Taj Mahal revisited yet again

Agra revisited:                  February 2014.  Weather 15 C.

Following my last trip to Agra in September 2013, I found myself heading to Agra again in February 2014. This time instead of departing from my hotel in Delhi, I was picked up by our driver from the airport for the journey down to Agra. We landed by SQ at around 1030 in the morning and getting from the airport to the beginning of the Yamuna Expressway took the best part of 1.5 hours. It was then another 2.5 hours driving  with a pit stop in between..where the drinks and Snickers bars and chips were welcome…2 bottles of water, 3 snickers bars and 2 bags of chips came to US$4 only…I should have stocked up on the Snickers!

Arriving in Agra in  the mid-afternoon, we checked into our suites in the ITC Mughal; I would have preferred to stay at my favourite Oberoi Amarvilas where I stayed the last time but it was unfortunately v full due to the conference in town and the rooms they had were almost triple the price I paid in September!  I had hoped that staying in one of the suites in the ITC Mughal would be nice but truth be told, this may once have been a grand old lady, but it’s a tired old lady now and in need of some modernization.    The Oberoi Amarvilas was far superior in every respect.

There is a very famous and internationally renowned Indian restaurant in New Delhi called the Bukhara which I had the good fortune to dine in a couple of times in the past and I was reliably informed that all ITC Hotels in India usually have a sister restaurant which also features the excellent cuisine which the Bukhara is famed for. So I booked a table for dinner at the restaurant called Peshawar in our hotel and had what I would describe as a most disappointing experience.  You know what it’s like when you are anticipating something nice and looking forward to it and then it falls totally flat and leaves you deflated?  Well the Peshawar managed to do just that.   Entering the restaurant, the decor was nice and the welcome was too.

beautiful place settings in Peshawar

beautiful place settings in Peshawar

The Kingfisher beer was excellent and we ordered the Prawn Tandoori, Chicken tandoori, Butter chicken,  Lamb shoulder, Dal and nan for the 5 of us.

The prawn tandoori came first and I would say it was absolutely outstanding and we enjoyed it very much.   But on to our next dish, the tandoori chicken…

The Tandoor at the Peshawar

The Tandoor at the Peshawar

Tandoori chicken is a wonderful dish when it is done well and few places do it as well as Indian restaurants in India…and it should be fragrant and succulent.  When our chicken came out, it was hard, dry and clearly way overdone. Having pointed this out to our waiter, he apologised and had another cooked for us. When the replacement came, the first bite was nice but then underneath everything was raw and uncooked! The captain by this time was obviously embarrassed by the inability of the kitchen to prepare what should be a staple of any common or garden Indian restaurant, let alone a renowned one which is supposed to be specialised in tandoori.  It also cost about 2500 rupees which is about US$40 which is expensive for chicken.  By this time, I realised that there was a problem here…either the chef was having a real off day or the chicken supplied was not up to scratch. He suggested that we try something else instead which we did ..the tandoori pomfret which turned out cooked but eminently forgettable.  By this time the senior chef had come to our table and obviously aghast at the cooking personally cooked yet a third chicken for us…it was n’t undercooked nor overcooked this time but the flavour or lack of it left us underwhelmed.

To the credit of the staff, they were hugely apologetic and did not charge us for the chicken nor the replacement pomfret. The F&B manager came to apologise but honestly, it had been a big let down after high expectations and the service recovery did little to change things.

Incidentally, the Indian restaurants at the Jaypee Palace and Oberoi were outstanding.

I didn’t enter the Taj this time but decided to do two shoots; one in the evening about 530pm  as the sun was setting and the next morning at 630am as the sun was rising. ..both from the moonlight gardens on the other side of the Yamuna river.

Huge  flock of starlings welcoming us at the moonlight garden
Huge flock of starlings welcoming us at the moonlight garden

Evening sunset from the right

Evening sunset from the right

setting sun casts its light from the right from across the Yamuna

setting sun casts its light from the right from across the Yamuna

The evening shoot was ok but unremarkable.  The dawn shoot was anything but.  We arrived as the sky was lightening but it was still pretty drab and grey…and we thought it didn’t bode well at first. Then a little spotted owlet flew and perched nearby and I thought that things were looking up!

a cold gray morning and the Taj still looks majestic

a cold gray morning and the Taj still looks majestic

And a red glow from the left or east heralds a glorious dawn

And a red glow from the left or east heralds a glorious dawn

the birds began to stir

the birds began to stir

as sun ascended...

as sun ascended…

 

flock of brahminy ducks with the Taj in background

flock of brahminy ducks with the Taj in background

Arriving at the river side, we soon noticed a red glow coming up on the left behind one of the structures and we were soon treated to the sight of a red eggyolk sunrise  over the Yamuna river, bathing the Taj mahal in its soft light. Viewing the Taj in the dawn light also means you can see the many birds that were waking up!   One problem we noticed was that the rising sun was way to the left of the Taj as we faced it and so it was difficult to put the sun and the Taj in the same picture from where we were .  For my next visit to the Taj,  I would go to Agra Fort which I could see downstream and it appeared to be right in line with the Taj and the rising sun…imagine the Taj silhouetted by a red orb rising sun!

I hadn’t appreciated that there could be decent birdwatching here at the Taj as well! Talk about killing two birds with one stone.  The Brahminy ducks were handsome in flight and flying birds in front of the rising sun made for more interesting pictures.

Red wattled lapwing up close

Red wattled lapwing up close

It was also nice photographing the Taj without anyone milling around on the grounds at all!

the eastern glow from the left...magical

the eastern glow from the left…magical

and this is how to enjoy the Taj...by yourself from across the river with no one there as it's a Friday when it's closed

and this is how to enjoy the Taj…by yourself from across the river with no one there as it’s a Friday when it’s closed

 

And when we were done shooting the Taj and were leaving the moonlight gardens, this brilliant white throated kingfisher popped up to bid us goodbye….

White throated kingfisher

White throated kingfisher

Differences between viewing the Taj in February compared to September?  Much cooler this time….and I fancy that the light was better.

We departed Agra for our noon flight at 530am and were in the airport by 9am, a smooth journey with little traffic.

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