After getting the train at 5:50 am we expected it to be packed but in fact it was really quiet. It was also freezing! None of the windows either closed or closed properly meaning the very cold night air was rushing against us.
When the sun came up we hurried to get ourselves in a position for the sun light.
We eventually arrived in Agra at 9 am, a little later than expected (I was hoping to be at the Taj by now).
Got a police taxi, another guy got in the car with the driver and started talking to us. Only asking what he was doing did we find out he was a tour guide. We didn't actually want a guide, but he was included in the price (850 rupees for the day) and seemed nice enough.
Got to Taj Mahal and bought our Gringo price ticket 750rupees (locals was 20), the advantage was we were able to join our own queue, whereas the locals had a fairly big queue.
After a bag check we started walking through the outer courtyard, surrounded by a massive redbrick wall and entrance way, which meant you couldn't actually see the Taj yet. We took our pictures and headed through the entrance way.
As we walked through we could see the Taj frame itself in the gateway on the other side. Walking through the gateway we were greeted with the picture postcard view of the Taj, with the fountains, the gardens, the bright blue sky and the white Taj at the end. Our guide rushed us through the crowd and took a couple of quick pictures and hurried off beckoning for us to hurry behind him. We were a little taken a back as to why he was making us rush, but we decided to ignore him and just go at our own pace.
Each side of the Taj are two identical, big red buildings both that look like mosques, apparently only the one on the left is a mosque, the one on the right however is a guesthouse. On top of the Taj are also a lot of black hooks all over the dome. During the fighting with Pakistan they covered the Taj in a black cloth to help stop it from getting bombed.
After a few more pictures on the concourse leading up to the Taj itself we put some paper slippers over our shoes and headed up some steps to join the scrum to get inside the main dome of the Taj Mahal. Inside was a single octagonal room completely made of white marble with balconies that went up (although no obvious way to get up to them) and an octagonal marble screen around 2 coffins in the middle of the room; 1 smaller coffin of Mumtaz (the wife of Shah Jahan) and the bigger coffin of Shah Jahan (The ruler of the Mugals who built the Taj to remember his wife). We saw the coffins and made our way round the room through the crowds and out the other side.
To our relief, outside our guide said he'd leave us to wander round by ourselves. He hadn't given us a lot of info, just taken pictures and rushed us through it, so we were happy to have the time to explore at our own pace. We had about 45 minutes until we had to meet up by the ticket gate again. We visited the mosque, took some more pictures and just sat on a bench looking at the Taj in the sun, watching people pull crazy poses in their pictures and generally mill around.
After the 45 minutes were up we walked back to the taxi with the guide along the road filled with camels (set up for rides). Once back in the taxi we went for lunch at an overly expensive restaurant (300 for biryani, where as in Delhi it was 150 for full curry and rice). But there was a snake charmer outside the restaurant charming a cobra. After lunch we had the joy of visiting 2 "exhibits" of course we knew what this meant....shops. We didn't want to be wasting our time with that, but Alicia did manage to buy a present for her grandmother. Then onto the Agra Fort. The fort was both residence and prison for various royals. It was a huge complex which was
originally surrounded by a crocodile filled moat. Inside the fort there were chambers for the Kings 3 wife's (1 Hindu, 1 Muslim, 1 Christian) as well as gardens which used to be filled with water and fish so that the King and his friends could go fishing, courtyards and an amazing living area with a view of the the Taj, the river and the spot were the "black Taj" would have stood. It was supposed to be a rival Taj built by Shah Jahan's son, identical to the original but in black marble over the other side of the river. The ground was cleared and the foundation laid but it was never built. The irony of this view/lookout point from the fort was that as Shah Jahan was held prisoner there by his son, he had a beautiful view of the Taj but as his eyesight was so poor, he could only see it reflected in a mirror.
Our guide again rushed us through all the rooms and temples covered in marble and stone and decorated in amazing detail. We were getting pretty frustrated with him and repeatedly told him to slow down or asked him to actually explain a room rather than just walking through it at pace. Once we reached the end he stopped us, we arranged to be picked up in the taxi an hour and half later. He then said "can you give me my tip now" (as if it was compulsory) "as if you give me a tip in the car, I'll have to share it with the driver". We went away to discuss what we thought was appropriate, we weren't exactly happy with his service but he had taken pictures of us which was a bonus and we'd expected we'd need to tip. We thought more or less 15% tip was more than generous. We gave him the money, he then counted it in front of us and handed it back, "please give his to me in front of the driver of the driver. This isn't a heavy amount". We were taken back and angry at this insult. We often felt like some locals thought we were like money piñatas that if they kept plugging away at, more money would come out. We were both so angry, Alicia was upset, I was fed up and it really did put a taint on the day. This anger didn't actually subside for a few days after and was still a sore point for a few more after that. It really offended us. We sat on the step in the blazing sun for a fair while until we got up to look round a bit more.
Back in the taxi, we got driven around to shops where they openly admitted they'd get commission for if we went in but for us not to buy anything because it was too expensive. He also tried to give me some guff about "you work hard, you get the money that's owed to you". I was not interested in hearing anything he had to say. At the shops, I just walked in and sat straight down, happy to make clear to the shop people I wasn't interested. Alicia played the game though and was being shown round.
Finally after 3 shops we got dropped of at the train station, we paid the driver what we owed him and when it came to the guide I really wanted not to give him anything but we were practically in the middle of nowhere surrounded by taxi drivers. We both decided to simply cut his tip, it wasn't a great deal to us (100 rupees £2) and would get our point across but hopefully not get into hot water. Before I let go of the money I told him he had offended us and he seemed to know if. We left promptly to get inside the station.
It was just gone 5pm and our train wasn't until 7.30pm. Unfortunately in the station the first announcement we heard was our train was delayed by 45 minutes...great. Then when we checked the boards it said an hour an a half! We went to the ticket counter and the guy explained that it was actually two and a half hours delay. We wouldn't get into the train station in Jaipur until gone 2am then we needed to get a taxi and from the reviews we read, it was difficult to find and with even some taxis giving up and leaving people in some random place. We asked about an earlier train, we'd just missed one and the next was around 7pm (still not getting into Jaipur until gone midnight).
We discussed and after not knowing if our hostel had 24 hour reception and knowing if we got in late we'd not get up early and see Jaipur, meaning the effort would be pointless. Our conclusion was our most extravagant of all our travels. We would get a taxi. We were told that there was a tourist office along the main road. We started walking through the derelict outskirts of Agra (not a nice city by any stretch of the imagination) and as the light was quickly fading we realised this was probably going to be a one way trip for us. Overall it was around a 45 minute walk and as we got there the office was being locked up. The guy saw us, came over and we explained what we wanted and he got on the phone. First we were asked to sit in a mechanics shop whilst he went off and tried to get a driver. Then we went back to his office after he opened it back up and waited for nearly 45 minutes for the car. He asked at a few points for the money but we refused to give him it until the car got there.
When the car arrived we got in, paid the 3500 rupees and settled down for the night. There wasn't much talking as we were so tired, but we wanted to see where we going so we stayed up. We got out of Agra and made it onto a highway leading direct to Jaipur.