Our Chief Experience Officer, Melissa Hansen, recently took an unforgettable bucket-list vacation in India. For the rest of the month, we’ll be sharing her travels — and some of her photos — with you here on the blog. This is the fourth post in the series. Enjoy!
Unlike the road trips from my youth, where we would put the pedal to the metal, this road trip included delightful roadside stops to sip masala chai while perusing local crafts. Just before we arrived in Agra, we stopped in the village of Abhaneri and visited the Chand Baori, one of the world’s largest and oldest stepwells. Not knowing what a stepwell was until I got there, my mouth was agape as I entered the ancient grounds and saw the thousands of steps leading to a small pool of water. It is said that it is impossible to trace your exact steps from top to bottom. This thoughtful well was designed to capture water and access it no matter the water level during ancient times, a testament again to the ingenuity of those who came before us.
Adjacent to the stepwells, and of equal excitement to me, was the Harshat Mata, a temple dedicated to the goddess of joy and happiness. I was even more excited to discover that a resident holy man was bestowing happiness blessings on those who chose to visit and participate in a quick happiness ritual (for a small donation, of course). Yes, please! I bounded up the steps, bowing my head, receiving my blessing, and extending my wrist to have a red string tied.
With sufficient happiness and the awe of the stepwells squarely documented, we hopped back in our vehicles and continued to Agra. Our first stop upon arrival was to visit the impressive Agra Fort, otherwise known as the Red Fort due to its color. Like all other forts that we saw along our journey, this one was grand and had many stories to tell.
Our guide recounted the tale of the scandalous teenage king who killed his brother and dethroned his father in order to take control of both the fort and the empire, noting that the king who was dethroned was the one who had commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal for his late wife. Upon the completion of the Taj Mahal, the king remained a prisoner at the Red Fort until his final days, left with only a window to see the Taj from a distance across the river.
When we checked in at the Oberoi Amarvilas hotel, I was quickly taken by its elegant beauty and Mughal-inspired design. Our beautifully decorated room had gorgeous French doors that opened onto a private balcony, dripping with pink bougainvillea — a lovely contrast to the white marble of the building. But the biggest “wow” moment was the stunning view of the Taj Mahal right from our room. My excitement to see the Taj up close was palpable, and I couldn’t wait until the next day when I would have my chance. I decided to make it an early-to-bed night so I’d be sure to get plenty of beauty sleep before waking at 5am to head out.
As my alarm beckoned me from slumber, I groggily dressed for the day, choosing bright colors (who wouldn’t want to look their best in front of the Taj Mahal?), before dashing off to meet my small group and taking the resort’s luxury golf carts to the entrance of the Taj.
Once inside the gates, the sprawling grounds of the Taj Mahal unfolded. Tree lined walkways, crystal blue ponds, and lush green grass gave way to the beauty of the Taj. Completed in 1643, and housing both the emperor and his favorite wife, the grand mausoleum would cost upwards of one billion dollars to construct in today’s world. I was enamored by the visual effects that were skillfully carved into the pillars and intrigued by the tiny sizes of the tombs.
As anticipated, I took a gazillion photos during my short time there. The image of me standing in front of the Taj Mahal represents a 15-year desire to visit India, so it was worth a few extra shots. Despite my desire to get ‘just the right photo,’ I made sure to include some quiet time to reflect in the gardens and truly appreciate my surroundings before exiting the gates.
Once back at the hotel, we ate breakfast and then packed our bags, heading out for our next destination…Varanasi!
We hope you’re enjoying this travel series! If you’ve missed the previous posts, you can find them here, here, and here. And if you’re looking to experience the beauty of India for yourself, we have several trips to this stunning country on our Experiences page, ready to be booked — including a Luxury Journey Through Northern India and an extended Vacation Getaway to India and the Maldives.