Published: May 20th 2012May 20th 2012
We left bustling New Delhi on our second full day in India. We were excited to leave the busy capital of India and head to the home of the Taj Mahal, Agra. This marks our first trip on an Indian train. The train station was a mere 5 minute walk from our hostel, so we packed up our bags and set off for a day of travel. The train station was easy to navigate and before we knew it we were sitting in our cabin of the train at platform 3. We had a sleeper cabin with fan no A/C. The train itself was not fancy or overly comfortable but we had a place to sit and a window to enjoy the views that passed by. It seemed like we were the only foreign travelers that day and it's strange coming from tourist filled Southeast Asia to this, but it's probably the heat that's keeping travelers away.
As we sat waiting for our train to set of on the 3 1/2 hour journey to Agra we enjoyed watching the hustle and bustle of the train station from our safe quarters. On the tracks besides us were heaps of
trash and even human feces. People just dropped their trash right on the tracks rather than placing it in the bins on the platforms. There are water fountains placed on the platforms and we watched as locals refilled their plastic bottles. I wondered how safe the water is to drink or if they have become immune to the bacteria that could still reside in that water that would send us to the toilet for hours. We have learned to crush our water bottles so that they won't be picked up, refilled and resold as "clean" water. If we were taught that refilling bottles of water is bad for us then why is it that they can use these fountains? I'll have to do some research on that later.
My favorite part of traveling in a new country is the journey between destinations. From point A to point B, you get a seconds glimpse of the untouched (by tourism) side of the country. I love every second of peering out the window watching life go by. India is a whole new place that is so very different from anywhere else I have been. The stretch from New Delhi
to Agra is very dry and dusty with villages that are filled with people, cows, and trash. I've never seen such poverty in my life, countries that come close (in my experiences) are Cambodia and Laos. In the glimpses I had of the villages, houses were made of mud, clay, or cement, dirt filled the towns every crevasse, cows picked at the trash looking for food, cow patties sat in the sun drying, children played out in the sun, women worked the fields, and men sat under trees enjoying each other's company. Oh! And it's not uncommon here to see people taking a dump on the side of the road. Never in a million years did I think I'd ever see someone doing such a thing, but here in India it's not good to have expectations. Around every corner there is something that will completely blow the mind away and you catch yourself thinking, "wow." I'm enjoying every second of it.
My favorite part of India is the vibrant use of colors. There are beautiful, vibrant colored sarees on most of the women, buildings are aged and cracked but the colors still shine out and vary building
to building, bright colored rickshaws fill the streets, and trash even brings a rainbow of colors to the scenery. Viewing India as a passenger is an overload to the senses, smells, sight, sounds, taste, and touch are all being put to new tiers. India is overwhelming to the senses, there is a lot to take in and process. India keeps you on your toes, there is never a dull moment.
When we arrived Agra, we haggled with a driver and he fit us and our three massive bags into his rickshaw, a feat I never imagined possible. He zipped in and out of the traffic of Agra, by passing bicycles and cows and avoiding the bigger and faster cars along the way. We arrived safely to our hostel, Friends Paying Guesthouse, where a 15 year old boy took care of checking us in and taking our dinner order. We settled into our rooms, which were fairly simple and slightly disgusting. My bathroom had no working light, grim and dirt in each corner, and a toilet that did not flush. We didn't complain (much) because for $4.50 a night we had a place to lay our heads down
and sleep. Other than the room conditions, this hostel is great. It's a 10 minute walk to the Taj Mahal, it's family owned and run, and the food is absolutely amazing. Our total bill for 2 nights stay, 3 meals, and countless bottles of water came to a little less than $20 usd each! You just can't beat that.
That first day we didn't do much but we did take a stroll down to the Taj Mahal gate before we retired to the guesthouse for the rest of the evening. We could only see the very top of the Taj but nothing more than that. There are plenty of horse drawn carriages that try to whisk you away to one of the world's most romantic structures, but we shooed them away. They always exclaimed that it was such a far walk but when really it's about 1 km. We found out upon arriving to Agra, that the Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays, so we spent our first full day (Friday) exploring the other gems of Agra. We ordered a rickshaw to take us to the Agra Fort, the mini Taj, and the Chinni Ka Rauza. Again,
my favorite part of the day was just watching life pass by as we drove around in our rickshaw. The Agra Fort was majestic and faced the Taj Mahal. We had our first full glimpse of the Taj from the walls of the Agra Fort. The fort is massive and wonderful. It's a shame that most tourists come to Agra just to see the Taj Mahal, this fort is also a must see. We only saw two other western tourists while visiting the fort. Fort Agra was first mentioned in history in 1080 AD when it was recorded that it was captured. My favorite thing to do while waking through historic areas is to think of how it would have looked back in the day. It was neat walking through it's corridors and peeking out the windows catching a look at the Taj in the distance. The mini Taj was beautiful. I loved the colorful and detailed art work on the interior and exterior walls. The front gates are packed with begging children who try to cling on to your pants asking you to buy something from them or for change. It's absolutely heart breaking and if I could I
would do all that I could for them, but sadly you really shouldn't give money to children beggars in the streets because that money more than likely will not be going towards the child. I plan on finding a good organization soon and making donations that way, I just can't visit India and not give back. India has already touched my heart in so many different ways.
The last stop on our day tour was a garden that faces the Taj Mahal from across the river. It's a perfect location for sunset photos. We were joined by other tourists as we gazed at the marvel. Again, we were the only foreign "western" tourists and this was noticed immediately by the other tourists. Ben, who has flaming red hair, and I were asked many times to take pictures with the other tourists. Lauren, having a darker skin tone, took the responsibility of taking the pictures and laughing at our predicament. Ben and Lauren were able to get ahead of me at one point and then I was left alone to take pictures. It's like a ripple effect, once you say yes to one… they just don’t stop. I
had to take pictures of people as well as be in pictures with them. It's flattering but it’s not because I'm pretty (in India this is true because we are usually sweaty and wearing very baggy things) but because of the color of my skin. It got to the point where a mother asked me to hold her baby for a photo and that's when I had to run away waving at my new friends saying goodbye. It had gone too far.
We decided to have dinner at one of the lonely planet top picks in Agra, a rooftop restaurant overlooking the Taj Mahal. We just can't get enough it! The restaurant was very near to the Taj. The locals were enjoying the end of the day by flying kites on their rooftops. I felt like I was in Austin for the kite festival but with a very exotic backdrop. It's a really romantic spot and I caught myself really wishing that my boyfriend were there to enjoy the view with me. It is the monument built out of love! At any rate, it was a perfect end to a really great day exploring Agra. That night,
the daughter of the hostel owners drew some henna on my hand. It was really cute to have her work on me, even if the henna art wasn't great. I'm now stained with a cute memory of this 12 year old doing henna. I asked her where I could get some henna and she promised me that she would show me the next day.
We woke up at 5:30 am the next day, our last day in Agra, to visit the Taj Mahal for sunrise. Unfortunately, with all the haze there wasn't much of a sunrise but at least it was still cool enough to enjoy our visit. Being so close to the Taj will forever be edged in my memory. It was so symmetrical and perfect. A beautiful building made in the name of love. We spent the morning just soaking in the splendor of the Taj before we headed back to our hostel for breakfast. A private car would be waiting for us at 2 pm to take us to our next destination, Jaipur. Until then, we rested and prepared for the next journey. Our hostel "mom" had her daughter take us to a local shop so
that we could buy henna. Each tube of henna costs about 10 cents usd! We decided to buy 4 to start with. We didn't know if we would do a good job of henna on our own so we didn't want to go crazy. I have hobby of doing nail art when bored so Lauren asked me to do her first henna tattoo. Amazingly enough, I think I did a pretty good job at it! We were told by the son, that in other places the henna tubes could cost 100 ruppes rather than 10 if we aren't with a local, so we ran back to the shop and bought 10 more. We are set for a while! In the states you can get henna done for $15... think I may start a side business!
All in all, I have had an amazing time in Agra and I have been able to cross of another thing off my bucket list, The Taj Mahal. Life is good.
There are more photos below