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Published: February 17th 2016
Considering that one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Taj Mahal, is situated in Agra, this means that Agra is one of the most visited of all destinations here in India. Definitely a must for any first timer to India, although many a traveler have told me not to stick around the city of Agra itself for too long. We took an evening train from Jaipur, and I sat next to a family from Ajmer on their way to Agra for a wedding. The daughter spoke English quite well, and we spoke for a good part of the trip. Plenty of questions were put forth to me regarding life in Canada, even questions such as my yearly salary, which is not taboo as it is back home to be asked. I in turn asked plenty of questions about Indian life and customs. Riding the rails in a foreign country is a great way to really get to know some of the locals.
The train arrived quite late in the evening and after negotiating with several tuk-tuk's, we managed to find one that was able to bring us to our hostel, only 500m away from the famous Taj
Mahal. Bev and I had decided that we would attempt to see this wonder of the world for sunrise, despite our mutual hatred for being awake so early. We went to sleep almost immediately. It felt like an instant, but I was awoken by my alarm clock. We got up, and in fact many others at the hostel seemed to be having a similar idea. We first needed to walk to the ticket counter, which was a few hundred metres in the opposite direction. Plenty of touts approached us on the way there. Once we had our ticket, we walked towards the Taj Mahal east gate. Plenty more touts accosted us as we walked. I had already decided that I didn't have a good feel for this city. We waited in the queue and were finally allowed in as the sun was creeping up. It's not everyday that you get to see a wonder of the world, but when I first glimpsed the Taj, I was awestruck. It definitely lived up to the hype. The early morning sun cast a soft and beautiful glow on the building. After taking the almost required photo ops, we then got distracted by some
birds and attempted to take their photos. We took our time and walked all around the Taj and eventually walked inside the mausoleum, where the third wife of Shah Jahan is buried, and the reasoning for this structure that was completed by him in 1653. Towards the end of our stay there, we sat on a bench and just stared off at the magnificence.
We walked back to the hostel much later than expected, and got a late breakfast. Then I interacted with some of the other hostel folk, and played guitar with a German guy. I played the melody while he was on the rythm. It was still the early afternoon at this point, but Bev and I were wondering what else to do while in this town. We decided that we would take the half hour walk from the hostel to the Agra Fort, also labeled as a Unesco World Heritage site. We almost gave this one a miss for stupid reasons, but I'm so happy we didn't because it was almost as impressive as the Taj itself. The outer walls consisted of red sandstone while some of the inner structures were made of marble. It was
quite large although part of it was under renovation when we were there. As we walked along, we met a security guard who placed some crushed cookie or cracker powder in our hands and whistled over some chipmunks who ate out of our hands. Of course he asked for a few rupees for this "service", sadly all too common in this part of India. It always makes me wonder who is being genuinely kind and who is looking for some kind of payday. We spent the afternoon exploring the rest of the fort and taking some snaps. One of the balconies allowed us to see the Taj in the distance. As the afternoon was getting late, we exited the fort and used a rickshaw to get back to the Taj Mahal east gate. From there we walked towards the Yamuna river to get a glimpse of the Taj from the outside for the sunset. It wasn't the best view, but was still pretty nice to see. I couldn't believe how a city like Agra had three Unesco World Heritage sites, yet looked and smelt like a complete dump. The trash along the river right behind the Taj was dense and
the river itself was practically black. We ran into some other people at our hostel there and then went to a nearby restaurant to have thali. I had hardly eaten all day so I ate quite a bit at that moment. When we got back to the hostel, I chilled out on my bed but noticed that I was quite bloated and felt off. As the hours progressed, I didn't feel anywhere near 100% but hoped that this feeling would pass. I was keeping my fingers crossed as I had an early train to catch the next morning. Getting a case of Delhi Belly was the last thing I needed right now.
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