Moving quickly now to try to catch up. Generally, booking trains and buses is really easy using the ClearTrip app on my phone, it will give a range of trips available at a range of prices. Found the perfect bus from Delhi to Agra but could not make the payment work, maybe because it is an international debit card…sigh…
But we knew the bus name, from where it left and at what time. A local bus ride to the Sarai Kale Kahn bus station and as we step off into a dusty field with a bunch of food vendors and a few buses some guys shout “Agra” ad indicate their bus. It isn’t quite the Uttar Pradesh Transport Company Volvo, but it is clean, looks comfortable, is half the fare and conveniently it is right in front of us so on we get.
The 4 hour trip wasn’t too bad apart from stopping all stations, sometimes in the middle of nowhere along the express way to pick people up or drop them off. Bizarre thing was that rather than half way, after about 3.5hrs, in sight of Agra they decide to do a food and toilet stop, I can only assume the bus guys get a free feed for bringing in a bus load.
At one point along the way I look out the back window and there it is, the UPTC Volvo, right behind us. Yes it looked more comfortable but we were doing the Real IndiaTM thing.
Getting off the bus there was a Rs40 charge for the luggage underneath (they get you coming and going) and the usual bit of a kerfuffle because we didn’t have the exact change. One bloke steps out of the throng of auto drivers that has surrounded us and offers to front the Rs40, we decline and sort it out, but this guy speaks English, has a lovely smile and his ploy works. We hire him to recommend and take us to a hotel. This actually turned out to be a wise move on everybody’s part as after a few laughs along the way and getting into the hotel we book him to do the Agra tourist thing the next day.
We always try to arrive in a town early morning if going by train, or with a short-ish bus ride like this one early afternoon. So after settling into the superficially OK but actually mediocre hotel we went for a walk to the railway station on a mission. Often with train tickets the trains are overbooked and you start out on a waitlist. I have never missed a train because a waitlist hasn’t been confirmed, but I do like to stack the odds in my favour. I wanted to try to convert our waitlist into an Emergency Quota tickets or Foreign Tourist Quota (haven’t managed this one yet). The train was booked for our trip to Varanasi, but still not confirmed.
A casual walk along dusty roads, past cows, goats, pigs, dogs, burning rubbish and a kid defecating in the street had us quickly falling in love with Agra. We failed to upgrade at the station and out the front asked an auto driver if he could take us to somewhere we could have a beer. Of course he could , for Rs30 – cheap!
It was cheap because we were conned – it was about a 5 minute walk, if that. The bar was dingy, Sheila was the only woman, but the beer was cold.
The auto rickshaws are one thing, the cycle rickshaws are something else. These poor buggers work hard for less Rupees because they are much slower. It is not uncommon to see them out and pushing up even the slightest of hills. We caught one back to the hotel, I helped push and offered to cycle for the driver, but it would cost him Rupees (cue laughter).
Next day was the big day, one of the highlights we were looking forward to, the Taj Mahal. Everyone who has been there says that the photos, while beautiful don’t do it justice. We had seen a glimpse of it from a long way off the previous day and it was definitely alluring.
An early start, the heat in the middle of the day is pretty stifling. There is quite a strong security presence, metal detectors, a quick frisking (my favourite part). Actually security is apparently strong in lots of places, but it I reckon it is mostly a sham. You walk through metal detectors that beep, no one cares. People are half watching the screens on the x-ray machines. In the streets or at venues police with sub-machine guns are sitting chatting, paying as little attention to the goings on as possible. If the attack they are there to prevent ever happens, I reckon they will also defecate in the streets.
Once in, the approach to the Taj Mahal is through the main gate which is awesome in its own right.
I made sure I didn’t peek until I had the full view and they were right, it is a most beautiful building. The whole place is very symmetrical, the layout of other buildings, gardens. Even the Taj Mahal itself is exactly the same height as its width.
As we walked towards it, it dawned on me just how big the building is, something you just don’t get in photos. And it is white, glaring white marble
It is pretty crowded but not to the point of being annoying. Given that Indians get in for Rs20 compared to Rs750 for foreign tourists it is no surprise that the place is packed.
From there to the Red Fort. Please refrain from “not another bloody fort” comments. Instead you can write “not another bloody baoli” comment because tucked away, behind locked gate but broken fence was this beauty with an octagonal well.
Next stop, Varanasi