Taj Mahal from Our Window

Mumbai Taxi

Well, this was an annoying day up until our arrival in Agra, so I wont dwell too much on all of the negatives that finally gave way to our romantic vacation within a vacation. Up at 6:15, tender boat around 7:25 (Indian standard time guaranteed its late departure, like everything in India), couldn’t find the car, got ripped off getting a taxi to the airport, a rushed ride to the airport in 2 legs – 1 out of the shipyard and the next being shuffled to another van on the side of the road in Mumbai….incredibly annoying security at the airport whereby a TSA-type’s failure to stamp a bag almost resulted in us missing the flight (see, going through security isn’t enough – your bags also have to all be stamped and what do you know?? they forget all of the time!!). Very long flight to Delhi, a check of our boarding cards as we were getting OFF the flight (there is no trust between the Indian officials), met with a delayed departure to Agra on the other end. Flight supposed to be at 1:40pm, somehow posted on the board for 10:45am then posted as 5 hours delayed, which = 3:45pm….which was not even correct either as the flight was even more delayed due to weather (not a cloud in the sky….). 50 minute flight to Agra, landed in front of a tiny airport with 1 flight per day, and finally greeted by our driver from the Oberoi holding a “Mr & Mrs. Di Gregorio” sign and presenting us with waters and cool towels from a cooling compartment in the SUV. Now – that’s better.

Our driver told us lots about the city of Agra as we drove the 25 minutes from the airport to the hotel. Agra is a small Indian city, which means there are only 2.5 million people. The city is spread into 3 areas and we were currently in the army’s area, the area of the airport/airbase, meaning this area had more money and was therefore nicer than the rest of the city. It did seem nice in comparison to Mumbai – it was very clean, had a smaller feeling and didn’t seem too overwhelming. There were tuktuks everywhere and our driver showed us the line of about 50 tuktuks waiting to use one of the two CNG stations within Agra. Arriving closer to the Taj Mahal, there were more Western stores and restaurants – the requisite KFC of course – and small Taj Mahal themed hotels. We pulled closer and closer to our hotel and were permitted past a gate that no other vehicles except those to our hotel can cross. Beyond the gate, only electric powered vehicles are now allowed because some time ago they figured out that pollution makes the Taj yellow. People don’t want that.

Oberoi Dancers at the Taj Mahal

Entering the Oberoi was like entering our own personal palace. There was staff dressed in traditional Northern Indian-type uniforms ready to open doors, bow to us like in a yoga class (“namaste”) and carry anything that may be too heavy, which was basically anything. There were large lion statues wearing orange flower necklaces. We were greeted with a welcome drink, more moist towels and were shown to our room. We completed the checkin process in our room, and our staff guide was thrilled to open the balcony doors to a perfect view of the Taj Mahal and a traditional Indian music and dance show going on at that exact moment. It was just magical to all of a sudden see such an iconic landmark right in front of us while listening to a live sitar and drums. The air smelled fantastic as well, a first for India, and the sun was very close to setting off to the left of the Taj. Wow, just wow. I had high expectations for this side-trip and I’m happy to say that everything surpassed what I had envisioned.

No zoom lens needed.

We made a dinner reservation for 7:45 in the Indian restaurant within the hotel, Esphahan, which was quite small although very romantic and classy. There was beautiful music playing as we entered and we had a choice of 2 tables…off to the side or by the music. By the music? Oh, yes, of course…that music wasn’t a cd at all but rather a live hammered dulcimer player sitting on a small platform about 3 feet from our table. It wasn’t too loud or anything, just enough to be romantic and to feel like you were in some rich person’s home for dinner. The service was top notch, most evident by them bringing over a separate stool just for my pocketbook so that it wouldn’t touch the floor.  We dined on a tandoori kebab sampler, complementary spicy Indian soup, chicken biryani and a prawn dish in a curried coconut sauce. All with garlic naan of course. Dessert was 3 types of gelato and we topped off the meal with some Indian wine, which was very nice with the flavorful food. After dinner we walked around the grounds a bit despite the cold. It was all very romantic and a very magical 🙂

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