A different view of the Taj Mahal

Posted by Paul Ballen on 3 July 2012

I arrived in Agra, India in the early hours of New Year’s Day, on an overnight train that left from New Delhi at 4am. With celebrating the coming of the New Year, I was functioning on minimal sleep. However, I was relieved to be in a different city after spending over a week in Delhi which was chilly, polluted and very noisy.

I wasn’t expecting much from the city of the Taj Mahal prior to arriving there; it had been suggested to me by friends and fellow tourists that I shouldn’t even spend a night in Agra. However, knowing that my taste was distinctive—and because I wasn’t in a rush—I arrived in Agra with an open-mind, prepared to experience whatever it might offer.

My hotel rooftop overlooked the magnificent Taj Mahal, and from the early hours of the morning one could start to see the endless queues of people wrapping around the impressive structure. Knowing that the tickets cost a crazy 700 rupees—more expensive that my accommodation for the night—I decided that I would go to the Taj for sunrise the following morning and that day, would explore Agra.

After briefly flicking through my guidebook, I came across the recommendation that I a visit to Mehtab Bagh—a park built on the bank of the Yamuna River long before the Taj existed—would be worthwhile. I had to take an auto-rickshaw here but thought that it would be enjoyable to get away from the tourist areas. Here one couldn’t walk for two minutes without being hassled to buy souvenirs, ride a rickshaw, buy something to eat or hire a guide.

The gardens at Mehtab Bagh are aligned with the gardens at the Taj and the view from here is spectacular. Most tourists just see the amazing structure of the Taj—built in 1640—from the entrances on the west, south and east gates. They seldom see this special view. For me, looking at this marvellous place, on my first evening in Agra, in a peaceful, serene ambience definitely was a good alternative to experiencing it with mobs of tourists. It allowed me to appreciate the magnificent scale of this edifice.

This photograph was taken on that evening. While I immersed myself in the glorious views, I saw a girl in the distance, walking along the riverbank with a herd of wild buffalo. Noticing me staring at her in the distance, she smiled at me. I quickly picked my camera up to my eye and tried to compose the photograph. I wanted to capture the scale of the building, its beauty and to emphasize the ‘real’ India in contrast to what the average tourist usually sees and from the romanticised India that is stereotypical.

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