The Plan

Trip Start Aug 25, 2003
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28
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Trip End Jul 18, 2004


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Flag of India  ,
Thursday, February 19, 2004

Since our time here in India was winding up there were a few spots Sarah and I still wanted to/needed to go we had to come up with a relatively painless way to do this. After many hours of staring at Indian Railways train schedule, "Trains at a Glance," we eventually formed "The Plan." The Plan was good. The Plan was sound. It got done what needed to get done and it got it done efficiently.

The Plan was simple. We wanted two days in Agra to sightsee the Taj Mahal and a ghost town nearby called Fatepu Sikri. Next stop was back to Varanasi where my perscription sunglasses lay waiting for me at the guesthouse we stayed at. There is still some debate as to weather they were left or weather they were "encouraged to stay" by the guesthouse owner. Reguardless, they were expensive and the reward we offered the guesthouse owner to hold on to them for us made getting them well worth trip. Stop three was back to Delhi for no other reason than to catch a train close to where we are now, which would be stop four, McLeod Ganj. New Delhi train station has a extremely pleasant tourist ticket booking office, so for ease of ticket purchasing and to make sure we got all of the connections we needed (sometimes trains are full) we bought all the tickets at once. The first ticket was a Shatabdi train to Agra, India's version of a bullet train, and not cheap either but at least it came with breakfast. It left early in the morning and still got us to Agra with plenty of time to sight see that day. With one night in Agra, the rest of our nights would be on trains giving us some daytime in Varasnasi and Delhi.

Sounds simple right? Well, it's India so you never know. For the first three legs of this journey we wanted to leave our large back packs in Delhi. It was only a few days of travel and with so much train travel we were going to feel grimy no matter what. Plus traveling light in tourists like Agra and Varanasi didn't mark us as much as targets for touting. So, no problem, our guesthouse didn't store bags but there were several in the area that did for a small fee. The only problem was their luggage storage facilities all closed by 8:00 P.M. until 8:00 A.M. We didn't start looking at options until 7:45 P.M. and our train left at 6:00 A.M. Oops, another pesky error in our guide books. Still all hope was not lost in The Plan, the New Delhi train station had luggage storage as well - open 24 hours. We even went to the train stations to check it out ourselves. As I said, The Plan was sound.

By 5:00 A.M. the next morning our big back packs were securely pac-safed and ready for storage and our small day pack was all set for the three day journey. By 5:15 we were at the luggage staorage at the New Delhi train station and, as luck would have it, our train was at the tracks directly next to luggage storage. Long live The Plan! Only there was one thing, the luggage storage "ticket people" weren't there. Our 24 hour storage facility was closed! What made it even more painful that we could see them loading up cargo onto our train! Yes, they said they would be right there,several times, as I tried to explain we needed to store our bags and get on "this train" before it left. Time achingly ticked away. Finally at around 5:54 someone cames to help. Our bags were stored and we had just recieved our storage ticket stubs when someone yelled "Sir, your train is leaving." In fact, it was. With no heavy packs it was easy enough to chase down the train as it had just started off. Not eactly the start I wanted for The Plan.

Agra was as expected. Actually it may have been a little better. We arrived, checked into our guesthouse, and were off for the day to the ghost city of Ackbar, one of India's greatest Mughul rulers. Fatepur Sikri, like Agra, was full of touts wanting to be our guide for the day, and they were the most persistant in India. Sarah and I have discovered that earplugs work wonders for dealing with this endless assault. The city had an incredible mosque with the most gradiose entrance we have seen. Behind the mosque were ruins of the Ackbar's failed city, free for the exploring. Adjacent to the ruins was Ackbar's palace which was pretty intact and stuffed full of would be guides - time for the earplugs again. Again (no surprise) I liked the explorable ruins better, they had the added bonus of being free of touts and entrance fees.

Day two in Agra was set aside strictly for the Taj Mahal. "The Taj," is actually viewable from almost any rooftop in the city. Still, it is not the same if you don't see it up close. It is a huge imposing monument that to me looked extremely surreal. When we entered the Taj complex Sarah and I waited our turn to take "the classic" Taj picture with the reflecting water. The gardens of the Taj certainly reminded me of Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, but all of the serenity was lost somewhere among the throng of tourists. One thing I never realized was the Arabic writing around the entranceways to the tombs. Inside there were semiprecious stones inlayed as flowers covering the walls. There were two tomb markers one for Mumtaz Mahal, for whom it was made, and the other for her husband Shah Jehan. The actual bodies are stored one story underground. I must admit, while not the most peaceful place in India, it was definitely the most impressive monument. Well worth the hype it gets.

As far as the rest of The Plan, it went rather smoothly. The trains to and from Varanasi were caught with no drama. Sunglasses were retrieved unharmed. We did take an extra day in Delhi as Sarah wasn't feeling well (I refunded the last set of tickets and we left the next day when she was feeling beter), but as far as I'm concerned The Plan was sound. Long live The Plan.
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