The 128 km journey to Agra was uneventful but boring on a this time existing four-lane motorway with a lot of traffic and dull landscape around us. Despite the headwind that usually picks-up heavily at around noon we arrived on time before it got dark and were positively surprised about how easy it was to get into Agra – a multi-million metropolis – and to find our guesthouse: always straight for about 8 km, then right for another few kilometers and there it was, tucked away in a lovely garden with birds singing, but unfortunately fully booked. Luckily they had another hotel close-by – this time with Taj views, where we checked in.
The Taj Mahal was clearly meant to be the highlight of our trip nearly at the end of our Indian journey. It is about 400 years old, completely built from marble and above all a monument to romantic love. Shah Jahan built the Taj to enshrine the body of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died shortly after giving birth to her fourteenth child in 1631. The emperor was devastated by her death and set out to create an unsurpassed monument of her memory. A workforce of some 20,000 workers from all over Asia completed the works in twenty years.
Sadly the Taj faces serious threats from traffic and air pollution, and from the millions of tourists who visit every year. While rain and wind don’t harm marble at all, it has no natural defense against sulphur dioxide that lingers in a dusty haze. The main sources of pollution are the many highways surrounding the city and the 1,700 factories in and around Agra. Despite laws demanding the installation of pollution-control devices, a ban on all petrol- and diesel-fuelled traffic within 500m of the Taj Mahal, and even an exclusion zone banning new industrial plants from an area of 10,400 square kilometers around the complex, pollutants in the air have continued to rise and new factories have been set up illegally.
The monument is certainly one of the most beautiful we’ve ever seen, however, it wasn’t as breathtaking or overwhelming as we had expected. I believe that this is just because our expectations were so high and we’ve seen so many monuments in the meantime. But don’t worry – we really liked it and if you are ever around, make sure you don’t miss Agra and the Taj Mahal and make it part of your personal bucket list.