March 30, 2018 – Left Delhi to Agra.
Agra is the second stop of our India trip. We didn’t plan a lot of time in Agra as the only place we wanted to visit is the Taj Mahal.
We left Delhi before lunch and drove almost 5 hours before reaching Agra. We quickly checked into the hotel (decent, much better compared to the one we stayed in Delhi), hopped on a rickshaw and headed to Mehtab Bagh.
Mehtab Bagh (also as konwn as Moonlight Gardens, I believe) is situated directly opposite of the Taj Mahal on the northern side of the Yamuna River. The garden has the perfect alignment with the Taj; a lot of people say it is the best view point of Taj Mahal at sunset with a smaller crowd.
We arrived at Mehtab Bagh around 5:30pm (sunset was around 6:30pm-ish). You do need to purchase a ticket to enter the garden at the gate, but we bought the tickets online ahead of time (http://www.tajmahal.gov.in/ticketing.html). The securities checked our bags, but not very thorough. I felt I could sneak in my tripod.
We entered the garden from the west side and impatiently walked to the centre pathway of garden through which we saw the magnificent Taj Mahal.
There were quite a bit of people. I guess it is no secret anymore that Mehtab Bagh is the perfect spot of viewing the beauty of the Taj. But it was a large area, people were spread out, so it didn’t feel very crowded.
Since there was a bit of time before the sunset, I took the opportunity to snap some shots of the locals.
These four young men wanted me to take a photo for them. The second I held up my camera, they turned into some profession models with all different poses…
The friends I was traveling with discovered these local ladies. We were drawn to the colourful clothes they wore and started taking pictures of them. They seemed happy with us taking pictures of them except that they demanded rupees after…
And a picture of myself with the Taj in the background…
That day was not the a great day for sunset. It was very hazy, sky was slightly grey. The sun was not too orange or red, but a bit pale. Towards to the end of it, there was a hint of orange from the last bit of the sunset and it turned the white Taj to somewhat purple. That was pretty.
6:30pm-ish, we were asked to leave (or were kicked out, more like in reality) the garden by the securities. As we were leaving the garden, this little doggie followed us for a bit, maybe hoping for my adoption. He was very thin, but very cute with one of his ears up and one down…
March 31, 2018 – Sunrise in the Taj Mahal
The next morning, we dragged ourselves out of the bed at 4:30am as we wanted to be the first one to enter the Taj Mahal to see the sunrise (or to take a picture of the Taj without anyone in it – wishful thinking). We arrived at the Taj Mahal’s western gate around 5:15am and we were second one in (the foreigner) line!!! Woohoo!!! Buying tickets online (same site for the tickets to Mehtab Bagh) ahead of time definitely helped, but we could’ve bought tickets at the ticketing counter in the morning and still be in front of the line because we were so early. I would still recommend to get to the gate at least 30-40mins before the sunrise as the line gets very long very quickly.
The gates usually open at sunrise. We waited about 50mins, then the gate opened. People started pushing forward to get through the gate, so did I. After security, we ran to the Great Gate (the entrance directly facing the Taj Mahal). Although I wanted to be the first person to enter the gate, I had to stop to take a photo of the Great Gate.
By the time I entered the Great Gate, there were already some people hovering around the “dead centre” spot for the perfect symmetrical picture of the Taj. And yes, I want that perfect symmetrical picture even some people say it’s cliché. So I waited for the moment of an opening and I went for it. Thanks to my Sony A7Riii’s amazing in-camera image stabilization, I managed to get some really sharp and high quality images in a very low light environment (in reality, it was much darker than the image above) with ISO1000, 1/25s at F3.5. I also used continues-high shooting mode hoping to get at least one decent image given the low light and slow shutter speed. I’m pretty happy with the pictures I got, even with some people in them. I don’t mind the people in my picture at all as they give perspective of the size of the Taj. Oh, did I mention how beautiful the Taj Mahal is? It is 1000 times more beautiful than any picture I’ve seen. Especially in a peaceful and clear morning, it looks magnificent.
Couple of not so cliché shots? 🙂
We were literally running around the site over 20mins when sun was rising up to cover all four sides of the Taj Mahal and capture the different light from the sunrise on the Taj. I was very glad that we came early. We had about less than one hour time to enjoy the Taj Mahal with very small crowd, but the site was filled up with tourists very very quickly after the sunrise.
After sunrise, we moved our way up to the tomb. We did a quick tour of the main chamber inside where the tombs of Mumtaz Mahal and Shah Jahan are located (after the fact we found out that those tombs aren’t the real ones!! The real ones are located in the lower level of the tomb which are not for public viewing). After that, we spent some time walking around outside of the tomb and admiring the centre piece of the Taj Mahal.
By 9am, the entire place was filled with people. We sat on a bench to rest a bit (from all the running we had done) and enjoy the view of the Taj from far. Then it was time for us to leave for a nap and breakfast before we head to Jaipur. Before I exited from the Great Gate, I took my last (symmetrical) shot of the Taj Mahal.