After getting to Agra I headed to Taj Ganj the main backpacker area right next to the Taj Mahal. Got a room at a half-decent place called the Shanti Lodge for about £4 a night. It was infinitely better than the crap hotels in Paharganj, had a nice bathroom, widescreen TV and even a small window view of the Taj. I liked Agra already. Caught the end of the US election on TV, Obama was just giving his victory speech - good shiz. Chilled in the hotel for a bit chatting to a few other travelers about how it was good to get out of Delhi before heading out to the Taj a bit before sunset. By Indian standards at 750RS (£10) it's insanely expensive and must make a fortune. It really is incredible though and is obviously very well maintained with lush gardens either side. Consisting of the main building and 2 identical mosques either side it was built in the 1600's by Shah Jahan for his wife after she died during childbirth. After he died he was also buried inside along with her. You can go inside the tomb and look around; it's amazing if a little creepy. Headed back to Shanti and had a curry on the roof-top restaurant of the hotel over-looking the Taj. Main, rice, naan and beer for £2.50, got to love India.
Next day did a rickshaw tour of the rest of Agra after having breakfast and watching the sun rise behind the Taj. Saw some random tombs and temples and while all the backstory stuff really interested me at the time, it's kind of all blurred into one now. Was cool to see the herds of Buffalo roaming the sandy shores of the Agra river, and even here as with virtually everywhere in India families in cobbled together shacks attempted to make some kind of a living. Jermal my driver was an utter ledge and apparently lived in a big house with his wife and 5 children and then his 7 siblings and their families. Bloody hope it's a big house! Saw the foundations for the Black Taj, planned to be built across the river identically matching the white one with a bridge connecting them. I can't even imagine how incredible it would have looked but unfortunately it was deemed too expensive and abandoned after the foundations had been built. Also checked out Agra Fort which is stunning, far more so than the Red Fort. Full of courtyards, halls, prisons and ahem. . "harem chambers" the whole place was pretty epic as was the view from the top. Shah Jahan was imprisoned here years after he built the Taj Mahal after being overthrown by his son. Forced to look out at it across the river from behind bars - serious bad times. At least his son had the dignity to bury him inside it along with his wife after he died.
Headed to the station in the evening to catch the evening train down to Jaipur. Agra Cantt station was a dump; rubbish, flies and rats everywhere and then to top it all off I was constantly harrased by beggars. I've got nothing against beggars in this country and have occasionally given them money but when they follow you and tug at your clothes it gets seriously annoying and you just know if you give anything to one the rest will swarm you like the flies busy swarming left over scraps of food on the station floor. The train arrived a bit late and most of the time waiting was spent chasing away beggars who seemed to be drawn to white people almost like a moth to a flame. Sadly inside it was nothing compared to the luxury Agra train. When I sat down and got out my ipod I realised it might have been a bad idea. Mesmorised by the glow of the screen a group of kids gathered at the train window and stared in amazement, they loved it and as the train pulled away they ran after it and blew kisses which was quite sweet. Sent a few text messages and realised I was amazed by the phone coverage here it's incredible. I've never once been without reception of some kind even in the rural areas on a train, more than the UK can say. I'm also amazed at the phones, virtually everyone has them - even in the slums it is not an uncommon sight to see people in rags chatting away on a phone. There are adverts for phones and networks everywhere, Vodafone in particular. It must be one of the, if not the biggest emerging mobile market in the world and I'm sure they're absolutely raking it in. Fell asleep for a few hours without even realising.