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Published: August 17th 2018
Agra and the Taj Mahal
After a less than successful overnight train – constant snoring and shouting being detrimental to any form of sleep, I arrived in Agra at 6am. As usual I was met by the groups of tuk tuk drivers all wanting to give me a ride. However I had other plans. As I really hadn’t slept, I decided to try and change my following train to give me another night in Agra to catch up but the booking office didn’t open until 8 so I had a while to wait. As usual, sitting anywhere for longer than 2 minutes leads to people coming to sit and sell me something/practice their English. This time was no exception. 2 tuk tuk drivers would not leave me alone, seemingly destined to sit with me for at least an hour so that in theory I would then use their services. One guy gave up after 20 minutes but the older one stayed. He asked me the usual trip questions and then gave me some ideas of where I should visit between Agra and Varanasi – one of his ideas, Khajuraho, I decided to go with.
It was then that I
went to the ticket counter, filled in all the forms to book train tickets – it’s not enough to just ask the person behind the counter, they need it in writing too! After about 30 mins all was complete – I wasn’t spending 2 nights in Agra after all: I was spending 1 and had added another overnight train to the mix... That, and a quick wonder around near the Taj Mahal, was Agra day 1.
Agra day 2:
This morning I got up at 4:45 to walk the 200 metres to the electric bus for the Taj Mahal. There’s a exclusion zone around the area to try to prevent pollution so the government run electric buses to the ticket kiosks instead of motorbikes and tuk tuks. I brought my ticket, got my water bottle and shoe covers (normal water bottles aren’t allowed in, something to do with the type of plastic) and through security I went.
The Taj Mahal was honestly everything I expected and more. You enter through a giant sandstone archway with intricate carvings and sculptures and straight ahead, at the end of a narrow stretch of water surrounded by beautiful gardens, is the Taj
Mahal. Smaller than I was expecting but incredibly beautiful. Even at 5:30am there were plenty of tourists and it was roasting hot. I think we all came to see the sunrise but the polluted skies put pay to that! Wandering down past the water and through the gardens, they’ll Taj seemed to reflect off everything sounds it. Before entering the mausoleum I was talking to a security guard who has worked there for 15 years! He was lovely and let me in a back way and therefore skipping the tourist route. Inside the Taj are the tombs of Shah Jahan and his favourite wife Mumtaz Mahal. Apparently their actual tombs are buried deep beneath and the fake tombs are the ones we saw. Either side of the Taj are two identical red sandstone buildings, one houses a mosque which seems to house a few pigeons too and the other is an empty building. The Taj is closed on Fridays and apparently the local Muslims go there to pray.
After this, I went back to bed (it was 7:30am!) And then later on decided that I had hours to kill before my overnight train at 22:30 so I’d go explore
Agra. Agra itself is a bit of dump (I don’t use that word lightly!). Talking to some locals, they say that the Taj is great for tourism but the rest of the city is still very undeveloped and playing catch up. I guess it doesn’t help that the government have invested heavily in the roads and people can now do a day trip (albeit a very long one!) From Delhi. Agra is also huge!! As in, the Red Fort is 9km from the Taj and the Baby Taj is a further 7km from that. I therefore hired a tuk tuk driver and went off to explore.
The Red Fort or the walled city was once the capital of the Mughal empire before they moved it to Delhi. It’s a huge complex but only 25% is open to the public nowadays – the other 75% houses the Indian army. I wandered through the different rooms, saw the resident family of monkeys and then found some amazing views down the river to the Taj Mahal. After this, I braved the traffic and we headed to the Baby Taj Mahal which is actually the resting place of Mumtaz Mahal's grandfather. It really
is the spitting image of the Taj Mahal, just alot smaller and with fewer pigeons! After this we went 8km down the road to a park the opposite side of the river from the Taj and which has beautiful views. I was there at sunset which is supposedly very beautiful but it was too polluted to really tell! I then had dinner at a local place where two of the owners sat and told me all the history of the area and how it’s changed whilst their mum cooked my Thali.
Then it was back to the train station for overnight train number 2!
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