Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Jostling for position

Sometimes being a tourist is a contact sport worthy of its own Olympics.

You have this idea of being "at one" with an amazing site, and having the time and space to soak it all in.  In reality, you're deploying your elbows, and manoeuvring into position ready for combat.

This was how I experienced the Taj Mahal in Agra, India.

Don't get me wrong, it is a stunningly beautiful building.  But if you were thinking of having a quiet moment to yourself, perhaps recreating the iconic shot of Princess Diana sitting by herself in front of the building, then you're in for a shock.

My first battle with the Taj Mahal crowds came before I even got in the front gate.

In hindsight, the lengthy entrance queue where everyone is frisked and bags checked gave me a taste of what was in store. It seemed as though all of India and half of the rest of the world had turned out this afternoon to visit the icon (I also realise that I am part of the problem here).

Waiting in line gives you plenty of people-watching opportunities
The occasional cow also passes by while you wait
We had been warned not to take anything more than a camera, some money and a bottle of water to minimise any drama.  Others hadn't heard about this tip, causing confusion, concern and delay at the front gate.

Once inside, everyone is funnelled through a single-arched gate to enter the Taj Mahal grounds.  

Heading in through the main gate

This creates one of the most impressive reveals you're ever likely to experience.  The archway frames the Taj Mahal in the distance, and you pass through the dark gateway before emerging into the dazzling light to see the building in all its glory.

The gate frames the Taj Mahal perfectly
The sight is enough to stop people in their tracks.  As one in our group found out, this is also the perfect opportunity for pickpocketers to pray on visitors gazing upon the Taj Mahal in open-mouthed awe.

This is just the first of many photo bottlenecks I'll encounter here as everyone snaps away in the quest for the perfect shot.

Entering the main grounds

Once inside the main grounds there is space to spread out and momentarily escape the crowds.  It's these little moments when you can step out from behind the camera and actually appreciate the building and its riverbank setting.
Lady sits quietly on the Taj Mahal forecourt

But if you're wanting that great shot of just you and the Taj Mahal, perhaps making use of the pretty reflective pools, you need to be prepared to wait and negotiate with the throngs of others trying to achieve the same thing.
Taj Mahal, you and a few others

Regardless of who you are and where you come from, it's clear we all want a photo of ourselves in front of the Taj Mahal, preferably with no one else in shot so we can pretend we had the place to ourselves.

So does the Taj Mahal live up to expectations?   Surprisingly, it does.

It is a stunning building, and the detail and symmetry can be admired from all directions.  Even the crowds don't dent its appeal.

The afternoon sun against the Taj Mahal
To see what's inside the mausoleum, there's another lengthy line that snakes its way around the main forecourt.   But it certainly helps to have the building to admire while you wait.

The line to get inside the mausoleum

Waiting time gives you time to appreciate the building's finer details
Initially I thought a few hours would be plenty of time to see the Taj Mahal, but all too quickly sunset was approaching.  

The Taj Mahal changing colour as sunset approaches

People will argue whether the morning or afternoon is the best time to see the Taj Mahal.  Either way, the changing light of the day transforms the white marble.  As sunset approaches and the mausoleum takes on a yellow hue, everyone knows the game is over and it's time to leave.  

As the crowds thin, there's still time for one last shot before it becomes too dark.

Despite taking more than 100 photos of the building already, it seems I can't take enough.  On some level, I know that all the photos in the world still won't do the Taj justice when I get back home.

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