the West Gate of the Taj.

In the darkness the newspaper sellers were sorting their papers before delivery.

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Sure, there was no queue at the left hand foreigner’s ticket window and paid my 1,100 rupees / NZ$22.90 / US$15.50 as I did not want to go back into the mausoleum or up to that level for the extra 200 rupees / NZ$4.20 / US$2.80.

The male foreigner’s queue already at 6.30am / 06:30 had about 100 people. Much worst still in the male Indian queue. I should have followed my instinct and got up a bit earlier as opposed told to leave the hotel at 6.30pm / 06:30.

At security, knowing from yesterday afternoon visit what I was allowed to bring in ... literally nothing so it was a breeze after a full pat down. The person in the next line had a flashlight inside his go pro stick and this was taken away. Yes, he had the option of going back out and putting it inside a locker. So pay heed as to what you cannot take in! The list is quite long including crayons that I read somewhere.

Here are the “Do’s and Don’ts” from the https://www.tajmahal.gov.in/do%26nots.html

Do's

• Tourists must co-operate in keeping the monument neat & clean by using dustbins.
• Tourists are advised to hire approved guides & photographers who exhibit their identity cards.
• Taj Museum inside Taj Mahal Complex opens from 10.00 AM to 5.00 PM, entry free.
• No Polluting vehicles are allowed within 500 mts. radius of Taj Mahal.

Don'ts

• Drone camera is strictly prohibited inside the Taj Mahal.
• Eating and smoking is strictly prohibited inside Taj Mahal. Arms, ammunitions, fire, smoking items, tobacco products, liquor, eatables (Toffees), head phones, knives, wire, mobile charger, electric goods (except camera), Tripods are also prohibited.
• Mobile phones are to be kept switched off or on silent mode.
• Please avoid carrying big bags and books inside the monument, this may increase your security check time.
• Photography is prohibited inside the main mausoleum.
• No Polluting vehicles are allowed within 500 mts. Radius of Taj Mahal.
• Avoid touching & scratching the walls & surfaces of the monument as these are heritage sites and need special care.
• Visitors are requested not to make noise inside the mausoleum.
• Above mentioned list of prohibited items along with mobile phones are banned for night viewing of the Taj Mahal. Video camera, extra batteries are prohibited though still camera is permitted after the security check.

With the moon high above, entered and in the distance the Taj was shrouded in fog.

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The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)

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One of the locals came up and said “I am not a guide but the caretaker. I can show you different angles of the Taj for you to take pictures”. So off I went with him. Yes, I knew what was happening so I let him point out to me where to stand using the trees to better frame the Taj. After a while I simply said that I have no money which was true as I only took with me the entrance fee … so off he went. We saw each other several times afterwards and he was doing the same “sales pitch” with other tourists.

Tried to get as many of the Taj and it’s 4 minarets framed by the arches and trees. Plus the angles that you don’t see in the brochures.

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The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)

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With the winter’s misty fog slowly moving in and out at different levels, it gradually got brighter and was a surreal experience.

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Come 7.30am / 07:30 the golden ball of sun finally rose behind the Jawab.

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Yes, I walked around the Taj many times trying to capture it from different angles but also took time to just sit, people watch of the ever-changing scene and take in the majesty of the place as the sun reflected off the newly cleaned building.

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Mosque

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A photo shoot was in progress in the mosque entrance.

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The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)

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Spent 2.5 hours here till 9.30am / 09:30 seeing the sun rise and the light changed ever so slowly on the main gate, reflecting pools from various angles, guest house, Mosque and of course the Taj Mahal itself in its various moods as the sun rose.

Gary Arndt of “Everything Everywhere” wrote …

https://www.facebook.com/EverythingEverywhere/

Everything is familiar with the Taj Mahal. Many of you may have even visited it.
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Almost every photo you see of the Taj Mahal is the same. It is a symmetrical image of the structure taken directly in front of it, most probably from the exact same spot where I took this photo.
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I’ve seen many people try to take this same photo, and the results aren’t the same, even though they stood in the exact same spot that I did. Here is what you need to do to take the perfect shot of the Taj Mahal:

1. Make sure everything is symmetrical. This is where most people screw up. They align everything, so it is almost symmetrical, but not quite. The way to ensure that it is perfect is to make the the reflection of the spire in the central dome is aligned with the fountains in the center of the reflecting pool.
⠀⠀⠀
2. Get there early. The doors opened at 7am the day I was there. Depending on the time of year, they might open earlier. Officially, they claim to open 30 minutes after sunrise. I showed up at 5:30am to make sure I was first in line, which I was.
⠀⠀⠀
3. Run or walk briskly to the first gate where you will see the Taj for the first time. You have about 100m to cover and there will be other people behind you in line. You don’t have to run, but you do need to be quick. Everyone else with you will want the same shot.
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4. Be prepared. When you get to the railing past the gate, that is where you will get this shot. If you are one of the first ones there, you will have a few minutes where you can photograph the building without any people in the image. Have all your settings set beforehand. You probably won’t have time to mess with a tripod. This photo was not shot with a tripod.
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5. Once you get this shot, then you can relax a bit. People will be streaming around you and the grounds will start to fill up. I’d head to the building to the right of the Taj where you will be able to get images of the Taj through an archway. Walk around the exterior of the building and get your shots in the early morning light before you decide to enter.
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6. If you have the time, consider going across the river to photograph the Taj in the morning the day after. If you are lucky.

Had to leave around 9.30am / 09:30 as breakfast service back at the hotel finished at 10am / 10:00. So, after a quick breakfast was ready to leave before 10.30am / 10:30 for the next sight.

Posted by bruceontour 01:42 Archived in India Tagged taj taj_mahal Comments (0)

56 ~ Taj Mahal at sunset : Agra

Far too busy with too many people in front of me


View India 18 - 19 on bruceontour's travel map.

Now 2.30pm / 14:30 and continued the short 35 km / 22 miles distance through to Agra.

With the traffic it was 3.30pm / 15:30 when I checked in at the 3-star Hotel Amar, my only 3-star hotel on this trip. I forgot that in India to be a 4-star hotel it has to have a pool. Yes, the 4-star hotels that I stayed at with pools were nice, but it was winter and I didn’t want a swim so perhaps 3-star hotels would have been enough. Never mind.

Sanjay was the local guide for Agra and he was waiting at the hotel. Sun was about to set in a couple of hours so no time to waste at the hotel.

Little needs to be said about this architectural wonder which is always the soul raison-de-etre for every tourist’s visit to Agra. Built by Shahjehan, the Taj Mahal (Taj) is a white marble memorial to his beautiful wife Mumtaz Mahal.

This is what Lonely Planet has to say …

Poet Rabindranath Tagore described it as 'a teardrop on the cheek of eternity'; Rudyard Kipling as 'the embodiment of all things pure'; while its creator, Emperor Shah Jahan, said it made 'the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes'. Every year, tourists numbering more than twice the population of Agra pass through its gates to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of what is widely considered the most beautiful building in the world. Few leave disappointed.

The Taj Mahal was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. The death of Mumtaz left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey virtually overnight. Construction of the Taj began the following year; although the main building is thought to have been built in eight years, the whole complex was not completed until 1653. Not long after it was finished, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort, where for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here alongside his beloved Mumtaz.

In total, some 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building. Specialists were brought in from as far away as Europe to produce the exquisite marble screens and pietra dura (marble inlay work) made with thousands of semiprecious stones.

The Taj was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983 and looks nearly as immaculate today as when it was first constructed – though it underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century.

Entry & Information

Note: the Taj is closed every Friday to anyone not attending prayers at the mosque.

The Taj can be accessed through the west and east gates. The south gate was closed to visitors in 2018 for security concerns but can be used to exit the Taj. The east gate generally has shorter queues. There are separate queues for men and women at both gates. Once you get your ticket, you can skip ahead of the lines of Indians waiting to get in – one perk of your pricey entry fee. It's possible to buy your tickets online in advance at https://asi.payumoney.com (you'll get a ₹50 discount for your troubles), but you won't save much time as you still have to join the main security queue. A ticket that includes entrance to the mausoleum itself cost ₹200 extra.

Cameras and videos are permitted, but you can't take photographs inside the mausoleum itself. Tripods are banned.

Remember to retrieve your free 500ml bottle of water and shoe covers (included in Taj ticket price). If you keep your ticket, you get small entry-fee discounts when visiting Agra Fort, Fatehpur Sikri, Akbar's Tomb or the Itimad-ud-Daulah on the same day. Bags much bigger than a money pouch are not allowed inside; free bag storage is available. Any food or tobacco will be confiscated when you go through security, as will pens.

Inside the Grounds

From both the east and west gates you first enter a monumental inner courtyard with an impressive 30m red-sandstone gateway on the south side.

The ornamental gardens are set out along classical Mughal Charbagh (formal Persian garden) lines – a square quartered by watercourses, with an ornamental marble plinth at its centre. When the fountains are not flowing, the Taj is beautifully reflected in the water.

The Taj Mahal itself stands on a raised marble platform at the northern end of the ornamental gardens, with its back to the Yamuna River. Its raised position means that the backdrop is only sky – a masterstroke of design.

Purely decorative 40m-high white minarets grace each corner of the platform. After more than three centuries they are not quite perpendicular, but they may have been designed to lean slightly outwards so that in the event of an earthquake they would fall away from the precious Taj. The red-sandstone mosque to the west is an important gathering place for Agra's Muslims. The identical building to the east, the jawab, was built for symmetry.

The central Taj structure is made of semi-translucent white marble, carved with flowers and inlaid with thousands of semiprecious stones in beautiful patterns. A perfect exercise in symmetry, the four identical faces of the Taj feature impressive vaulted arches embellished with pietra dura scrollwork and quotations from the Quran in a style of calligraphy using inlaid jasper. The whole structure is topped off by four small domes surrounding the famous bulbous central dome.

Directly below the main dome is the Cenotaph of Mumtaz Mahal, an elaborate false tomb surrounded by an exquisite perforated marble screen inlaid with dozens of different types of semiprecious stones. Beside it, offsetting the symmetry of the Taj, is the Cenotaph of Shah Jahan, who was interred here with little ceremony by his usurping son Aurangzeb in 1666. Light is admitted into the central chamber by finely cut marble screens.

The real tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are in a basement room below the main chamber.

https://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/agra/attractions/a/poi-sig/356509

With the foreigners window only having a person in front of me, tickets were quickly brought, picked up the complementary shoe cover to protect the marble floors and bottle of water.

For once, I did not mind segregation. You will have a totally different experience at the Taj depending on whether you purchase a “High Value Ticket” (as all foreign visitors seem to), or a “General Ticket.” This begins from the very moment you walk in the door to the main courtyard: High Value Ticket-holders slide into the yard in minutes, while the General Ticket line stretches for blocks.

The same applied with the queue entering the Taj Mahal mausoleum itself.

Sanjay had already told me earlier what I was allowed to take in so was prepared for a quick entry through security.

It was far too busy with too many people in front of me at the main gate to fully enjoy that magnificent first view of the Taj itself.

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After its year long clean up completed last year, it was wonderful to see it in the distance.

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The Great gate (Darwaza-i rauza)

So, after the briefing from Sanjay and taking the usual photos of pinching the top or lifting the Taj, I was again let loose.

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Thereafter, visit the Taj Mahal mausoleum and on with the disposable overshoes to protect the marble floor. As for people not allowed to take photos and no noise inside ... you guessed it … they were!

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Two red buildings flanked the Taj. The mosque and Jawab. Definition of a Jawab is a building (as the false mosque of the Taj Mahal) erected to correspond to or balance another. Read that it was the guest house.

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Lotus Pool – named after its lotus shaped fountain spouts, the pool reflects the tomb.

It was the refection in the blue pools in front of the Taj and the main gate that really captivated me, hence so many images. How to take it? From up High or down Low? Centre down the middle or from the left or from the right?

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Then there was that iconic 1992 Princess Di seat photo, but I had my legs going the wrong way. Plus, there were two marble seats and Princess Di was sitting on the lower one, not the one that I was on.

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Just look at the changing light and eventually see the people leave. It was busy when I got there. Again mainly local Indian tourists.

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There wasn’t much of a sunset to speak of today which was a shame. Originally Sanjay said the place closed at sunset. Then he wanted me to meet and leave at 5.10pm / 17:10 but no … I had come all this way and decided to stay to the bitter end when the gates really closed at 6pm / 18:00. Really glad that I did.

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On the way back to the hotel, off to see a marble inlay workshop and you got it ... it was so that I could buy some souvenirs which was not going to happen.

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Being New Year’s Eve, it was a compulsory dinner at this hotel. Let’s just say the menu was not to my liking. Plus, I was placed by an open drafty door that I asked to be closed many times, which it was then re-opened … Plus I pad 1,800 rupees as part of the hotel package yet the brochure I saw had just 900 rupees. So, what’s up? Who’s making 100% mark up? Or is the 900 rupee coupon part of the 1,800 rupee package?

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Posted by bruceontour 23:14 Archived in India Tagged taj taj_mahal agra Comments (0)

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