Agra and the Taj

Sunday morning we left the hotel for the Nizzamuddin railway station to catch our train to Agra.
The railway station was chaotic, a jumble of humans, bikes, tuktuks, buses all trying to get to and from the crowded station. We were accosted by porters who commandeered our bags and carried them on wound up scarves on their heads.
We followed our bobbing bags through the throngs of people pushing in all directions to platform number 5, where the Gatimaan Express would arrive. After giving all our remaining cash to the porters, who were most displeased because we didn’t give them enough, in exasperation we showed them our empty wallets, and they humphed and went off.

We realised we had better get some cash because we were sure to have to pay porters at the end of our train journey, because there is no saying no to these guys. We asked an official where is the nearest ATM, which was outside the station down the street, so off I went while the Wise One stayed on the platform with the bags. Off I went, back into the throng, down into the crazy insane street. I was feeling a bit apprehensive because the ATM was about 150 metres down the road in what was a pretty seedy area, but I managed to withdraw several thousand rupees without any drama and return to the platform unscathed.
Our train pulled into the station and we boarded our carriage. The train was quite comfortable, air conditioned and with good seats. Once the train departed, on time, a variety of food and drink was delivered to our seat for breakfast, including bread and jam, as well as aloo paratha and pickles and fresh fruit.
The train was an excellent high speed express and we arrived into Agra Gantt station after 1hour and 40 minutes as planned. We went through the whole porter charade again then caught a taxi to our hotel.
This hotel was a homestay, a cute little place with brightly coloured paint and a quaint little courtyard garden full of flowers, birds and squirrels. It was very peaceful and calming.

After settling in, we went out for a walk to find some lunch and saw a few places on the road to the Taj but were harassed so much by touts trying to get us into their restaurant, we were put off by the whole thing. Everywhere you go in the world, in tourist areas the restaurants have touts, I wish they would stop doing this, it’s really off putting and I believe counterproductive, I will not eat at a restaurant that does this. They might have great food, but I will never know because they make me so grumpy, I move on. (I digress)

After a light lunch we took a tuktuk to the Agra fort. This was a really interesting place, built in the 16th century by Akbar, the grand father of Shah Jahan, in red sandstone and white marble, it was the home of the king and his 300 wives. It was surrounded by a double wall, then two moats, one filled with water and crocodiles, the other tigers. The way they managed water was amazing, channels ran all around the palace creating cooling and also drainage during the monsoon. The rooms had huge curtains of silk and muslin which could be wet to create evapourative cooling. The buildings were added to later by Shah Jahan, when he became king after his father died and he killed off his rivals.

Once we had finished our tour our faithful tuktuk driver was waiting for us, and returned us to our hotel. He was most amused that we were Australian, and rattled off about the cricket (it’s always the way)
We had a lovely dinner of vegetable curries and home made chapatis that were great.
Next morning we arose at about 5:30, just after hearing the call to prayer at the nearby mosque. It was quite cool and we were able to walk to the Taj Mahal and arrived before the crowds. There are very strict rules about what you can and can’t take in to the complex and heavy security, with metal detectors, scanners and patdowns as you go in. On entering the East gate, you see that iconic view of the monument as you walk to under the archway and there before you is one of the great wonders of the world. It’s quite breathtaking as you take in the whiteness of it and the sheer size of it, truly beautiful – a thing to behold. I confess I felt a little emotional, mostly I think feeling grateful that I am so lucky to be able to see this. I have longed to be here for so many years, for it to finally happen was a moving experience.

Of course people here are also preoccupied with taking selfies in front of the great monument and there are even professional photographers available to take the perfect shot for you. But just being in the presence of this stunning building is an experience in itself.

I also saw this cute little fellow munching on a flower. 🙂

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