The road out of Delhi did not let us escape easily. It was hot slow going compounded by a smoggy start to the day. Thankfully the roads, although busy, were quite wide and reasonably maintained so after a while we escaped the city and progressed towards Agra.
When we got to Agra the traffic got very heavy again and frustratingly hot and slow. The driving in India was the worst we have seen on the trip so far, particularly the small white Tata cars which everyone seems to be buying up as the economy of the country slowly improves. They arrive very quickly at your back door, beeping and flashing before slamming on the brakes at the last possible moment. It was almost a relief to sit in a traffic jam again as it meant things happened more slowly although we were starting to work out how to get through it.
The lorries sit in the right lane to avoid the motorcycles in the left lane. The cars swerve around everything to make progress, but can‘t bully the lorries out of the way so they overtake them on the left, harassing the bikes in the process. There is the odd random crossroads where you would expect people coming across to give way, but they don‘t. It seems to be a test of who has the most nerve with lorries and buses again doing what they want. The best strategy in traffic seems to be to use the right lane, overtake lorries on the left and watch out for fast moving cars coming from behind. They still come close even if you are sitting up behind a lorry, expecting you to move in and let them past whereupon they have to undertake the lorry anyway.
After nearly driving into the Taj Mahal restricted area we found a hotel as recommended on Horizons Unlimited. There was motorcycle parking inside the hotel as suggested, but it was a challenging ride round a tight turn and up a ramp and a second ramp placed on some steps. I could not reach the ground while on the bike so got off and walked the machines up in first gear. Merijn had no problems at all with his longer legs and we all got parked up ok.
We arose very early the next day to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise before the crowds arrived. After some waiting around for tickets, while also getting harassed by the touts, we went inside. The first part was a paved area that led to a magnificent red stone entry gate. We stepped through to get a view we have all seen many times before in photos or on TV, only now we were actually here. It was surreal to feel we knew this place but had never been here. With the few people here it was possible to get some nice photos as we walked up to the building itself.
Inside was the interred remains of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan and his wife (for whom he built the Taj Mahal in her memory) Empress Mumtaz Mahal. No photos were allowed inside but the central area held what looked like two marble coffins although I heard one guide say they are actually buried in the basement. These coffins were surrounded by marble latticework, thick smooth and handcarved. As I touched the warm walls I felt that the ornate patterns were raised from the rest of the wall, they were not painted on but were actually inlaid semi precious stones of varying different colours. It was a beautiful work of dedicated craftsmanship with no flaws to be seen anywhere, even 400 or so years after it was completed. It seemed like a very beautiful final resting place though I wondered if it was a peaceful one with the hoards of tourists arriving each day (just like us). Helen pointed out that maybe that was the idea, to maintain the memory though.
After some nice food at one of the restaurants near the exit we returned to the hotel for a nap before extracting the bikes to head on to Bharatpur.