Our tour driver picks us up at the hotel around 9:00 am. The streets of Delhi don’t look any different in the daylight, still filled with vehicles, people and dust. We meet our local tour guide at the Qutab Complex. It is India's most visited monument and a World Heritage Site. This is a complex of ancient Muslim ruins from the 11th through 13th centuries. It is composed of a Muslim temple, a minaret, a courtyard and an iron wonder. The temple was built from the bricks of a Hindu Temple torn down by the Mughals. The minaret, Qutab Minar, is 5 stories high and is an exquisite example of Indo-Islamic Afghan architecture. The trees in the courtyard are full of green parrots. The Iron Pillar is a fascinating metallurgical structure. Tradition holds that if anyone standing with his back towards the pillar can encircle it with his arms, all his wishes will be fulfilled. So the government has built a fence around it for safety.
Our next stop is the Lotus Temple. This temple is of the Bahai faith and was built in 1986 of Italian marble. The design of the Lotus Temple is the lotus flower. Lotus is a symbol of beauty rising out of the mud to peace, purity, love and immortality. The temple has received recognition from all over the world for its splendid architecture and design.
From the car, we view the Presidential Palace, Secretariat and Parliament House.
The drive from Delhi to Agra is on a 4-lane divided highway but there is a lot of traffic. We also have to slow down as we travel through small communities so it takes 4.5 hours to reach Agra. The driving ritual is interesting. Straddle the middle line in preparation for passing another vehicle on either the right or left. And always use the horn or the dipper (blinking the lights) to alert the vehicle being passed.
About half-way to Agra, our driver pulls the car over and leaves us sitting in it to go pay a “license tax”. Feeling vulnerable, we lock the doors. Good thing because a guy with shriveled legs makes his way through traffic over to our car (he uses his arms to move around). He starts rapping on our car window begging for money. We indicate “no” by shaking our head and then turning our back to him. He continues to rap on the window and even tries to open the car door. Finally, he moves on. It was a very upsetting moment!!!
We finally arrive in Agra and pick up our local tour guide and make our way to the hotel. As we drive through the city, we see monkeys scampering across roof-tops and cows wandering the streets. We also catch our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal; it is larger than pictures depict it.
Our hotel, Grand Imperial, is a 100 year old building constructed of biscuit bricks commonly referred to as Lahori bricks. These bricks were used in the construction of the Taj Mahal and the Red Fort. The guestrooms are furnished with vintage furniture including a 4-legged bathtub. The double-door entry is locked using a padlock and brass key. There are two courtyards. At night, a puppet show is performed by a man and his son in one courtyard. A man and woman perform traditional Indian dances on a stage overlooking the swimming pool in the second courtyard.