Agra: Mariam’s Tomb, Akbar’s Tomb and the Panch Mahal and Internet Reviews of Hotels

Good morning everyone,

So we’re still in Agra.  I’m a little green with envy since you all got four days here and I just spent two nights in the town.  All kidding aside, we still have a visit to the Tomb of Mariam-uz-Zamani (Mariam’s Tomb) and Akbar’s Tomb to visit before we begin travelling to the mountains and deserts of Rajasthan so let’s get to it, shall we.

On a side note, I love the fact that I’m writing this trip to Agra while in Amritsar but when it’s published I’ll be in Kashmir, collecting more photographs and adventures to bring you.  Love it.

Okay so Mariam’s Tomb is a decaying building but you can see that it was once quite majestic.  The tomb is the last resting place of Mariam-uz-Zamani, the Hindu wife of Emperor Akbar and the mother of Emperor Jahangir.  She was the only of his wives who wanted to be buried near him.  Her tomb is about 1 km from Akbar’s, grander, better cared for tomb.

There are small traces inside the tomb structure of paintings that once were on the plaster walls.  Mostly what remains however is the graffiti that people have scratched into the plaster itself.  

The grounds are still kept in great condition though and, but for the damp, foggy cold it would have been a nice spot to spend some time.  A street dog puppy greeted me from the gardens on the way in with a tiny yip.  Brave little guy.

This place was empty, I thought.  That is until I ran into a couple that was doing things they really maybe should have been doing in private.  Nothing too insane but clearly they were embarrassed when I walked through one of the little rooms and saw them so … close.  I was embarrassed for them frankly.  Whatever he was doing with his hands and her shirt… they quickly left.  Very quickly left.

Then I noticed another person.  A shadow really, moving back and forth between two rooms at the other side of the tomb.  Same shape, same size, same person… why would they just be wandering back and forth between the two rooms.  Something didn’t feel right so I didn’t go back there and returned outside to take pictures instead.

Besides, there was something really sad about seeing all the graffiti on this place that, though over the top for the burial of one person, is still the last resting place of a human being.  It was just so disrespectful to the meaning of this place.

Akbar’s Tomb was next on the list.  That is until I spotted Guru Ka Taal Gurdwara and went inside to offer prayer.  I didn’t bring the camera though so no pictures.  It just felt right to be in a place with living people after a day of touring tombs.  It was especially right to be in a gurdwara listening to path for some time.

Afterward, we got to Akbar’s Tomb which sits nearby on 119 acres of land.  It’s gardens are filled with antelope, macaques and peacocks.  Just beautiful!  You can’t wander through the gardens because the animals are obviously cared for there, would be at risk if people were allowed to wander free among them, and people hadn’t ought to be disturbing them anyway.

Emperor Akbar himself began the construction of his tomb in around 1600 A.D, which apparently was the tradition at the time.  He also selected the site and planned the tomb himself.  His son, Jahangir would finish the construction after his father’s death.

There are other monuments inside the complex as well (along with … hawkers.)  The first building you will see, in partial ruins is an unknown Lodi tomb.

There is also the Panch Mahal on the property, the second building you will see.  This was a quarters for his harem at first and then used as a hunting lodge apparently.  There were more hawkers there and I chose not to go in (I was sooooooooooo tired of hawkers by that point).  Despite that a woman in the Panch Mahal kept calling “Madam, Madam, come, come.”  Yeah… no.

This building is interesting in that it appears finished only in the front and not at the sides or rear.  Also, given that Jahangir’s palace is in the Agra Fort complex, this is an interesting choice for a harem quarters being in a suburb several kilometres from the fort area.  I can totally see why it was eventually converted to a hunting lodge though.

On to the secondary topic – Internet reviews of hotels.  I’ve discovered that you really need to be careful with these.  Also, some of them are just downright amusing.

For example, in the Hindu and Sikh parts of northern India, veg restaurants are the norm and restaurants serving egg or meat are less common though still easy to find.  That is because Hindus and Sikhs (though not all) are vegetarians.  Reviewers seemed so offended, some downright angry, that the hotel in Agra had a veg restaurant.  I mean some of the reviews I read were hostile.  Hello, dear traveller.  You are not at home, you are India.  A little reading ahead of time will have told you that most restaurants in this region serve vegetarian food.  A phone call or email to the hotel would have confirmed that the hotel’s restaurant is veg, all before you get there.  Why be hostile in your review once you ARE there, unprepared, just because the restaurant caters to a typical Agra diet?  Did you NOT come to experience Agra?  Sorry dear traveller, but that is your problem.  If you really, desperately need your meat and eggs so bad, find a nearby non-veg restaurant.  There will be one not that far away – Agra is actually very small so NOTHING is far away.  Seriously.  When in Rome… you know how that saying goes.

The same reviewers also described the hotel staff as rude when everyone else described them as friendly and helpful.  I’m thinking that the perception that they were rude had a lot to do with the pissy attitude of the traveller myself but I’m just guessing here.  The fact is the staff at the hotel and its restaurant were all very nice.  Some of the staff had limited English but they were still friendly and I was patient with trying to get myself understood.  They were also patient in making themselves understood  Again, when in Rome… I can’t and don’t expect people here to speak English or share my same habits and mannerisms, which are usually cultural.  If every tourist could expect service in their own language, then every hotel worker in Agra would have to speak a ridiculous (call up the Guiness people) number of languages.

Another did not describe at all the hotel I stayed at but clearly another hotel.  I know this because they described a hotel that had only 16 rooms, mine had at least 40 rooms.  It also said it had no restaurant when mine had two and has had at least one since it opened.  That hotel got a glowing review though.  It’s too bad they didn’t get the credit.

Then there are the weird reviews.  Maybe a joke, maybe not but my hotel got a five star review from someone who was very happy about the sex he had with his wife in the room.  That’s all he wanted to talk about.  Really buddy??  Really??  Why would you put that in an online review?

Another review blamed the hotel for not having enough English channels available on the television.  Hello????  You’re in INDIA.  INDIA.  You’re not at home, sitting on your sofa watching Jerry Springer dude.  This is INDIA.  And of course the hotel controls what languages are available and not the cable provider, right?  We all know that.  (By the way, unable to sleep, I watched the BBC news and a movie on different channels both in English, no problem.  CNN and HBO were also available along with a number of other English language channels I wasn’t interested in.)

A couple of reviews complained that the hotel advertised Taj view rooms but the weather (fog in one case, rain in another) prevented them from seeing the Taj Mahal at all from their rooms.  Both claimed this was false advertising.  Clearly the hotel should have turned off the fog machine and the rain machine.

All in all, read the reviews carefully, taking the really bad ones with a grain of salt and the really good ones with suspicion and then go with the ones in the middle.  Also, to avoid being a complete ass, call the hotel you are considering and ask questions, especially if meat is really, really important to you.

Our hotel did not have enough parking for the number of rooms and was a little hard to spot because it’s sign was small but it was an excellent room for two nights, a really nice restaurant with a small, pure veg menu and tasty regional food, friendly and professional staff.  I was in a Taj view room and it’s entirely the problem of the fog that I could not see the Taj Mahal.  It was quiet at night and well equipped with a western toilet and huge shower.  It was warm and both the television and Wi-Fi worked as expected, except during a very brief power outage (you’re in India – suck it up).  Housekeeping did a good job.  There really wasn’t anything to complain about.

About the Taj view rooms.  The Taj Mahal is at least 1 km from the closest hotel and 2 km or more from most of them.  Nothing, I repeat, nothing is right up on top of the Taj Mahal, like many other famous monuments.  Directly across from the Taj Mahal is Mehtab Bagh which is a park and the ruins of the beginnings of the second Taj Mahal planned by Shah Jahan.  No hotels in Mehtab Bagh.  You’re not going to get a great view of the Taj Mahal at these distances even on the clearest days.  A view yes, but not a great one.  All that information is clearly available online and in particular by taking a look at Google Maps or Google Earth.  So if you don’t want to pay the extra for a Taj view room, now knowing this, just don’t do it.  My tiny extra fee paid for a great view of the Yamuna, when the fog lifted slightly, and for not having a view of the bricks on the hotel right behind mine.

“Believe only half of what you see and nothing that you hear” – Edgar Allan Poe.  This might just apply to online hotel reviews as well.

Until next time, when we’ll be on the road to Jaipur,

Peace and love all,
Himmatpreet

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