We got up quite early so that we could head into the Taj Mahal right at sunrise. Justin tried to take a shower, but the shower didn't work right. Downstairs, we met our guide Prashant, who told us that we could bring extra batteries, but that we couldn't bring a tripod to the Taj Mahal. So we went back upstairs, and the elevator made some crazy hissing/static noise, like tuned to a bad radio station; thankfully the elevator didn't crash on us. We left the hotel around 5:20, and it was just a short golf cart ride to the entry, where we were about 10th in line at the east entry. As at the airport, there were separate lines for males and females, presumably to help curb the serious problem India has with incidents against women. There were little flies everywhere, and unfortunately our mosquito repellant did not work on them.

Once the gates opened, there was a long queue at the security x-ray, and it was not set up well at all, making a big pile of people in one small spot even though we were in a huge open area that could have easily accomodated hundreds of people. Inside, we walked quickly through the main entry to the Taj Mahal area, on the south side, where the iconic reflecting pools are. Prashant recommended we quickly get to east side so we could see it get illuminated by sunrise. Pretty much everyone else stayed on the south side, and we were only ones on the east side for quite awhile. The took pictures from outside for some time, then went inside the Taj Mahal itself. The Taj Mahal is a mausoleum that Shah Jahan built in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Construction began around 1632 and was completed 21 years later.

Everything was meticulously designed, and is symmetric in all four directions (meaning no matter which side you look at it from, the building looks the same, although of course the foreground is different). Prashant told us that the minarets are actually slightly angled so that they will appear straight when viewed from closer. Also, if they fell, they would fall away from the main building. On the building itself, there are engravings of Koran passages, and the letters are slightly bigger towards the top than at the bottom so that they all look the same size when viewed from the ground. The tomb of Shah Jahan's wife is in the exact middle of the building (tourists see a replica, the actual tomb is a level lower). Shah Jahan didn't want to be buried in the tomb, but his son Aurangzeb didn't care for him much (he had declared him incompetent to rule and put him under house arrest 8 years earlier), and Aurangzeb put him next to his wife in the Taj Mahal, making his tomb the only non-symmetric thing in the whole complex - the ultimate irony.

Prashant showed us the inlaid semiprecious stones everywhere around the complex, where the white marble was carved just to the size of the small stones, which were then glued in perfectly and left to resemble a completely flat, yet intricately detailed, piece of marble. We took some more pictures outside, but it was difficult to get the "prime" shots since people were extremely inconsiderate, "hogging" the prime photo locations near the reflecting pools for minutes at a time, neverminding that dozens of other people might want to have their turn as well. We left the complex around 8, and got breakfast at the hotel. For the restaurant at the supposed top hotel worldwide, the buffet left a lot to be desired, including no omelette station - you had to pay extra to order off the a la carte menu for that.

We left the hotel again around 9:30 for an Agra city tour. From the hotel, we took a horse carriage through town, and got to experience first-hand (or, closer first-hand as compared to our van) the craziness on the roads, particularly the constant and incessant honking. People honk not out of irritation, but as a way of communicating to those in front of them "hey, i'm behind you on the right and about to pass, so don't veer right." It works quite well on the drives between cities, and people on the highways are very considerate about getting out of the way. In a crowded town with thousands of vehicles, however, it's just a mess. After we got off the horse carriage and started walking through town, it was actually worse. We still had all the honking, plus horse and cow crap, garbage, and who knows what else on the ground. There were also lots of flies and "mustard crop somethings" (not sure the exact name) that bit, and one flew into Crystal's eye. The streets were also full of people just milling around, not doing much of anything, and many beggars who would follow us until Prashant would say something to make them leave. We walked past one stall that had a bunch of pickled stuff, and Clarita almost passed out from the smell; we didn't mind it that much, although it was pretty overpowering.

We saw some cages and asked Prashant what they were; he told us they were for trapping and re-locating rats. Apparently most of the people don't want to actually kill the rats, but they don't want them around, so they trap them and then release them in another part of town. Of course, since everyone does this, all that happens is they are just moving the rats around without actually impacting the population. We thought this was pretty fitting, since nobody was actually cleaning anything - just moving around the filth. We saw all sorts of people sweeping dirt, but they weren't sweeping it into dustbins, just sweeping it across the street, in front of the next stall over, etc. We walked around for about 30 minutes, and while very interesting and enlightening, no one was particularly enjoying themselves. Nobody said anything, but Prashant seemed to figure it out. When we got back in the carriage, he asked "it's really hot, huh?", giving us an out. Neither of us even noticed it was hot (although it was about 110 outside): instead it was the flies, mosquitoes, dung, trash, smoke, rat droppings, honking horns, tuk-tuks nearly hitting us, and maybe a couple other things - then the heat. Justin commented (not to Prashant) that it was the "most disgusting, vile, horrible place we've ever been." Crystal didn't agree, but she didn't disagree either. If nothing else, we had a memorable life experience today.

We came back and got lunch, and then took a nap. Sometime in the afternoon Crystal realized that her iPod was gone. The headphones were still there, but the iPod was gone. We scoured the room, but no luck. It must have gotten up and walked off. We've never had this happen at any other hotel, let alone the supposed top hotel in the world. At around 5pm we left to go see the Taj Mahal again. There were lots more people this time, as lots of locals come for the day from Delhi. We meandered around, this time mostly on the west side. One benefit of all the smog in the air makes for some good coloration at sunrise and sunset. We saw some sparkling from the semi-precious stones as the sun started to go down. We also saw some military dogs, both of which were overweight, which was funny.

At sunset, people started streaming out, and we were actually able to get some pretty good shots post-sunset, but before it got too dark. We came back and went to the bar, as everyone very thirsty. We got some mango daquiris and diet cokes. The bartenders were nice enough to concoct mango daquiris out of fresh mango, since they didn't have any mango juice. Everyone headed up around 8pm, and we used our 30 minutes of "free" internet to check on the world. Then we went back down for one glass of wine, and enjoyed watching the staff kill mosquitoes with the electrified tennis racket bug zapper, which Justin had seen at our friend Dean's in Kona. We definitely need one in Pahoa.