Trip Start Jun 10, 2010
94Trip End Apr 08, 2011
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For our train to Agra, we arrived absurdly early to the train station, remembering how long it had taken us to find our carriage for the train to Varanasi the last time– the trains here are seriously long, around 20 carriages at a time!
Waiting near the tourist booth in the entrance hallway, we sat on the floor in preparation to run to the platform as soon as the train's arrival was announced. All around us were crowds of people lying on the floors, spread out amongst the chatter of those searching the arrival boards for any news. Most of them- amazingly- were fast asleep, despite the constant beeps and screeching of the metal-detector that had been left on for no purpose whatsoever. Everybody beeped as they went through, but nobody had been appointed the role of actually security checking anybody
I have no idea how long some of the people must have been waiting there for their trains, but the majority of them had made themselves comfortable in the middle of the floor, lying on rugs with boxes of goods for pillows. There was even a waiting room specifically denoting a maximum usage limit of 2 whole days... These could easily have been the people that had overstayed their limits.
As a matter of fact, the people of Asia seem very patient at the whole waiting-game. Whether waiting at a bus stop that’s visited unpredictably just once or twice a day by a rickety bus, or here at the train station for a train that may be overbooked all week, there’s an ability to just be and accept it, without any sense of annoyance or restlessness. They don’t fidget or avert their gaze from accidentally catching the eye of others in their vicinity; they just have this capacity to take in the world patiently – something which eludes me completely. I’m rubbish at waiting.
Train to Agra
Eventually, we made it to our berth in a sprint, after walking to the completely wrong end of the carriages to begin with
We had been designated one of the top bunks in the 4-bed berth, and the lower bunk of the beds opposite. None of that really mattered though, given that our berth was already full when we boarded – 5 Japanese girls and 2 Indians had already occupied most of the possible space between them, with their huge suitcases taking up the remainder. They looked surprised when we boarded but the Indian guy (their tour guide) explained to us that there had been a mistake, so they were going to share 3 beds between them... We somehow made room for ourselves and the journey wasn’t too bad – the girls were sweet and giggly enough. It was otherwise spacious enough to get a few winks of sleep, outside of the many occasions when the men would come up and down the aisles offering Indian tea with shouts of 'Chai, Chai!' through the night; or when the odd boy or two would appear at our feet to sweep the floor with cloths and ask for tips; or when a mouse or two would skitter past
Arriving into Agra early the next morning, we found ourselves in a guest house right next to the West Gate of the Taj Mahal. Agra is renowned for having the most dreadful accommodation, but we were pretty satisfied with the 4 walls, ceiling, comfy beds, window and bathroom we were given for 7 quid a night. I was also blessed with a nice bout of 'Delhi Belly’ for the whole stay. Being careful doesn’t work!
The streets were mental, but no more-so than many other tourist hubs, where locals make a living from dragging tourists into restaurants, shops or rickshaws. It's probably one of the grottier cities we've stayed in, with very little appeal aside from the main attractions - which are impressive enough to win anybody over. We discovered on our first day that we were based just around the corner from the Hotel Shahjahan, which is where Karl Pilkington stayed for his trip to India in ‘An Idiot Abroad’. We were tempted to ask to see the honeymoon suite with en suite shed.
Seeing the Taj Mahal at sunrise was amazing. That is, if you push aside the dog poo on the walkways, plastic bag in the fountain and dogs sleeping in the gardens, which they don’t usually include on TV. Nice... I wonder whether dogs are somehow as sacred as cows here in India – they don’t seem to care to stop them from doing anything at all.
Travel documentaries on the Taj Mahal also fail to mention that no matter how early you get to the gates in the morning, you won’t be let in until the guards decide they want to get up off their perches and actually open up for the day
Nevertheless, nobody can deny that the Taj Mahal is a stunningly beautiful sight to see. Its perfect reflection in the water and the pristine appearance of its dazzling dome make for the most handsome architecture, and the story of the Emperor Shah Jahan constructing it for his dead wife adds to the romance. We took a whole 2 hours to look around.
When we weren’t watching the cricket World Cup (not out of choice for me) we took an auto-rickshaw with our own driver, Vikrum, to see some of the city’s other sights, such as the Agra Fort and Baby Taj, as well as through the local villages to the waterfront
The Baby Taj had a quiet, relaxed appeal about it – barely visited at the time of day we were there, yet seemingly overlooked for its inner courtyard’s beauty. If it wasn’t for the mischievous chipmunks (rather cute, actually), we could have stayed there to relax for a good few hours.
The Fort was also impressive, an awesome construction of marble, red and white stone, a labyrinth of stunning shapes and carvings. In the heat of the sun, it was a welcoming place to wander around, with the cool shade of the marble arches providing some escape. We were tempted to stay there to watch the sunset one evening but, like I said: I'm rubbish at waiting...