The magical Taj Mahal and the end of our India adventure

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January 7th 2012
Published: August 20th 2012
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Delhi was not exactly what we expected, and not in a good way! We had read and heard really mixed reviews and experiences about this city, most of them pretty negative, but we went with an open mind and tried to see the positive side of things here, although by the end we both agreed it wasn't our favourite place we had visited, and would even go so far as to say we severly disliked the city and would never return here. Anyway, back to the start...

We landed in Delhi in the early evening from Mumbai and straight away noticed the drop in temperature, it was really cold here! We got a taxi to our hotel which was located in the 'backpacker' area of Paharganj, near New Delhi train station, even though it was actually in the heart of old Delhi. Old is an understatement - this place was falling apart and crumbling! Anyway, we had read that this was a good area for cheap accomodation and was handy as it was close to the train station, where we would get the train to Agra from, and on first appearances the hotel situation was spot on - around 25 identical properties with newly refurbished modern rooms for £20 a night, great we thought. After checking in we needed to get some cash so went in search of a cash machine, wrapped up in our coats and scarves. It was during this short walk to find an ATM that we felt we had been taken out of India and had been placed in the middle of Beirut or Afganistan - the 'roads' were no more than pot holed covered tarmac, because it was cold people were wrapped up with scarves covering their faces so only their eyes were on show, there was a mist/fog so you couldn't see too far in front of you, and everyone seemed very intimidating to us, the only Westerners around. We got some cash and went in search of somewhere to eat.

Now, you would think in a 'backpacker' area with tons of cheap hotels there would be places to eat right? Wrong! Literally there was one place to eat, attached to one of the hotels, and after walking around trying to find somewhere else, not only was there nowhere but we simply didn't feel safe so went back to the first place we saw, had a sub-par overpriced meal (probably the worst in our trip to India) and went to bed to get an early night for our trip to see the amazing Taj Mahal in Agra, glad that we wouldn't be spending too long in Delhi..

Up at 4am we left our hotel and got a tuk tuk to drive us the 5 minutes to the train station to get the train to Agra. Now, throughout our travels over the last couple of years we have seen our fair share of horrific poverty, but walking into New Delhi train station in the early hours on a dark, freezing January morning was a real shock to us. You couldn't see the floor for all the homeless families and people wrapped in rags sleeping on the floor in the station, and we really felt bad that such poverty existed in such a mega city, but not surprised because from what we had seen here so far, there was such few opportunities and/or help for these poor people. After being told the train departed from a certain platform by 2 people, we had a feeling they were lying to us for some reason, so went with our gut to the platform we thought and were right. That's another thing about Delhi, we didn't feel we could trust anyone here and that everyone was trying to trick us or rip us off somehow.

We boarded the train which was surprisingly comfortable and set off in the dark mist at 6am on what was supposed to take just 2 hours to reach Agra. We had booked such an early train so that we could get to Agra in good time and have a full day there exploring, and also to allow for delays which are common on public transport in Asia. However, we feel alseep, and when we woke up at 9am, we panicked that we had missed the stop for Agra. After frantically asking locals on the train (again, we were the only westerners), we were told because of the fog/mist, the train was going very slow and we hadn't actually reached Agra yet, it would be another hour or so! Awake then we spent the next hour looking out the windows and taking in the 'scenery' - people living in shacks practically on the train lines, kids washing in dirty looking rivers, men urinating freely and lots of baran wasteland.

Finally at almost 11am we arrived into Agra and got off the train (at the right exit instead of the one which someone had insisted to us was the proper exit which surprise surprise turned out that it wasn't) to a hoard of tuk tuks and taxi drivers, all shouting at us and hassling us to go with them for a tour of Agra for the day. It's bad enough getting off a train in a new place when you are half alseep let alone to be bombarded with agressive drivers straight away, and after Vic shouting at them to leave us alone for a minute, we went with one of the quieter drivers and agreed a price of around £10 with him and a guide to take us around Agra for the day.

The first stop was a spot on the Yamuna River which looked out across to the famous Taj Mahal, but because it was so misty we couldn't see it at all, and were worried that if the mist didn't clear we wouldn't be able to see it at all that day. Then we moved onto Mehtab Bagh (also known as baby Taj), a monument near the river which also had views of the Taj, but we still couldn't see it that well, although this building was very nice, with amazing architechture inside in the form of coloured tiles and ruby and jade stones. It was built symetrical like the Taj and set amongst very well manicured gardens. After that we were dropped in the centre of Agra where we could have some lunch before going on to the Taj Mahal. Agra town itself wasn't very nice and we found it intimidating like Delhi, with everyone walking around with scarves covering their faces, dogs running in the streets and what we were hoping were security guards casually holding AK 47's in the road..Vic had imagined it would be full of markets, happy locals and snake charmers like something out of Disney's Aladdin but it definately shattered that illusion! We had read about roof top restaurants which had great views over the Taj so set about finding one, with no expectations as it still seemd very misty. We found a small place and started climbing the stairs to the roof top, and were met with the most incredible clear view of the Taj Mahal, We were both really surprised as we hadn't expected to see anything, but the view was fantastic and the mist had cleared, so we had a small lunch and just stared at the impressive wonder for a full hour!

After lunch we met with our driver again and he walked us to one of the gates where we would queue for our entry tickets and finally enter the Taj Mahal. By this point the mist had cleared and it was actually quite warm, and looming in the distance was this impressive wonder which really overwhelmed us; I don't think we expected it to be so big or so beautiful. We ventured further into the grounds and got closer to the Taj, taking in where we actually were, really proud of ourselves for making the decision to come to India, and glad that we had so that we were lucky enough to see this awe-inspiring wonder of the world. We spent a good couple of hours roaming through the Taj, taking photos and listening to the history on it. The Taj is made from white marble and was built symetrically in the 1650's by an emperor in memory of his wife who had sadly died during child birth. The irony of this was that the emperor was later imprisoned in the nearby Agra Fort by his son, and could only look on to his creation from a distance until his own death some years later.

The Taj Mahal is one of the most impressive things we have ever seen, up there with Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu, due to the sheer size and detail of it. It was beautifully decorated inside and was in stark contrast to the grubby town of Agra which it was in. We left the Taj and our driver then took us to Agra Fort, a huge red brick fortress like a walled city, where the Indian Royal family lived in the 1600's, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. The guide took us round this monument and explained its history to us which was very interesting, and before we knew it it was time to go. Before going back to the train station, we visited a marble factory and also a carpet factory, and also fitted in an early dinner at Pizza Hut, very strange in the middle of old and run down Agra!

Then it was time to go to the train station to catch our 8pm train back to Delhi, which unfortunately was delayed until 10pm. Agra train station isn't the type of place you want to be stuck at really, but we had no choice, so read and played some cards until the train rolled in at 10.30pm. We both feel asleep as soon as we got on the train, as it had been a long and tiring day with an early start, but we thouroughly enjoyed it and were both very happy that we had seen the magical Taj Mahal. Back in Delhi at 1am, we went back to the hotel to bed and reflect on our incredible day.

The next morning we were up and had to check out of the hotel we were as they were full, but found a better one just a few doors down which was better for the same price so that was fine, then we decided to go into Delhi and do a bit of sightseeing on our final day in India. It was still quite cold and misty but we started walking down the street, which was less intimidating in the day but just as unappealing, taking in the obvious poverty surrounding us and trying to ignore the obvious stares in Vics direction, even though she had purposely worn loose clothing and was covered from top to toe to avoid the stares which became very uncomfortable as the day went on. The smells were overwhelming at times and we soon realised why when we noticed more and more men urinating in the street, in view of everyone, like it was the norm. Add to this the constant spitting and people begging on the side of the road, needless to say we were disliking Delhi more and more. We even passed a guy sitting on the pavement being shaved with a razor by another guy, very strange. We stumbled across a park which was well manicured and looked very out of place in this gritty area but was nice to escape all the people and smells for a minute! Then we jumped in a taxi to a museum, but didn't feel the entry fee was worth it and bad as it sounds, we weren't really interested in learning about Delhi any more, we had seen enough already. We walked for a while until we got a tuk tuk driver to take us to a market we had heard about, and although when dropped off it wasn't actully a market at all, it was an area of really nice shops and restaurants, again something that looked out of place here, but nontheless we found a really tasty chicken tikka roll cafe and had a bite to eat there and decided where to go next.

We found out about a market called Chandni Chowk, supposedly one of the biggest and well known markets in Delhi, and as we hadn't bought any souveneirs on this trip and Vic wanted to experience a proper Indian market, we headed there in a tuk tuk, which seemed to take forever even though it didn't look too far on a map. As soon as we got there and started venturing through the mazes of stalls we felt uneasy and uncomfortable, not only with the constant stares at both us, or even being the only Westerners, but it was just so so busy and something just didn't feel quite right, so we started to try and find our way out and just get back to the hotel. Holding onto each other, we weaved through the hoards of people as quickly as we could back towards the main road to try and get a tuk tuk, when Scott thought someone was following us, so we ducked into a bank to let the man pass. When he did, we looked out of the bank and he was glancing back at us, before turning away and walking on. We carried on walking when he went into a shop ahead of us, so then we went into a shop further down wondering if he was following us, and sure enough no sooner had we done that he was out of his shop, on his phone and looking around for us. This made us feel really paranoid so we walked even faster away from the hidden stalls in the road to where there were taxi's in the distance. At one point we turned around and he was almost running behind us, still on his phone but looking directly at us, so we started running too, feeling scared by this point, when he called out 'excuse me, excuse me!'. Even though people seemed a bit intimidating to us, on the whole everyone we had encountered had been very polite, so we stopped and confronted the guy when he reached us, saying 'what do you want?'. He then shocked us by getting out some ID and saying he was from the undercover police and that we were acting suspiciously, and he was keeping an eye out for terrorists, and where were we from and demanding to see our passports! We said we were running because he was following us and we were from the UK here on holiday, he demanded to see our passports again and when we said we didn't have them on us he said he didn't believe we were both British and we had to prove it to him! By this point we were more angry than scared and started to think this could be a scam to rob us, so told him to go away and started running again to the taxi's at the end of the road where there were also some police. The guy was back on his phone and shouted after us again to stop, but when we were near the police he turned in the other direction and walked away. We think the next thing would have been that he said we needed to go with him to the 'police station' to prove we were British, where whoever he was on the phone to would be and they would rob us or worse, as this was a scam we had heard about, so we were lucky to get away really. We jumped in a tuk tuk back to the hotel feeling scared and shaken, and this incident only served to confirm how much we hated Delhi and we couldn't wait to leave! We had never felt this way before about a place but with the things we had seen in the city and this experience we couldn't help it.

Back at the hotel, we packed for our ealry morning flight, and went for a quick bite to eat at the restaurant next to the hotel where we went on the first night, as we didn't feel safe at all and we just weren't in the mood to venture too far out. We slept surprisingly well and were up early the next day for our flight back to London.

Its a shame our trip to India had to end like this, but even so, barring Delhi, we had a fabulous time in this diverse country, loved our time in Goa and Mumbai, had some amazing food and met some kind locals, and felt lucky to have seen the Taj Mahal in all its glory. Although we have mixed feelings about India, it is a country that still intrigues us and maybe one day we will come back to explore some more areas, but will definately give Delhi a wide berth!

Additional photos below
Photos: 50, Displayed: 33


22nd August 2012
Photo 8

Nice capture :)
22nd August 2012
Photo 8

Nice capture :)

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