We were woken up at 5:30 by the muezzin calling the faithful to prayer.
Dashing out with only a single coffee inside me we managed to arrive at West Gate of the Taj Mahal by 6:45.
Immediately a man came up to us and offered to be our guide.
“Oh, here we go again,” I said.
He exclaimed, “Please sir, no hanky-panky here, I am official government guide!”
Already there was a long line, with men on one side and women on the other. The gate didn’t open until sunrise, listed at the ticket counter as 7:04 am.
At seven we were allowed to slowly trickle in, the slowness caused by an extensive search of all the tourists (hence the separate lines for men and women.)
We were further delayed by the presence of cough candies in Al’s backpack (no edibles allowed), along with a tripod, flashlite and a few other undesirable items.
Al had to take everything back to a locker room which turned out to be located a long ways away.Meanwhile, I was stuck in the outer courtyard, holding Al’s pack and heavy camera, along with mine. Since I wasn’t going anywhere fast I snapped a few shots of the sun rise over the grassy square, acutely aware that our sunrise at the Taj Mahal was already happening while I was just standing there.Another shot of the sun rising without me. I couldn’t even see the Taj from where I was standing – it was behind a wall and heavy fog obscured any distant views. Time was flying by while I stood and waited.Later Al told me that the locker room was so far away that he ended up hiring a bicycle rickshaw for the return trip. But it was uphill on the way back so the guy he hired walked the rickshaw the whole way, and didn’t save any time at all.
At least the line of early risers had already gone through by the time Al had returned. We were given shoe covers and a small bottle of water free with the outrageous 750R entrance fee.
While Al purchased the tickets I talked to a man who said that the shoe covers were a blessing. He had been here before and “you had to go check your shoes – a nightmare, half an hour to check them in and another half an hour to get them back.”
We raced through the gates but by the time we finally made it into the Taj the place was full of annoying tourists and lots of touts, locals who had only paid 20R to get in.First up was quick snap of the classic ‘tourist in front of the reflecting pool’ type shot… …then one of the Taj alone in the reflecting pool.
Then we hit the Taj itself and apparently all was not lost for as soon as they saw us the touts rushed out. One whipped the shoe covers out of my hands, opening them up for me to step into all the while muttering, “tip, tip”.
I snatched them back – they were only for the inside, not the grounds themselves, and the grounds were where another batch of touts were intent on leading us. They called out “this way, this way,” herding us toward the east side where the Taj was still aglow from the rising sun. “Taj all pink, sir, Taj all pink…”
I thought, oh great, 300 tourists with the same 300 photos of a rosy pink Taj, and the touts all hanging about muttering “tip, tip…” I took this quick close-up of the Taj with the sky stained pink behind it. Then we headed off instead to the west side, where the Taj was submerged in shadows. The Taj didn’t look as good here, coloured a dreary grey against a foggy background. But no one else was there, we were completely alone. Off to one side was another large building, made of intricately carved red sandstone, deserted except for a single monkey racing away.When we ventured into the building, a man appeared out of nowhere, wildly flapping his hands and pointing at our shoes. This was apparently a mosque we were entering and it was necessary to remove our shoes before we went any further.In our stocking feet we had to tread carefully around the pigeon droppings, taking several photos of the dim hallways. Coming out one of the arched doorway I saw the sun rising over the Taj Mahal, and took this picture. There wasn’t a single tourist in sight – all 300 of them were still on the other side of the building.And another a bit later. I guess I got my sunrise after all! More of our trip to Delhi, Agra and Rajasthan in 2010.