Agra - the "holy place of tourist pilgrimage" [Micha]. Even most hardboiled backpack travellers are hazarding possible consequences of being exposed to tourism for one day. It is worth taking the risk - there is one of the most beautiful and overwhelming buildings to see: the Taj Mahal.
However, the first overwhelming event has been waiting for us at the entrance gate: admission for Indians amounts Rs.15, but "Foreigners" have to pay Rs.500! This is the most extreme case of a trend to charge higher admission from foreign tourists. Nevertheless, in other places, the tourist charge is mostly about double the normal entrance fee. On the first glance, charging 33 times the normal admission seems to be pure impudence.
On the other hand, there is the steep slope in exchange rates between Rupees and Western currencies. And secondly: if these 500 Rs were used maintain this monument and protect it against decay - this amount would truly be a valuable donation.
The Taj Mahal was built by Shan Jahan in commemoration of his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal. It was designed in perfect symmetry which also is reflected in the surrounding park and two sideward buildings: one of these buildings is a mosque - but cannot be used for muslim prayings as it is not exactly aligned. The other building has no function at all - except to keep the view balanced.
The facade of the Taj Mahal is covered with very stylish inlay patterns and Persian writings (most likely expressing love themes). When stepping inside the mausoleum, suddenly a very different atmosphere takes over. Compared to the rush, heat and sunlight ouside, it is cool, dark and calm. With a bit of good luck, one can experience complete silence in the innermost hall. Only flittering and cooing pigeons up in the cupola, light falling through marble ornaments and intensifying the solemnity. Everything is concentrated on Mumtaz' sarcophagus in the middle of the hall.
Try "Joney's Place" for getting nice breakfast. It is famous amongst backpack travellers - and serves its celebrated "Banana Lassi". Joney will show you entries in guestbooks from all over the world, some even padded with snaps showing travellers and Joney's crew in front of the narrow restaurant.