Woke up a six and stepped out on the balcony but it was too dark, too cold, and I was too sleepy so I reset the alarm for seven. A few minutes later a monkey started ripping the wood strips around the air-conditioner off, trying to get in my room - I chased it off by throwing a shoe at it, but the damage was done - to much adrenaline to sleep now. So I got up and headed to the Taj. The main gate was still closed at 6:30 - I'd thought it was supposed to open at six. I walked around looking for breakfast, but then decided to check the side gate and found it open. So I bought my ticket ($21!!), got thoroughly searched, checked in the illegal items I was carrying (my GPS, a lighter, and a flashlight - no batteries or electronics allowed, but cameras are ok), and went in.
There were people around, but not many. It was way to dark to even take digital pictures, so I scored a spot in front of the reflecting pool and watched the sun rise. The domes of the Taj Mahal lightened from gray to an orangey white, and then to pure white as the sun rose. By the time the sun was completely up there were at least thirty people on the grounds so I decided to hustle. Most people seemed to be heading inside first, so I took advantage of the quiet and explored the two mosques (only one is real, the other faces the wrong way and was just built to mirror the real one - thus preserving the symmetry of the Taj) and walking along the wall above the river.
Once I took my shoes up and climbed up to the marble platform I walked around it again. I especially liked the back side near the river - it's like all the other side, but fewer people, and it's in harmony with the river. I noticed that there appeared to be rows of straw standing up on the other river bank - I assumed to dry. Entering the Taj was a little disappointing. The inside of the tomb is pretty, but not what the big deal is about. There is beautifully crafted inlayed marble everywhere, but that's not what the Taj Mahal is about. The Taj isn't about decoration it's an architectural work - the architecture is the beauty.
When I returned outside I walked around the platform again. Once again I stopped on the river side and hung out. There were some more of the green parrot like birds I saw at Agra Fort, and I noticed a little brightly painted boat being poled across the Yamuna River. I watched it do a few crossings to figure out where the landing was and resolved to try and get a ride across later. After exploring the gardens, galleries, and gates (the later two disappointing me with no access to the upper levels) I left.
I wasn't sure how I felt about the entry fee. I did spend nearly three hours there, and it is very beautiful, but it's also impossible to take in the entire compound from so close for that you need to be some distance away. I wandered through the maze of streets on the east side of the Taj complex, but couldn't find the shortcut down to the river. After being lost for half an hour I gave up, back tracked, and walked down the major road. It was interesting to see the backside of the real most and the Taj wall. Last night we walked down the other side, but it was already to dark to see much. At the river, I found the boat landing without any problem (in front of a white police or army barrack). I haven't seen the boat mentioned in any guide books, but they must get tourist occasionally because the boatman spoke enough English to tell me the cost was Rs 50 (obviously highly inflated for tourists, since the locals couldn't afford that - but also very cheap compared to the cost of getting in the Taj). As the boat glided into the river the water was mirror smooth and I was able to take a few photos. About half way across the wind picked up and the reflections were lost. From the left bank the view was superb - it was still a bit hazy, and it would be much better in the evening due to the light, but at least here you could see the entire complex and get a feel for the delicate balance that is the Taj's magic.
I wandered around on the far side of the river for an hour. Besides a half dozen locals tending the seedlings (the straw is up to protect them from the wind) I was the only one over there - such a change from the crowds that were flocking in when I left. Back in the hotel I packed and organized the photos I'd taken (the digital ones anyway). Then I got a bite to eat, hit the internet cafe, and checked out of my hotel (I'd decided to keep it for the day so I could leave my stuff there and shower before the overnight train). The tuktuk driver I hired to take me to the Raja ki Mandi train station (outside the center) jerked me around a bit and I ended up getting there right as the train was supposed to leave. I ran in and there was the train! I jumped on then decided to get out and find my specific car so I wouldn't have to push through the entire train to find my berth. Outside I realized it wasn't even the right train! I asked and was told my train was going to be fifteen minutes late - perfect. An hour later it got there and I fought through to my bunk where some people were very unhappy that I'd shown up. Everyone refused to make any room under the seats so I ended up having to put my pack on my bunk - not very comfortable for sleeping.