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Travel Blog- The Taj Mahal- story of the perfect shot and more..

In 2020, my son had planned to visit us in Mumbai from the USA around April/ May before plunging into his internship. But then the pandemic broke in April 2020 and all travel plans got cancelled and the wait became longer. Now finally after two and a half years as his Feb-end 2022 travel date drew closer, the Ukraine-Russia war broke out. We held our breath and kept our fingers crossed. Luckily for us, United Airlines held on till the day after he arrived before suspending their direct flights to Mumbai. 

Besides catching up with friends and family, the visit has been planned around his work visa stamping appointment which he managed to get only at the US Embassy at New Delhi. Since he had a gap of two days between the biometrics and his visa interview, we decided to convert this into a family road trip to visit the Keoladeo Bird sanctuary at Bharatpur, Fathepur-Sikri, Taj Mahal at Agra and back to Delhi.

Although I was born in Pune, due to  my dad working with Coca-Cola at New Delhi,  my pre-school and KG happened in Delhi, way back in the late ‘60s. Since then, during the growing years of our kids, we have visited Delhi more than a couple of times. Since we are foodies, during any visit to Delhi, a visit to Bengali Market or Nizams at Connaught Place (CP) to get our fill of Delhi Kachori, Dahi Bhalla, Papdi Chaat,Lassi and kebabs is a must. However, beyond the street food, so far we have managed to do only day trips to Agra and back, which becomes a rush-rush and gets hectic. So this time, to be able to do justice, we planned our visit with overnight stays at Delhi, Bharatpur and Agra. At Delhi, since we were putting up at Chanakyapuri, we were in the heart of Delhi. We were a stone’s throw from the embassy enclave, Raj Bhavan, India Gate as well as within Uber’able distance of Pandara road. So we decided to make the most of it before pushing off for our round road trip. We grabbed a Kebab’s dinner at Gulati’s at Pandara Road.

The next day, all of us being running enthusiasts, we decided to do an early Sunday morning jog. We choose a circuit taking us past the Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block down to India Gate. Besides the monuments, we were lucky to get peacock sightings as well.

We did a quick visit to Jantar Mantar before we started off from Delhi post lunch. 

Enroute Bharatpur, we decided to take a detour via Vrindavan to get a taste of its pedhas and the Chaat Chowpati rather than for its temples. We were at Bharatpur just after sundown at around 7 pm. We had booked the RTDC forest lodge which is right on the outskirts of the sanctuary. As we arrived at the gate and as we were driving towards our lodge, we spotted a big fat,  10 to 12  feet long python, sluggishly making its way across the road. The python had probably gulped its meal and was making its way to a safe place to settle down to digest. I thought this sighting was a precursor to an exciting start to our visit to the Bird sanctuary. The next day we planned to take the cycle rickshaw around sunrise into the sanctuary. The sanctuary was created 250 years ago and is named after a Keoladeo (Shiva) temple within its boundaries. The park was a hunting ground for the Maharajas of Bharatpur, a tradition dating back to 1850, and duck shoots were organised yearly in honour of the British viceroys. In one shoot alone in 1938, over 4,273 birds such as mallards and teals were killed by Lord Linlithgow, then Viceroy of India. More than 300 species of birds (http://www.birdersinn.com/birds-checklist.html) are found in this small wildlife park of 29-sq-kms of which 11-sq-kms are marshes and the rest scrubland and grassland. It is a Ramsar site as well as a World Heritage Site. The cycle rickshaw drivers are very knowledgeable and also double up as your guide. Since my better half is a serious hobby photographer, she had carried her D-SLR camera, while I had made arrangements to carry binoculars for the trip. The ideal time to be able to catch the migratory birds is Jan/Feb when Flamingos and Pelicans arrive in hoards. Even though it was closer to mid-March, we were happy to have been able to spot Painted Storks, Indian Darters, Pied Kingfisher, White-breasted Kingfisher, Indian Peacock ,Spoonbills, a variety of Herons & Egrets, a variety of Ducks, fruit bats on a tree, Pelicans, Owls and Antelopes and lots more during our 4-5 hour ride around the sanctuary.

In the afternoon, we drove to Agra via a brief stop over at Fatehpur-Sikri. The plan was to reach Agra in time to catch the sunset at the Taj Mahal. Since the visitor entry to The Taj Mahal starts / stops half an hour before sunrise and sunset respectively, our real challenge was to be able to catch a spot which will give us a clear shot of the Taj Mahal with the setting sun in the same frame. My wife had done her research and had zoomed down on the Taj Yamuna View point, a spot behind the Taj Mahal on the banks of the Yamuna. This spot is known as the Taj Yamuna view. This can be accessed from the road which goes past the west entrance of the Taj Mahal and leads to a Shiva Temple on the banks of the Yamuna. There we were lucky to find a boatsman willing for a five hundred rupees bakshish to take us on a ride along the river which gave us a billion dollar shot.

The next on our agenda was to catch the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. In order to save time from queuing up to buy tickets, we had opted to buy tickets online. Next day we scanned on  google for the sunrise. It was at 6:34 am. We reached the Taj Mahal western access point at 6:15 am and had to take the electric buggy for the final 800 metres. On arrival, we were pleasantly surprised to be allowed entry without tickets. It was 8th March, International Women’s Day It seems thrice every year the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), which manages all monuments, allows free entry across monuments, the other two being 18th April (World Heritage Day, announced by UNESCO and the 19th Nov (Beginning of the World Heritage week). We rushed into the precincts of the Taj Mahal and made our way along with other photography enthusiasts to the Mosque on the left side. Amongst everyone scuttering to find the perfect place to get the perfect shot, were a few pre-wedding photoshoot parties with bride and groom’s  in tow. We finally managed to settle down in time for our clicks. At that time of the day, without the crowds milling around, you have the Taj very much to yourselves. This makes it look magnificent and much more endearing.

Next we drove across the Yamuna to Mehtab Baug to get a clear view of the Taj Mahal in its full splendour without any obstructions.

To know more about the story behind the Taj, foreign tourists are highly recommended to visit the Kalakrithi to experience Mohabbat the Taj, a 2 hours of creative dance and light show, on the lines of a broadway in the USA. 

With all the must do items on our list ticked off, we drove back to Delhi for the final leg and signed off on a memorable trip having taken lots of photographs and of course having packed some Gujjia’s, Pedha’s from Vrindavan, Petha from Agra and memories to cherish for a lifetime. If you are planning to visit the Taj, I will strongly encourage you to plan for a break journey with an overnight stay at Agra to experience the sunrise and sunset at the Taj. Or better still, plan your visit on a full moon night which will give you a really unique experience of enjoying the real beauty of the Taj Mahal with the white marble glowing in its full splendour under a full moon light. Cheers !

Acknowledgements- My Friends Ashish Parulekar and Sheetal Nagle for being a solid member of my blog support team.
P.S To read my other blogs on Cricketing / Corporate Tales, Start up stories, Covid Times, Friends, Family and Marriages go to the Home Page

Published by Salil Datar

Eager beaver , enthusiastic but amateur blogger !!

2 thoughts on “Travel Blog- The Taj Mahal- story of the perfect shot and more..

  1. lovely post salil, perfect description of all the places with historiacal references. Now you r not an amateur blogger…..for sure. keep blogging…my best wishes.

    Like

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