Most know Agra as the home of the iconic Taj Mahal. Guest blogger Tony Herbert shares his thoughts on the epochal landmark, the grand finale to his bespoke tour of Rajasthan.
Where to stay: Oberoi Amarvilas
We took our first train ride from what the Rough Guide impolitely calls the rather grubby town of Sawai Madhopur, which is very near Sherbagh (our tiger safari base).
Upon our arrival, we were then driven to our unbelievably luxurious hotel in Agra, the Oberoi Amarvilas - every room boasts views of the Taj Mahal. Agra is a sizeable city with many millions of inhabitants, and is not just the home of the Taj. This shows in the traffic conditions, which were easily the most dire of anywhere we went.
What to see: the Taj Mahal
The next day, of course, we saw the Taj Mahal. Our itinerary suggested a viewing at sunrise, but we were told not to bother. At this time of year, it's misty until at least 8.00 am. This turned out to be dead right, so we went at a more civilized time, but early enough to avoid the worst of the crowds.
What can one usefully say? It has to be the most beautiful building in the world, and enough words have already been written in prose and poetry (and in many languages, at that) to justify me lazily failing to add to them. Except to record and verify again what everyone truthfully says: that it never fails to overwhelm when seen, despite the countless photographs.
Life is in the detail: British influence
I find myself always fascinated to know more about the role of the British in India generally, and in the extent to which the nation's influence survives, particularly in the preservation of historic buildings. Frankly, it's hard to find much evidence on the ground - though there was substantial evidence of it in Agra.
Lord Curzon, when he was Viceroy, took particular pains to ensure the preservation of the buildings at Agra, which he believed to "possess the most beautiful body of architectural remains in the world". He also praised the work of Sir John Strachey for his "really noble work of renovation and repair at Agra". And one record of the latter can still be seen in the palace at the Agra Fort, namely a marble slab erected by Lord Lytton in 1880.
Nehru said that "after every other viceroy has been forgotten, Curzon will be remembered because he restored all that was beautiful in India". It is good to be helping to fulfill Nehru's prophecy.