Since I have not travelled in the past three month, the worm inside me was biting me continuously to quench its thirst. So in order to satisfy it, I called Barun to check if he is in mood to go around for a day or two. He showed enthusiasm on my idea and we opted for Agra. The day of Saturday was finalized, and I was supposed to pick him up from place at Vasundhra Enclave, Delhi.
I started from my place (Vaishali, Ghaziabad) at 11:30 am on Saturday and picked him up. I drove from Vasundhra Enclave to Noida and then headed towards the Yamuna Expressway. I have heard a lot of stories about bursting of tyres at Yamuna Expressway. I deliberately kept the air pressures of my car tyres at 28 so that I may not lend into any such situation. We all must be aware that with motion of car, the tyres gain heat and with increasing heat the air pressure inside the tyres increases, and the rise of pressure beyond a certain level lead to bursting of tyres. The Yamuna Expressway is a state-of-the-art highway prepared and maintained by Jaypee Group with broad lanes clearly demarcating the rows for low, medium and high speed vehicles. The entire highway was separated from the surrounding cities and villages with heavy fencing at the ends of road. It was a stretch of 195 kms from Noida Sector 37 to Agra.
The expressway was so nicely built, that to my surprise the ten year old machine start gliding on the expressway at the speed of 120km/hr. The first toll came after covering 100 kms where we came to know that there are only two exit points—one at Mathura and the other at Agra. We quickly decided that we will first cover Fatehpur Sikri so paid the toll of Rs. 220 for Mathura. Soon after making the payment, the barricades moved upward and following it we moved ahead, but find the man sitting at the toll counter shouting from behind. We ignored his shouts thinking he must be calling somebody else and did not bothered to stop and finally ended up paying the penalty of ignoring his call at the next toll gate which came almost after next 50 kms when the attendant at the gate asked us to show the receipt of the toll that we have paid at the earlier gate. We recalled that the GENTLEMAN was shouting because we have missed to collect the toll receipt, so we again paid Rs. 110 for Mathura exit. After exiting the expressway we reached Fatehpur Sikri after crossing Bharatpur bypass.
Just two kilometre before reaching the destination, a group of 2–3 boys stopped our car on the pretext of municipality toll, and told us that we have to pay a municipality tax of Rs 10 for moving ahead from that place, and then would have to park the car in a parking one mile far from the Fatehpur Sikri and from there took an auto to reach the monument. They also told us that parking the car and hiring auto to the monument will cost us Rs. 200, but all these hassles can be avoided if we hire any of these guys as they are government certified tourist guide and will bear all these cost for us and help us in describing the details and history of the monument in just Rs. 300. We gave it a thought and decided to hire a so-called guide, and took one of these guys along in our car. After travelling ahead, the boy made our car parked in vacant place behind a shop (It seemed it was the shop of some of his relative or friend) which obviously was not an authorized parking spot, then he made us sit in an auto which took us to the monument. Reaching there we realized there were parking places in nearby places too, and the guy has fooled us to make money.
After taking the tickets, we entered the monument from Buland Darwaza, a mighty 54m tall gate which stands for its name. At the gate we were asked to remove the shoes, must be because of the dargah inside.
The major attraction at the Buland Darwaza was a dozen of honey bee hives, clearing showing the ignorance of management and Archaeological Survey of India towards the ancient monument.
Soon after entering inside, the Dargah of Saleem Chisthi was visible. The Dargah was made by the king Akbar in the honour of Sufi Saint Saleem Chisthi who made him blessed with a baby. The Dargah is made up of white marble and all the offerings made in the Dargah are used for the welfare of poor students and widow ladies residing in Fatehpur Sikri.
Apart from Dargarh the entire monument was made up of red sandstone—a stone available readily available in the surrounding places of Agra. One could easily imagine the glorious day of mughal empire by seeing the entire monument which was made in Indo-Mughal Style.
Since it was 6:30 pm by the clock, we decided to move towards Agra in search of shelter for the night, it took us around 45 minutes from there to reach Agra. We have planned to stay in some economical hotel and the only place where we could find it was near railway station. We reached the station of Raja ki Mandi , where you will find a number of economical hotels in a row. After hopping from one hotel to another, we zeroed to Hotel Pal at Rs.600 for a night stay. We checked in the hotel and parked the car at nearby railway station’s parking as the Hotel authorities were not taking the responsibility of looking after it :-( . The next mission was to look for a place to eat. After seeing a number of restaurants and dhabas, we decided to explore the thali at Chokho Jeemon—a vegetarian restaurant on the other side of the road of our stay. Even though Barun seemed to be in the mood of having some botis, he too got convinced after seeing the service of the restaurant and believe me the WORTH will be an understatement for food and hospitality of the waiters. After the dinner, we came back to the hotel, chit chatted for sometime and slept.
Next day we checked out of hotel to visit Taj, and as we were approaching Taj Mahal, a number of people stopped our car seeing the Delhi number plate, and tried to lure us on some pretext or other. Some said, “Bauji, Taj Mahal se 4 km tak koi parking nahi hai, main apki car bhi park kara dunga aur auto se le chalunga” -“Sir, there is no parking within 4km of Taj Mahal, I will get your car parked and take you there in the auto”. We overheard all those guys and parked our car at Shilpgram parking, buy tickets from the counter, hired a battery cab in just Rs 10, that dropped us close to Taj. Battery operated cabs hop between authorized Taj parkings and Taj Mahal.
Reaching there, we were welcomed by a long queue of tourists getting restless to see one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The guards were checking the entry tickets of each visitor and randomly asking for identity proofs of tourists (There was no standard rule for checking authenticity of individuals). Soon after entering, there were rooms made of red sandstone which used to be the rooms of guest of the Shah Jahan, made in almost the same manner as the ones in Fateh Pur Sikri. After entering a huge gate, the sight of marvel made of white marble got visible. The Taj is magnificently built structure of equal dimensions from all four side and even its distance from the mosque at both its sides are at same length. The entire dimensional symmetry of this architectural marvel is a treat for viewer’s eyes.
We walked down the aisle leading to Taj which was quite well maintained but was disappointed to see the upkeep of the parks in the premises. Overgrown bushes, littered leaves, washed-off grass was a clear sign of the efforts put in by Archaeological Department of India in the upkeep of the Wonder. The sight of Taj was getting better with every marching step towards it, and after reaching close to it we too realized the reason of calling it a wonder. One has to remove shoes before entering the Taj, because it is a mousoleum where the body of Mumtaj Mahal was buried, which later became the grave for Shah Jahan too. Photography inside the Taj is not allowed due to security reason but I did not see anybody bothering about these instructions and the entire lot of tourist were getting mad to take the photographs of Mumtaz and Shah Jahan’s mosques. Inside the Mahal, it was sad to see the name of love birds engraved on the walls of Taj. I wonder if this is the plight of Taj Mahal, what one can expect inside other not-so-famous historical places.
The ventilation inside the Mahal was amazing and we did not feel the need of more air while we were in. We stayed in the verandah of Taj for half an hour, enjoyed the cool breeze of air coming over the Yamuna at its periphery and then decided to visit Red Fort or Agra Fort.
On reaching Agra Fort, we parked our car in the parking, took the tickets and when we were about to enter the 96 acre fort ( also known as the “Lal –Qila” or “Qila-i-Akbari”) a group of tourist guides surrounded us saying “Sahab guide kar lo, itni door aaye ho qilae ke baare mein jaanoge nahi to aane ka kya fayda”. We too realized that they are making a vital point and decided to hire one, and one of them offered his services in Rs 400 which after much negotiation broke only Rs. 50. Soon at the beginning, he told us that it will not take more than 45 minute to have a complete round of the fort including the briefing of the places from him. After getting inside, we realized the fort is quite big and it cannot be covered in just 45 minute, but Mr. Guide make us run behind him giving us short and crisp overview of the places of historical importance. Unsatisfied with his company, we paid him the agreed amount and decided to have a relook at the entire place on our own.
After spending two hours inside the fort, we went to the famous Panchhi Petha Store and bought some varieties of Pethas, and had our lunch in a restaurant. By the time we finished our lunch it was 3 by the clock, so we headed straight towards Itmad-ud-daula.
Itmad ud Daula is the very first tomb in India that is entirely made out of marble. It was built in the memory of Mir Ghiyas Beg, a minister in the court of Shah Jahan. The tomb also symbolizes his journey from rags to riches. Ghiyas Beg was a poor merchant and lived in Persia. His wife gave birth to a daughter whom he wanted to kill or get rid of her as he had no money to feed her but the persistent wails of the infant changed his heart. The baby girl brought a stroke of good luck to her parents, for Ghiyas Beg found a caravan that straightaway took him to the court of the great Mughal Emperor, Akbar. After Akbar’s death, his son Jahangir became the Mughal emperor, and made Ghiyas Beg his chief minister or Wazir. Ghiyas Beg was also honored with the title of Itimad-ud-Daulah or the pillar of the state.
Jahangir fell in love with his widowed daughter who processes unspeakable beauty. She was later christened Noor Jahan and went down in the history as one of the most beautiful and artistically gifted women in the world. Jahangir conferred the title of Itmad-ud-daula or ‘Pillar of the Empire’ to his father-in-law. Noor Jahan ordered the tomb after the death of her father in 1622.
From outside, when you take a bird eye view, Itmad-ud-daula looks like a jewel box set in a garden. This tranquil, small, monument also inspired the construction of the Taj Mahal in the later years.
There were hardly any tourists inside, and the tranquility was adding more beauty to the monument. Some Irani travellers were singing carols in front of the mosque of Ghiyas Beg which was very pleasing to ears.
We spent some quality time there before we started our journey back to home. I entered the toll road of Expressway at 5:00 pm and reached my place by 8:00 pm after dropping my friend.