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Published: August 8th 2011
What you find in India while looking for the entrance to the Taj.
We had booked a return trip from Delhi to Agra so we could take a peek at the Taj Mahal. A few people had said that other than the Taj, there isn't much else in Agra to see or do except get harassed by touts. So we decided against staying overnight.
Our booking had us on the sleeper class for the four hour ride down and the A/C Chair class on the two and a half hour express back. This was our first Indian train experience and we wanted to get the full flavour. However, when we saw what 'full flavour' looked like in second class on some of the commuter trains, with people jammed in and hanging off the cars like monkeys, we were glad to have chosen sleeper class. The sleeper class has assigned bunks so everyone gets a bed. For the shorter day trips like ours the middle bed was folded down so there was a place to sit on the bottom with a backrest and a place to lay on the top if you were so inclined.
It was a cooker of a trip down. Even with the windows wide open and the fans blaring
They start 'em young!
I think I lost about a litre of water in sweat. But it was worth it. The ride was very interesting and the view was only half of it. I don't know how these folks got on and off, because the train only stopped a couple of times, but there was everything and anything being sold by rather poor desperate looking people trapesing up and down the isles turning their sales pitch into a song. You could get your shoes polished, buy a chain to lock your bag, get anything to eat or drink, buy a pillow or a toy or cards or donate to the poor.
We got into Agra around lunch time so we decided to eat before going in the Taj gates. Our main requirement of a restaraunt was that it was air conditioned. So when we saw a sign that said 'Very Cool' on the glassed in place we nearly dove in. Lunch was unmemorable, but once we were cool we decided to wade through the sea of touts and get in to see what all the fuss was about.
After much circling trying to figure out where the ticket booth was we were
Taj Mahal & Me
Looks almost like I'm the only one there... trick of the camera!
finally in line to get into the Taj Mahal. Security was tight and men were lined up seperately from women. I didn't get why until I was in a little booth with a woman security officer getting a full body rub down. The lady's line was much shorter and I was through long before Alex. We had some stuff in our bag that the uptight security guy didn't like and Alex got the third degree. We didn't know you weren't allowed to bring food in. But we will remember for next time.
Finally we were in! Even as we were just walking up to the gateway, the symetry was obvious. The gardens, the gates, the Taj itself were all perfectly in line. Everyone has seen photos of the Taj, but it is quite different in real life. Bigger, brighter and strangely serene for a place surrounded by thousands of tourists. You were supposed to take off your shoes to go up to the main platform where the Taj sits, but we opted for the silly white movers booties that go over your shoes rather than risk theft. Up close the Taj is even better. Very intricate. And the view
Leading up to the Taj Mahal.
from the back side of the Taj to the Yamuna river and the surrounding country side was a nice surprise.
Eventuially we found a place to sit and rest our feet and suddenly we became part of the attraction. One man pushed Alex and I apart and plopped his baby between us to snap a photo. I think the baby was horrified. Then while we had some space between us a man jumped up onto the ledge and had his friends snap a couple of shots. We felt like movie stars!
It is hard to spend more than a couple of hours in the grounds, so when we were all Mahal-ed out we went to an air conditioned coffee shop and sipped until it was time to catch our A/C chair class train back to Delhi. Waiting at the train station in Agra we got a good look at the night life around the station. There were a lot of beggars, but worse there were a lot of rats! Big ones! Ones that could eat my dog! I was glad every time a train came by and scared them off.
The ride home was much less eventful
The classic shot.
than the ride up. The sales people were kept off our car by armed police, and no one really spoke to each other. An Indian train meal was served (think slight step up from airplane food) which was a surprise. We slept until our train pulled into Delhi at ten. Then we just went back to the hotel to get packed for our early flight to Leh the next morning.
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