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Agra India: Home of the Taj Mahal

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/04/2016 Kimberly Cantor

It was a day of travel. We had a flight out of Varanasi back to Delhi and then we were driving down to Agra straight from the airport. When you make planes, trains or automobile reservations (especially in India), you always know in the back of your mind something might go wrong (or at least not in your favor) but deep down inside you are hoping and praying it all works out. In the long run, it all worked out; however, we had a few minor (what seemed like major at the time) road bumps.
I booked our flight almost two months ago. Who knew, that the very day we were to leave Varanasi, the Prime Minister of India was to arrive. Yes, the Prime Minister. An equivalent would be if you decided to fly into a relatively smaller US town on the same exact day and the same exact time as President Obama. I mean, I know he has Air Force One but imagine if he didn't. Imagine if he landed on the same runway you did. The security was so intense, our cab was searched four times before we even got into the airport. Our flight was delayed thirty minutes then forty five minutes then one hour, when we eventually took off two hours later. Totally not a big deal, I know, except we had a driver waiting for us at the airport.
The journey down to Agra from Delhi is apparently notorious for being extremely foggy at night (wish I would have known that earlier). We landed at 6:15pm and didn't get on the road until closer to 7pm. Our driver, Mr. Mekesh, mentioned he had done this route "many, many, many times" so we were in good hands. Hearing that made me feel at ease. I can put my feet up, continue listening to Shantaram on audio and just enjoy the drive. That was until the fog started to roll in. And I mean roll in. As if there were a thousand Casper the friendly ghosts, all holding hands, hip to hip, cheek to cheek, surrounding our vehicle. We looked out the window to the left, nothing but white. We looked out of the window to the right, nothing but white. We looked out the back, nothing but white. And the scariest of all, was when we looked out the front, nothing but white. How are we ever going to make it 5+ hours in this weather? Might as well be driving blindfolded since you can't see what's coming straight at you. I was scared out of my mind (a Xanax would have been much appreciated at this point), especially since the fog didn't stop the drivers from passing each other every other minute. To top it off, Mr. Mekesh had to keep his window half way down to avoid the inside fogging up so it was freezing. Probably 40 degrees freezing. We were tired, cold, and full of anxiety. What a joyful combination of feelings.
All of the intensity went away though when we finally arrived at Aman Homestay around 12:30am, in one piece (minus a little less enamel on my teeth from shivering and clinching). And I know he's not reading this, but major props to Mr. Mekesh - you go boy. If I was in control (which you all know I love to be), I would have pulled over 15 minutes into the drive and waited till morning. But this is what they are used to. It's like riding a bike to them with their eyes closed. Either way, we survived. Hip hip hooray!
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The next day was a day that I had been dreaming about for many years. The day we were to see the infamous Taj Mahal in person. A lot of blogs I read prior to coming to Agra suggested you should visit during three different points - sunrise, 9am and sunset - and we were prepared to do just that. But when we woke up, it was so beyond foggy still. Vinny could see it on my face how sad I was. I'm sure the Taj Mahal is stunning, night or day, sunshine or clouds, but did I really just travel all this way and might not have the chance to see it in the majestic light I had always envisioned? I know, poor Kim. For the next few hours, I was sending myself positive vibes. I was singing to the sun gods (and you all know what a soothing voice I have) hoping to catch some rays. Around noon, I found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The fog went bye bye and the sun came out to play. The smile on my face stretched from ear to ear and my heart was dancing to the local Indian music blasting from down the street.
Our homestay was located a short ten minute walk from the Eastern Gate. We bought our tickets, which were 750 rupees each, and set forth to catch a free bus that took us about five minutes up the road to the main entrance. It turned out to be such a beautiful day, quite perfect in fact. The sun was shining, the birds were chirping and the Taj was waiting to welcome us with open arms. It was the first time since we arrived in India that we saw the sun. Yay for us! Thanks Grandma for making that happen. As we made our way through the archway, inching closer and closer with each step, we finally made it to the enormous grounds that surround the Taj. It was the AHHHAA moment I was expecting. The sun was perfectly hitting the white marble and it was mesmerizing. Absolutely exquisite. You couldn't help but stare, with your mouth open, drooling in awe. Not only is this monument breathtaking in a visual aspect but it's a love story, which makes it that much more special.

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It was so nice to just sit down, stare at the Taj Mahal, enjoy the landscape of multiple gardens and flowers, people watch and truly soak in where we were. We are just so lucky to be here, at this very moment, together.

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After a handful of hours, we decided it was time to move on so we stopped at The Oberoi hotel to catch the sunset and grab some tea (pinkies up of course). What a magnificent hotel this was. From the moment we entered their gates, it smelled of money. Beautiful fountains, traditionally dressed employees, stunning design and a very welcoming approach. I've been hearing about this specific Oberoi for a handful of years now because my dear friend Ashley, who lived in India for four months, was certain she was going to get engaged here. It's quite a funny story and I now know why she was under that impression. It doesn't get any more romantic than sitting on the balcony, watching the sun go down with the Taj as the main attraction in the background.

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We sure felt complete after this day. The Taj was truly a wonder to see and I highly recommend adding this to your bucket list. It won't disappoint, I promise.
Later that night for dinner at Aman Homestay, we met an adorable girl named Tia who is from San Francisco. She was traveling alone for six weeks (2 weeks in Sri Lanka, 2 weeks in India then 2 weeks in Nepal). She had impeccable style and charm. I think I have a crush (don't worry Vinny, my heart still belongs to you).
The Taj Mahal is the main attraction in Agra so most people come for a day or maybe a night but we stayed for three nights simply because we don't want to get burned out too quickly. It was nice to go at a slower pace.
The next day was pretty uneventful, which was fine with us. We visited the Agra Fort, walked around town a little, I talked to my friends Melissa and Kari as well as my sister via FaceTime (gotta love technology!) and hung with the family who owns Aman's Homestay. Always so lovely to learn about how people get to where there are today.

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Oh, and we added more animals to our already incredible list - water buffalo, donkeys and horses (but you've seen horses so I'm going to skip showing you what they look like if that's okay). Animals are just everywhere. Instead of going to your local zoo, buy a ticket to India and see them in their natural habitat (assuming money does grow on trees).
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And I just love monkeys so I wanted to share a few more photos.

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That's it from Agra, cheerios!
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Author kimvinny2016Posted on January 27, 2016

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