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December 16th 2011
Published: December 30th 2011
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The Red Fort
16th December Karol Bargh, Delhi

The overnight train was the usual experience except that this train was slightly cleaner and the toilet didn’t start off stinking, bonus! Neither of us got much sleep unfortunately so we were shattered when we arrived at Delhi at 6.50 am and then had to find the tube station, queue for tickets, but soon we arrived at Karol Bargh, which hadn’t changed much at all. The hotel was pretty close and just off the main street which was full of shops, market stalls and food places.

When we checked into the hotel – the Pooja Palace (great name shame it didn’t quite live up to it though) we met Sarah also from England and on our trip and also a smoker! As we all had to wait for rooms to come free and be got ready we decided to go out for breakfast to a local place that another Intrepid guide we bumped into recommended. It was a bit of a dingy hole packed with men but as he said it was good, cheap and fast service we went in. It turned out to be Tiffin – how Anglo Indian is that?!!, it was
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The Red Fort
a kind of breakfast thali and it did come quickly, was cheap and tasted bloody awful – who wants to eat curry for breakfast! Even the thing resembling a doughnut was mildly curried and just above foul. When we later discovered our hotel did pancakes I was not impressed.

When we got back to the hotel the rooms were ready, ours turned out to be an internal room sadly, but was clean and comfy and we were shattered. After a few hours kip we went out for food and found a street stall come shop which even sold cakes and ice cream. While we sat on a bench by the road eating Howard was persuaded to get his boots cleaned which turned into a mammoth procedure, he had already agreed a price but the young lad doing it insisted on stitching up his broken bits and glued his toes back together where they were coming away and of course the price shot up at the end. He gave him more as he had done a good job, but all the while it was going on older lads were watching and saying stuff to the boy. When he asked for
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The Red Fort
more money he seemed to be saying they would take it off him and I got the distinct impression it was some sort of a gang he worked for.

We met up with our group at 6 and what a mixed bunch they are! There is a Swiss brother and sister who seem a good laugh, 1 young Austrian girl, an American couple, 2 Ladies from New Zealand, 1 Australian lady, an Australian mum and her 2 kids and 4 Brits including us and all of us are a wide variety of ages. The group size is now 15 instead of 12 which we are a bit fed up about and sure enough the evening meal was the usual massive long table and not being able to hear again! Still the guide – Akki a young Indian guy has made it very clear his job is to get us from A to B, check us into the hotels and organise the included activities and apart from making recommendations of things to do and where to eat that is it, so he’ll do for me! Everyone seems very nice, friendly and keen to see India which is great, the USA
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The Red Fort
girl seems a real princess so that should prove interesting, her suitcase (yes I did say suitcase) is hard bodied and gigantic!

17th December ’11 Delhi

OMG I feel very very ill – flu, headaches, blocked sinuses and cold! Howard still isn’t brilliant either so we opted out of the sightseeing – it was all places we have been to several times before and just spent most of the day in bed. The only trip out was to the chemists, who advised me to steam my head – no way I can do that though so he then told me to take amoxicillin which we bought along with codeine (15mg – only available on prescription at home) and electrolytes all for under £3!!! India is the pharmaceutical capital of the world according to Howard.

18th December ’11 Delhi to Agra

Feeling marginally better and armed with a toilet roll (for nose blowing) we were up and ready to leave at 5 am to catch the train to Agra. Delhi was shrouded in a heavy fog and it was freezing cold but once on the train and having a bit of breakfast it warmed up slightly.
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The Taj Mahal

When we arrived in Agra we went straight to the Red Fort for a guided tour – Howard of course disappeared as usual! It was almost like a comedy sketch as every time the guide gathered us round to tell us about something the 2 older new Zealand ladies listened and then asked him a question which was exactly the same thing as he had just told us, every single time! The fort was really beautiful and full of history, the only thing I could remember from being there 25 years ago was the view across the river to the Taj Mahal – but due to the fog we couldn’t see it!!

The hotel – Hotel Royale Residency was very nice and quite posh and had HOT showers! We had a bit of a rest and then it was out again to visit the Taj Mahal. Oh how times have changed… there is now a special visitors centre with electronic bus things that you have to catch to take you down to the entrance queues. You can’t take anything in except a camera, money belt and a bottle of water (which is given to you with your ticket and
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The Taj Mahal
shoe covers). You then go through airport style security scanners, get body scanned by a guard and then you go into the entrance courtyard area. Gone are the days of walking along a dusty road passing ladies carrying huge piles of dried cow pats on their head, there was no sitting just inside the entrance while you are told the heart wrenching love story of Shah Jahan and his beloved wife Mumtaz while you gave at the Taj Mahal. Oh no, this time there were literally thousands of people barging, jostling and shoving their way through the gate, soldiers blowing whistles and moving you along. We were carried along in a never ending stream of humanity and noise!!

The Taj Mahal was just as beautiful as I remembered it but I’m so glad I saw it all those years ago and had that memorable experience. We put our shoe covers on so we could get up onto the mausoleum platform and as we had the expensive tourist tickets were told to jump the huge ordinary queue and push our way into the ordinary queue near the tomb entrance. We then got into the tombs area there was no quiet
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The Taj Mahal at sunset
reverence, 2 men started having a scrap which had to be broken up by the soldiers guarding it and were literally jostled and swept round the tombs before reaching a bottle neck at the doorway where a tide of people kept pouring in as we tried to get out, I was kind of squeezed out like a cork from a bottle and flew straight into one of the soldiers! Fortunately he didn’t mind!! We did manage to find a bit of peace by walking off the main paths and going into the side pavilions and the museum.

After the Taj the group were going onto the obligatory carpet weaving factory but 5 of us ditched that and headed back to the hotel, with Howard and I opting out of the group evening meal – which we found out later was a very good move as apparently it was mediocre and expensive. We ate at the hotel and had the best curry yet! It was slightly unnerving though as we were the only people in the restaurants and the 3 waiters kind of hovered around watching us but hey ho the food was great. At least the antibiotics seem to be working as I hardly ate the day before and feel much better now in comparison.

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