We chose not to stay in Agra itself but hired a driver from Jaipur to go for the day. Be sure to leave early if you don’t stay overnight to beat the crowds. We arrived at the Taj Mahal at 930am and there was no queue. In the winter fog season it makes little sense to do the sunrise tour. Take a guide to fill you in on the well rehearsed anecdotes and take the ‘essential’ photos. Give yourself extra time to wander the grounds at your own pace afterward, else it can feel a bit rushed.
It does not matter how many times you have seen pictures of the Taj Mahal, standing in front of the building herself stops you dead. The effect of the white marble against the sky backdrop is transcendent. The site is at the same time both bigger and smaller than you imagine, the mausoleum itself is a narrow dome while the main building is flanked by four towers and many other buildings, one is the mosque. The attention to detail in the design was extraordinary, using inlay techniques for the precious stone designs.
Agra’s Red Fort gives you another view of the Taj Mahal, where the king who had it built was imprisoned, to see his creation only though a haze from his window. He must have wondered if it was a mirage. The fort itself, if rather overshadowed by the Taj Mahal is well worth a visit. Its red sandstone facade and greenery makes a sharp contrast to the cold white of the Taj Mahal. It had a large military role but also was the palatial home of many rulers with their white marble living quarters clearly visible in the center.
We ended our Rajasthan tour in the Ranthambhore Tiger Reserve. Home to a rare, silent, India. We stayed at the Ranthambore Regency which we would highly recommend for its service and value. Pack in as many safaris as you can – we did four over three days. We were extremely unlucky not to see a Tiger but this is the wild. There are many more sightings in the summer when sources of drinking for the Tigers get more scarce so consider this in your timing. Despite our disappointment we thoroughly enjoyed the safaris. The terrain was beautiful and each track was diverse – sandy or hilly, scrub land or wooded. We saw many different species of wildlife including crocodiles, turtles, samba deer and many many birds; owls, vultures, kingfisher among them. The safari was a break from our holiday and showed us another side of India altogether. The air was still and we were engulfed by the sounds of the jungle, not the people.