We set off for Agra by train early in the morning but not before an attempted scam by a fake security guard at the train station (and his official buddies that worked there) trying to tell us the train was cancelled, which it was not! Agra is home to none other than the Taj Mahal and was once capital of the great empire that stretched across India.
The Taj Mahal, once seen in person, needs no explanation for its status as a wonder of the world. It rises off the river bank like a mirage on a hazy day. The background story is that the wife of mughul emperor Shah Jahan died while giving birth to their 14th child. He was so devastated that he built this ‘shrine’ as her final resting place (in the 1600s). It took 20 yrs and 20,000 workers at an equivalent of $800mil to build. the mughuls were essentially billionaires (where we get our common day ‘mogul’).
We had an amazing local tour guide that took us on a walk around Agra Fort and the city. He was a history buff that runs a local school for underserved children with his mom. And he was extremely passionate about the plight of India and her future and the need to educate the population to alleviate some of the 600 million(!) that live in poverty. The highlight of the walk for me, and maybe of the whole trip, was a stop at a 2000 year old Hindu temple hidden back deep within the city streets. We took off our shoes and entered the sanctuary with worn down coves of idols, hundreds of burning candles and the sweet, old smell of incense and marigolds. We made flower offerings after receiving marigold necklaces and red & yellow ‘third eye’ marks on our foreheads. It felt like being a part of a long history and continued future of daily worshippers that contribute to an everlasting spiritual energy.