Hanging out at the Taj
I’m not going to miss these 5am mornings.
Off to the train station.
But this time our train wasn’t already waiting at the platform for us.
So we joined the homeless people and people waiting for trains and sat on the smelly platform.
When the train arrived we had to compete with a pile of Indians to get on the train. No such queuing system here. Our seats were reserved, yet we arrived to find them full. So after moving people away, we ended up with a whole sleeper seat each! Amazing. So I fell asleep.
I was rudely woke up later when a big fat Indian man sat on my legs. Uh, I’m not having that. So he was, in turn, rudely told to move. And that’s when I realised I was surrounded.
One sat by my head, another sat in the curve between my stomach and my legs. For gods sake!
And even more ridiculous – I found out after leaving the train that while I was asleep, my t shirt slipped up a bit. (I was totally covered, wearing leggings and a high necked tshirt) So when the tshirt moved, it was showing less than an inch of my side in one small place and all the surrounding men were transfixed, staring at me. Some even leaning down from the top bunk to have a look.
There is a rather funny photo.
But seriously, what is wrong with these people?!
The rest of the journey was spent in various shapes of discomfort. I tried to lay strategically towards the edge of my bed, stretching out as much as possible so that I wouldn’t have people sitting on me. But that didn’t discourage them.
Finally, after 6 hours we arrived into Agra. And cue the usual chaos.
There’s no letting people off trains here. It’s just an on/off scrum of people.
I had to push past oncoming people and luggage to get myself (and my big bag!) off the train. What a joke.
We caught tuk tuks to the hotel across the boring looking town and met with a costa coffee! Exciting!
Agra is really known for one thing – the Taj Mahal.
But we’re not going today. Saving that excitement for tomorrow.
Instead, off to the fort – Agra fort.
This is one of the most famous forts in India, but I suppose often overshadowed by the Taj Mahal which lies a few hundred meters away. Construction of the fort began in 1565 initially as a military structure but later became a palace. The surrounding walls are 2.5km long and over 20m in height! From the entrance way – my first sighting of the Taj Mahal! Just the tips of the white domes. How cool! The entrance is very similar to the Red Fort in Delhi. A large red sandstone archway through a wall with cut-outs along the top and into a large green courtyard. Only a small part of this fort is open to the public – the rest is closed off for use by the military.
We wandered around a couple of pretty courtyards – one where 200 women were housed! The detail on some of the upper floors was really pretty – all made of gemstones. Out of the windows and top layers of the fort the Taj is visible. It looks small from here!
As we wandered around absolutely loads of Indians followed us taking photos.
There were loads of white people around, why couldn’t they follow someone else?!
Next stop, the mini Taj. It’s proper name being Itimad-ud-Daulah. The tuk tuk ride to get there was interesting – the roads are being dug up and presumably being relaid. But in the meantime all the traffic is squished onto one small laneway. I didn’t see any cows though. Just a lot of macaque monkeys.
The mini Taj is a mausoleum for the Persian nobleman Mizra Ghiyas Beg and the first Mughal structure built completely from marble. It was really pretty. So white from afar, but up close totally covered in coloured stones. It was all made by hand and so intricately. Even inside was intricately decorated.
These shopping stops are starting to get a bit ridiculous. Today we were shown Indian star gems. They come in pink or black and in the right light look like there is a white star across the surface of the stone. Apparently you can only buy them in Agra, blah, blah, blah. The prices in these shops are just ridiculous as well.
To watch the sunset we went to the Mehtab Bagh gardens across the water from the Taj. The views were lovely – much better than from the fort. It was really pretty. Across the way the Taj looked busy – people, like ants, milling around the base. We were at totally the wrong angle to actually get a sunset photo with the Taj in it, but it was pretty and should be good tomorrow!
After a short rest, back out again for some dinner. Food is expensive in Agra – double what we have been paying at similar restaurants elsewhere. I tried something different – stuffed paneer in a cashewnut based sauce. It was quite nice, very sweet.
Monday 29 April 2013
The big day! The Taj Mahal.
And we also had the first lie-in of India. I didn’t have to get up until 11am! Wow. I also stupidly drank tap water last night, as there were no shops open for water and I was desperate. Luckily feeling ok today.
I treated myself to a costa coffee vanilla ice (as if today isn’t going to be an expensive day anyway!).
For lunch we went to a Southern Indian restaurant. The food is totally different. No curries as such, you could get dosais or a rice-type thing that both come with a variety of dipping sauces. I had a masala dosai – a large flat pancake type thing filled with a spicy potato mix. It was good, but far too spicy for me!
Then back in the tuk tuks for the short ride to the Taj! We were dropped in the middle of some shops and walked the rest of the way.
The Taj is reportedly the most beautiful building in the world and is synonymous with India. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit.
The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife who died giving birth to their fourteenth child in 1631. It was 1653 by the time the complex was completed – with help from over 20,000 people! However, not long after completion, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son and imprisoned in Agra Fort. We saw his prison yesterday – beautifully ornate with a view out to the Taj. He died in 1666 and his tomb was also placed inside the Taj. The Taj is the most expensive thing we’ve been to – £10 entrance fee. That is a lot for India!
You have to go through a couple of security checks and bag checks. Certain things are not allowed in – including no food, no makeup and no spare camera batteries! I passed the tests and was allowed in! It was really cool. After entering through the huge main gate, you are met with that standard post card view. Wow. Seeing it yesterday was a bit of a disappointment, it didn’t look that wonderful – because it was from the wrong angle.
But today – this is what you see in photos. The four 40m high minarets framing the large domed centre building. We walked up through the gardens, past all the waterways and fountains. It was so pretty! I couldn’t stop taking photos, so I have hundreds all of the same thing!
Once you head up onto the main podium of the building, no shoes are allowed. Or you can wear shoe covers – the floor is excruciatingly hot. We walked all around the base, before making our way up and inside. Up close, it’s possible to see the detail of the Taj. It’s totally covered in intricate detailing. Inscriptions in Arabic running around in long ribbons. Patterns of flowers made using inlaid coloured stones. And carvings into the marble itself. Pretty. Inside is one large room. But I was surprised actually how small it is inside!
In the centre lies the two burial sites. They are surrounded by intricately carved marble and coloured stones set into the white marble. A corridor runs around the room that you can walk around before leaving. There were quite a few people around, but I was surprised it wasn’t busier. We saw less than 10 other white tourists – no idea where they all were today! All were Indians.
It’s so hot today – around 40 degrees. And oddly there are no shops within the complex – so you cannot buy water without going back outside (and no reentry!). Bit odd. And really annoying.
We spent a few hours wandering around. Just as we were leaving, I noticed they had turned the fountains off. Perfect for a reflection-in-the-water photo!
For dinner we went to some street stalls and had some random dishes (filled puff balls, spicy Rice Krispies and nan bread). It was good. But nothing is cheap here in Agra!
And we still have a long wait until our 11.30pm train to Varanasi.
We headed off to the train station about 10.30pm. It wasn’t too far away, just next to the fort (which looked really pretty all lit up). Oddly it didn’t look like our train was on the departure boards. But we headed over to the platform and made ourselves comfy for the 20 minute wait until the train arrived. It didn’t arrive.
Then the announcement – 3 hour delay. Oh wonderful.
So the next few hours were spent sat uncomfortably on a dirty platform watching rats the size of cats running around the tracks. As per usual people came to have a stare at us. One man was a bit weird, walking around us shouting things. We ignored him and he went away and came back a few times. Then the police spotted him and came running over to save us!
But I was shocked when, after him refusing to leave us alone, they started hitting him with a stick! And carried on all the way up the platform, up the stairs and out of the station!
When it was nearing 2am, the boards changed. Now arriving 3.15am! For goodness sake! 3.15am. No train. 3.30am. No train. I’m so tired. Finally at 4am it arrived. 5 hours late.
And as per usual there were a whole load of people in our beds. They kicked up a lot of fuss about moving as well. And I was annoyed they used my pillow and sheets. So out come my own!
Two days ago a similar tour group caught this train and 6 big bags were stolen while they slept! That’s worrying. Earlier we bought chains and padlocks for our bags, so I chained both of my bags to the metal rungs of my bed. I’m not putting my big bag under the bed anymore – so it’s on my bed, taking up half the space. And it’s a bit squishy anyway!
I have no idea what time we pulled away from the station as I was already fast asleep. The trains normally sit in the stations for about half an hour.