February 21st, 2010 – by: Sads79
Agra's massive Red Fort
I had another day chilling out in McLeod Ganj before I set off on a mission of my own. There are no trains from McLeod Ganj, so my only real option was an overnight bus to Delhi (INR 450/£6/$9). Note to self: never take an overnight bus again in India! It was hell. 12 hours of hell, no less. I think I overpaid for the ticket (I was lazy and didn't really shop around), but the Bedi bus was far from 'deluxe' as I'd been promised. It was also pretty chilly so I had as many layers on as I could find, but the state of the Indian roads along with a 'stop, lights on, you must wake up' from the driver every couple of hours meant that I was no going to be getting a good night's sleep.
It was a relief when we arrived in Delhi at about 6.30am, although getting out of the bus and finding that we were in the middle of nowhere in Delhi and not having a clue where the city was, soon crushed my spirit. I had to pay a tuk-tuk INR 150 to take me to the H. Nizamuddin train station. The only ticket I had been able to book to Agra had been for 3.05pm, but I was tired and cold that there was no way I hanging around in Delhi as I had originally planned. I went to the ticket office and bought the only ticket type available for the 8.20am train....2nd class unreserved. It was only INR 60 (80p/$1.20), but in this class (as the name suggests), its a free-for-all when it comes to the hard, basic seats. It looked like I was going to have stand up, but an Indian army soldier took pity on me and made room on an already crowded bench so I could sit - I was immensely grateful, and even more so when he bought me a cup of tea - what a nice fella! He chatted in his broken English, and I was amazed how you can surprised by people sometimes.
I've experience a lot of Indian people only wanting to take from me as a tourist - begging/trying to rip me off etc - but here was this guy who clearly wasn't rich, doing what he could to help. I returned the favour on the tea, the least I could do!
The not so nicely coloured river running through Agra
We pulled into Agra around 11.30am, and I was feeling much better as the move south had meant the temperature had increased somewhat. I grabbed a tuk-tuk into town (INR 30) to a hotel I'd reserved, Tourist Rest House. Seems to be a common name for budget hotels in India, could do with a bit of imagination though! As it turned out, it was a great, friendly place to stay and I certainly felt welcome.
As I'd arrived earlier than planned, I had extra time on my hands. Despite my lack of sleep, I decided to head out and get some fresh air. I always prefer walking around new places and it gives you a much better idea spacially of where things are and a feeling of what the place is like by seeing people going about their daily business. I decided to get my bearings by walking to the Fort area and up to the Baby Taj. Its wasn't what you'd call a scenic walk....there weren't even pavements and I was in serious danger of getting run-over by stray tuk-tuks and cows. The stench was awful too, waste everywhere and when I crossed the bridge over the river it was even worse. The colour of the water was what could only be described as black...I could see things floating around, including dead animals, which was pretty revolting.
Children were openly bathing in water nearby too. And just over a kilometre away was the beautiful Itimad-ud-Daulah (Baby Taj). That sums India up - some absolutely stunning places stuck in amongst some of the dirtiest, smelliest foul streets you could ever imagine. Its certainly a test allround for your senses! The Baby Taj complex was stunning (INR 110 entry for foreigner) - a glorious white marble tomb built for Mizra Ghiyas Beg between 1622-1628. The grounds around it are calm and wondefully kept and a few people had had the good idea of bringing a good book and taking some time to relax here. Not me, however, and I decided to carry on walking. Next I was off Mehtab Bagh. although there's a nice park here, I really came just to get my first proper glimpse of the legend - the Taj Mahal.
First glmipse of the beast
Rather than go into the park, you can carry on down the path to the end by the river and see right across. Its a monumental building by and standards and its not had to see why its tagged as the most beautiful in the world. I was going to save my close-up for tomorrow, so for now after walking about 12km, I grabbed a cycle-rickshaw and headed for a rooftop beer at sunset in Taj Ganj....not a bad way to finish the day.
Sunset view from Taj Ganj
I set my alarm early as I wanted to be up for sunrise. That meant waking up at 6.00am and being out the door by 6.30. I'd read about some of the great views of the Taj, and tried my luck by going to Agra Fort (entry INR 250 for foreigner), itself a wondeful Mohgul construction.
I had to walk a bit further than expected to find the entrance, so I was panicked into running around it to find my viewing spot. I had no idea where I was going really, but found a little spot near a turret. The pink sun was just rising over the majestic Taj, and although it was in the distance, it was a serene moment. If only the Agra smog had lifted a bit, then it would have been perfect! I had a quick look round the Fort before walking the 2km down the road to the Taj. It was about 7.30am by this time and there were already big queues at the West gate and by the time I'd paid my entry (INR 750/£10/$15 for foreigners) and got in, there were loads of people at all the nice photo angles. Just like Mahcu Pichu, the Taj is a phenomenal place and awe-inspiring, but the fact you have to share it with hundreds of other people while you're there sightly takes away from the experience.
This is what you call sunrise over the Taj Mahal...
People are constantly walking in front of your photos, which gets very frustrating! I spent about 45 minutes walking round the grounds and mausoleum (a replica by the way) before I had just had enough of the crowds and went to get some breakfast. Had a ropey snack at Yash Cafe (recommended by Lonely Planet, but certainly not by me...it was filthy and the owner was rude) before heading back to the hotel for some much needed extra zzzz's. I spent the rest of the day recooperating and catching up with the outside world (another bonus of the hotel was wi-fi). Tomorrow, I start my quest for cricket...Gwalior beckons!
TM, nice reflection
Agra Hotels & Accommodations review
One of my favourite hotels so far in India. A friendly team of staff make you feel welcome from the first minute and the reasonabley priced rooms (IN… read entire review