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Published: February 7th 2010
Jan 3rd - 12th
We were pretty excited to be taking our first train trip in India. We had heard all sorts of stories - both good and bad but the booking was made easily (we used a website called Clear Trip which is much more simple than the Indian Rail site) and we managed to get three sleeper seats in an air conditioned carriage. The seats fold out to make bunk beds - 4 people on one side of the aisle and two the other. So, happily, we settled back in comfort for our 13 hour journey to Agra and waved goodbye to crazy wonderful Varanasi.
It is so lovely to travel by train through any country. The three of us had our noses pressed against the glass and watched as the city faded to small villages, farms and dirt roads. Two hours into the trip though, I got my first proper stomach upset since the beginning of our trip. Matt had fallen ill with it in Pokhara and Greg had a dose in Kathmandu so I knew my turn wouldn’t be far off. I was just so pleased to be on a train rather than
ouch....sick in Agra
me and that sleeping bag were inseperable for about 3 days
a bus! We got into Agra a few hours later than scheduled and thankfully our hotel - Tourist Rest House, wasn’t far from the station. Matt and Greg sorted the taxi and hotel negotiations so I was able to just concentrate on getting myself straight to the room. It’s a pretty average hotel but luckily the room was comfortable as this was to be all I saw of Agra for the next couple of days. We’re carrying a good stash of medicine so after self diagnosing Giardia, I took the appropriate antibiotics and tried not to feel too sorry for myself as I recuperated.
Meanwhile, Matt went to do some exploring around the old historical town of Agra. He may write about Agra Fort so watch this space. In the meantime, I’ve put some pics on here. On the third day, I felt well enough to venture out and we headed to the Taj Mahal before sunrise to beat the queues and make the most of the early morning light. We hadn’t counted on the blanket of soup-like fog that had descended upon the city though and by 11am we were starving and ready to give up. It
seemed such a shame to leave without seeing one of the wonders of the world so we convinced a guard to let us pop out for a bite to eat. We returned at 12 and gave a loud whoop as we came though the gates and saw the magnificent white marble Taj framed beautifully against a clear blue sky. It was full of people by this stage and we almost got into a bit of a tussle when trying to take our pose shot from the famous Lady Diana seat (see picture of Greg who compromised by sharing a seat with a lady!). However after taking lots of pictures, we spent a lovely half hour marveling at the majesty and workmanship of this beautiful 17th century building created by the Emporer Shah Jahan for his beloved wife Mumtaz Mahal when she died giving birth to son number 14.
It may be something to do with the fact that I felt so ill but I really wasn’t overly keen on Agra as a town. Nevertheless, it really does have more than it’s fair share of astonishingly beautiful and historically important buildings. On the same day as the Taj, we
also got a tuktuk driver to take us to Akbar’s Mausoleum, an enormous marble and red sandstone monument to honour the legendary Mughal emperor as well as Itimad-ud-daulah, fondly known as the Baby Taj. This is a very pretty building with intricate marble carvings and flower motifs created from inlaid semi precious stones. It was built by a lady called Nur Jahan for her father Mizra Ghiyas Beg. It would seem that Emporer Shah Jahan thought she was pretty clever too as he used a lot of her ideas while building his much bigger, much more expensive monument.
On the following day, we headed out to Fatehpur Sikri (about 40 mins in a Taxi) which is a whole fortified city built by the Emperor Akbar as the capital of the Mughal empire in the 1570’s and then abandoned when it was discovered that there was a shortage of water. It’s very beautiful and I had just been day dreaming about a Maharaja and his harem of dancing beauties when we turned a corner and came across a Bollywood film being recorded in one of the courtyards. It was fantastic, I was able to give my imagination a break
There's thousands of these at about shin level the whole way around the Taj - incredible to think they were all done by hand
and enjoy the spectacle of a giggling skipping young woman in a beautiful blue silk sari being chased by a very light-on-his feet, handsome suitor to the sound of a rocking tune. Now this is what I call culture!
I’ve just read that last bit out to matt and he’s shaking his head in distress….I’m not very good at the historic bits! On this note I must confess that another highlight was finding a Domino’s pizza joint. I know, sacrilegious when so much wonderful local food is available but I just couldn’t face any more curry for a few days.
The combination of feeling ill, really uninspiring weather, smelly Agra and an email I received from our friends Jo and Pete with some recommendations for the south of India made us decide to give up on the north for a while and head to Kerala. After a quick search online, we had booked our tickets to the sun leaving in four days from Delhi. So, we said au revoir to our friend Greg who was headed for Bodha Gaya and then Thailand (hope you're doing well big man, write soon!), we packed our things and headed
to the capital to catch a few more sights before heading for the beach.
Delhi wasn’t nearly as crazy as we had imagined (but maybe our senses were still dulled from Varanasi). However it was very cold. We even needed our down sleeping bags as well as hotel blankets. We were the lucky ones though; some poor souls that had to sleep on the streets had died over the previous week because of the unusually low temperatures. The city was also very smoggy because on top of the usual pollution, everyone was burning fires by the side of the street to try to keep warm. We took refuge in a little South African run café called the open Hand which does wonderful coffee and breakfasts as well as having free Wi-Fi. We met some other ex-pats sitting it out there too including our new friend Aaron - a journalist from the US who is about to go up to Srinigar to cover events there. We ventured out of our cocoon on one of the clearer days and due to Matt’s very clever planning, we managed to fit in a week’s worth of sight seeing over the course of
about 6 hours. After negotiating a day rate with a tuk tuk driver, we started at India’s largest Mosque - the Jama Masjid. We then wandered around the enormous Red Fort, followed by Gandhi’s monument, Humayun’s tomb (which is such a nice peaceful place by the way), the war memorial and then a quick shower and change before meeting up with Aaron and returning to the Red Fort for the evening sound and light show highlighting the history of the Fort from the early Mughal days, through the Persian invasion, British rule and independence. After an enjoyable show, we had dinner on one of the many roof top restaurants in the buzzy backpacker Paharganj area and finished the night off with a very lovely Chai (thanks Aaron for treating us that night). On our last day in Delhi, I left my backpacker life in our hotel room for a couple of hours and took myself off to the Intercontinental for some pampering. Oh how wonderful to sit in luxury and place myself in the caring hands of a very sweet north Indian lady who proceeded to tame my locks, massage my head and sholders and tut-tut me for not having
had a hair cut since the beginning of this trip (7 months….can’t believe it!). We celebrated our last night in the big smoke by going to @Live in Connaught Place for a posh dinner, lots of cheesy eighty power ballad singing (Aaron was word perfect on almost all of them - a very special talent!) and a couple of very tasty Long Island iced teas. Some Recommendations for Agra and Delhi Sleeping
- Tourist Rest House in Agra. Pretty average and not terribly friendly but it’s quiet, a short tuk tuk ride from everything and reasonably priced for Agra - we paid 600 Rs for a double room with en suite. I love their email - firstname.lastname@example.org !
- Pearl Plaza in Delhi. We paid 1200 on the first night and then 1000 after that so it’s not cheap but it’s really quite nice and everything is new and clean and there’s even a flat screen TV (with more Bollywood channels than you could shake a jangly anklet at) and 24 hour hot water. No air con or heating though. Email email@example.com Ph: 23585544 / 23585588
*Delhi - Sam’s restaurant for really good
Smoggy day in Delhi
This is me with our tuk tuk driver for the day - he was lovely!
value food and beer (it’s on the rooftop of hotel of same name) and Open Hand Café - both in Paharganj. We also had a fun night in @Live in Connaught Place. It’s expensive though - home-style prices.
*Agra - Lakshmi Vilas does wonderful South Indian food. They do wonderful Dosas (potato pancake) including a massive family size one that’s the length of the table!
*Joney’s place is right beside the Taj and great for brekkie and Lassi’s
*Yash café is terrible! Enough Said
*Oh and Domino’s!! It’s just down the road from Lakshmi Villas Doing
*Hiring a tuk tuk for multiple things seems to work out quite good value. We paid about 600 Rs (about $12) for a whole day in Delhi and about 300 Rs for about 3 hours in Agra.
*Yes it’s one of the most visited tourist sites in the world but the Taj Mahal really is quite stunning. It’s worth the steep 750 Rs price tag, the long queue to get in and the odd photo possie struggle.
*We really enjoyed the evening show in the Red Fort. If you’re on a really tight budget, you can actually see most of
what there is to see in there with this night time ticket which is only 80 Rs as opposed to the day time ticket which is 300Rs.
*www.cleartrip.com makes booking a train in India pretty simple. We did find out though that you can just turn up at the station and buy a very cheap 3rd class ticket and then upgrade once onboard - it’s all legitimate so won’t cost more than it should and it would seem that there’s usually availability (even though the booking site may say the train is full)
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