Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011


We went to the Taj Mahal twice on Maria's birthday. We saw the most beautiful building in the world, inside and out, in the thickest fog at sunrise and later in the sunset and we were not at all disappointed. It is phenomenal, majestic, incredible and perfect, it is more than my words can describe. With the building in the background, as they were ushering the tourists out, we sang both Romanian Happy Birthday songs to Maria and we had a "thank you speech."

She had a good birthday. It started the day before with the trip to Agra. We had a name for a driver to take us from Delhi to Agra and back. I sent a message, he replied and then we lost contact. I bought two sets of train tickets. The early one, we were on the waiting list, we only got the confirmation at 6.30 am. The later one, confirmed seats, was just in case, and we would arrive in Agra at 4.30 pm. As our luck would have it, all went well and we got to Agra at 12.30 pm. We were immediately  surrounded by taxi drivers. They pointed to us the prepaid booth, you pay there a set fee for your route and they bring the taxi. We liked our driver. As I learned early in India, you cannot trust anybody, but this nice older guy, it was hard not to trust. "Why do you want to help me?" I asked. "I am a taxi driver sir and it is my job, to make sure you have a good experience here." He actually believed that!?

We followed his advice, it was going along well with how we planned our visit. Agra is a smaller town, just 1.3 million people, but it has an important place in the history of India, especially during the Mughal emperors of the 16-17th centuries. Later, it became a bastion of the British and Indian armies and an industrial city, until more recently the tourism took over. Besides the Taj there are several other important attractions. The Agra Fort, the Itimad-ud-Daulah or the palace at Fatehpur are all phenomenal and any one of them would make the fame of any country. Most of the 3 million people that come to Taj Mahal every year make it a quick day trip and miss these places - we wanted more.

So the first afternoon we went to Fatehpur Sikri, 40 km from Agra. This was a short lived capital of Akbar and the site here has 46 palaces and a great mosque. It is another World Heritage site. I am mentioning this aspect because I think it is important. UNESCO gets involved in the renovation and protection of a World Heritage site, but the host country also has to make a clear commitment. Countries take pride in having a site listed and they benefit from the advertisement. At Fatehpur, several of the palaces looked in really great shape. It is about the same period as the Renaissance or Machu Picchu, just 100 years older than Versailles, yet so different and just as beautiful. None of us seemed to have a problem with Akbar having so many wives, and since the favorites got their own palaces, they might have been OK with this too. Astonishing for our time, the religious tolerance implied. Not just in the design of the palaces, with different elements from different cultures, but in the choosing of the wives as the muslim, the hindu, the christian one. We saw the same thing in Tibet, with their most famous king.
 One of the structures at Fatehpur Sikri, with air-conditioning in the 17th century.
Ileana, taking a picture of the main plaza
This was the little palace of Sultana, the Turkish wife
Nobody knows for sure what this was, probably the stables for the elephants or the quarters of the servants.
The next day we decided to try to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. The driver would come to pick us at 6 am, we would be there at about 6.15, just a few minutes before the opening. The owner of our hotel was outraged, "I know this man, how could he tell you that, you won't see anything, this time of the year the fog is really bad. Go at 8, I'll call the driver, tell him to come later!" After a quick discussion, we decided that we still want to go in the morning. At least there won't be any tourists. If we have to, we will go in the evening as well. Ileana described very very nice the whole experience (in Romanian and in English). Maria wrote about it as well (link). An online friend just visited recently and she described it as well, and we got some comments on our Facebook link to her post. As good as any description can be, I think that the Taj Mahal cannot be described. Not in a way in which somebody can feel what I felt:
- a bit of disappointment that we cannot see anything when we first arrived in front of it. A quick exchange with another tourist, the fog will go shortly no doubt.
- the amazement of realizing that we are stepping in the Taj without actually seeing it. How many people have done that? We'll see it after we get out.
- the awe of being there, in the middle of it, taking our time to indulge in every detail. There were some people for a while but then we were almost alone for an hour.
- the childish pleasure of recording the sounds of the Taj (they don't allow pictures, video, lights, nothing, but they didn't think yet of forbidding sound)
- the joy of watching our kids have fun with Heidi and Brandon. The touch of annoyance that they are bragging and talking too much about themselves as they are carelessly leaning on the rails in the middle of the Taj.
- the sadness felt an hour later. We were all OK with the possibility that the fog might never go away, but seeing some of the people leaving, I felt so sad for them, they might not afford the time and the money to get back in later. And last but not least,
- the truly unspeakable feeling of being there and seeing it in all it's splendor. It is real, I saw it, it's much better then in all the pictures, much better than in any description I could ever read about it. As far as the hype about it, it deserves it a hundred times more. Yep, you have to go and see it.
First view...
Last view...
Having fun, trying to strike an indian pose.


After the first three hours at the Taj we took a short break at the hotel and then went on. The Itimad-ud-Daulah, nicknamed the baby Taj, is a small tomb built 10 years before the Taj, the first built entirely of marble. It's small and delicate and off the main touristic circuit.

If Taj Mahal wasn't there, this would be a phenomenal attraction

Baby Taj - so lucky and proud to stand behind her!
We then went on the bank of the Yamuna river and saw the shape of the Taj in the distance. Probably a great view in clear weather, it was just enough to confirm to us that we have to see it again later. We crossed back the river and went to the Agra Fort for a few hours in the afternoon. It is fantastic. I cannot believe that they still have most of the fort occupied by the army and inaccessible to civilians.

The amazing Agra Fort, view toward the river and the Taj

We rented last year the movie "Jodhaa Akbar" on Netflix, the girls loved it and were excited to see some of palaces where it was filmed. They knew the story of this great mughal emperor and it made the whole place much more meaningful. It was here, in the last of the open squares that we visited, in the afternoon of our earlier visit to the Taj, that I realized, I saw so many amazing things in my life, I saw so many in the last two months, but probably nothing as beautiful as this square. I couldn't even find out it's name for sure, but I loved it. How twisted is the human mind!

One after another, amazing things at Agra Fort.


  1. Very nice. Happy B-day Maria! What a great place to celebrate your B-day!

  2. Wow.. I had the same feeling when i visited Alhambra castle is Malaga, Spain; the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, but of course have not seen the Taj yet! :)


Comment form message here