I am a little bit behind on my write-ups as I have been to Agra and I'm now in Jaipur, but my time in Agra was short but sweet and I had a late night arrival in Agra followed by a very early morning and a train again in the evening so I have to catch up....
So where was I, oh yes train from Varanasi to Agra was rather pleasant actually, I was a little sceptical as so far I had only ridden first class which sounds nice and is by Indian standards but nothing like a buffet car or anything to shout home about, but the second class carriage (or AC 2 Tier) as they call it here meaning its airconditioned and has 2 tiers of bunkbeds was not bad and because each bunk is only seperated by curtains its very social and many Indian familys make an evening of the journey and all gather on each others beds and sit and chat. I met a nice couple which was handy as we could all reasure each other that we were on the right train as we were all heading for Agra and I was confused at first of their nationality as they looked and sounded latin but mostly spoke english, turns out she was from Barcelona and he was from Lisbon so they said they just go between spanish, portugese and english and sometimes italian as her family is actually from Italy. Sounded a little confusing to me but nontheless was good chatting to them and sharing stories from Varanasi.
I arrived in Agra about midday and settled into my new hotel which was really nice, had an outside courtyard with seating for the restaurant and the rooms all surrounded it, funny though my hotels seem to be getting nicer and nicer and the one in New Delhi is pretty well squalid compared to the Varanasi one and this. After a long awaited shower and a 'vegetable club sandwich' which was 3 pieces of toast layered with cheese, tomato and onion but wasn't bad, I did a little reading in my rough guide to India (thanks Nessa!) and made a list of the things I wanted to see in Agra, a habit I started to have but useful as otherwise I end up letting the rickshaw driver take me on a whirlwind tour and I have no control over what I am seeing or doing. The Taj was at the top of the list of course however I should have read my guidebook earlier as I discovered on the train thanks to the (I shall say to make it easier) the spanish couple that the Taj mahal is closed every Friday, bummer, and I had a 6am train the next day so changing my train ticket was definately on the list too!
I then went to meet the rickshaw driver who picked me up from the station and who had offered to take me wherever I needed to go for the whole day for the very reasonable price of Rs.400 (about £5), the Agra fort was the first stop, where I had a guide take me round at great spead I must add as I then returned back the way at the end of the tour so I could see it all again at a slower pace. The fort is also where the King, who had the Taj built for his favourite wife, was later imprisoned and was said to have sat in his room and watched the Taj Mahal in the distance so this is where I had my first glimpse of the Taj and it was super exciting to actually see it! On my way back round I also bumoed into a lovely Indian group of three men and three ladies who all wanted pictures with me so for about 10 minutes I felt like I was in a Bollywood photoshoot, with them each taking it in turns to have their picture with me alone and in groups and not to mention the audience surrounding the spectacle!
After the fort I visited some nice gardens on the other side of the river with a great view of the back of the Ta Mahal and strolling around the gardens and treas and having a little spot of nature was a welcome break from temples and monuments and dirty cities. Afterwards I visited what the local call the 'Baby taj' which is mosque with a similair shape to the Taj but in no way compares really but it was a good view point to take pictures of the river life below with people doing their laundry, bathing cattle and drying cowpats?!
I then asked the rickshaw driver to take me back, I was quite hungry and had my train ticket on my mind as I didn't want to come all this way and miss one of the 7 wonders of the world! The internet connection was also not too great at the hotel but I eventually managed to book a later ticket for the next day and then went on a wild goose-chase search to find somewhere with internet and a printer so I could print out my new e-ticket but did eventually find one and could finally relax. And that I did, back at my hotel I switched on the telly in my room and had a scan at the 100 channels on offer, and ordered some food to be brought to my room to eat (yes vegetable curry, rice and chapati but was extra hungry and got some veggie pakora as well!). Whikle watching tv was funny to notice that there are so many ads in the UK are for fake tan but over here the obsession is to have paler skin and therefore a more western appearance so there are a lot of ads for sun block and creams to make your skin pale!
Had to get an early night though as I had arranged with the same reasonably priced driver to be picked up at 5:45am for a visit to the Taj Mahal at dawn!
to be continued...