Agra

We made our way from Jaipur via a very hot bus which didn’t feature air conditioning. It did have an upper level of beds with surprisingly roomy seats on the lower level, where we were. A few sweaty hours of endured rather than enjoyed travel later, we were dropped off at the bus stop and found a friendly tuk-tuk driver to take us to our homestay who it turned out had his own trip advisor page!

Our residence for the next few days was really nice – a family owned place started after the father lost his job and built slowly over the next couple of years and now one of the best rated in the whole city. The food they cooked up for breakfast and “family dinner” (where the family was the guests) was both plentiful and delicious.

Obviously, we were in town for the Taj Mahal, a mausoleum made out of love with no expense spared. The morning after our arrival we got up at 5am and were walked by our host to the nearby area where we jumped in one of the electric buggies that were part of the tourist ticket (the locals ticket had no such luxury included). The buggy took us to the entrance where we joined the already significant queues. I say queues plural as the men and women were separated.

The women’s queue was a lot shorter so I was a little concerned Claire would be waiting a while at the other end. It turned out the men’s queue was about 10 times faster so I had to wait 10 minutes for Claire to make it through the excruciatingly slow security and join me. Finally we could go and see the Taj!

As we walked in we discovered why such a fuss is made about this place – it really is stunning.  We dodged straight round the pile of people all taking photos at the entrance and made our way to the foot of the building itself and had a walk around. Besides Instagram ruining the world by encouraging people to take endless photos of themselves posing, it was an awesome sight and we made our way around the building taking in the incredible detail and craftsmanship.

It soon turned out we had gone the wrong way around (so typical by now we weren’t even surprised by this) and had to get ourselves on the other side of the roped off area. Having done so, we were able to go inside and see the tomb itself. Featuring a roof that echoes the whispering gallery of St Paul’s Cathedral and yet more of the stunning white marble that the whole place is made of, the happy couple lay at rest next to each other for all eternity.

After some more looking around – as the sun gradually rose the whole place changed colour constantly – we headed over to the best area to take some photos of us. Sadly, lots of other people had the same idea and only a small few believed in the concept of queuing. We did, after some difficulty, succeed.

With about 30 minutes of our 3 hour time slot remaining we wandered around the rest of the grounds before heading out and back to the homestay for breakfast and a nap. The time limit was not enforced in any way, but did actually feel about right for what there is to see.

We spent the afternoon and following morning finding other spots with good views, including a park to the side and another park across the river. The haze from all the pollution was very noticeable from a bit of distance, which was pretty gross. Sadly, I knocked the camera into a pile of dirt too which it did not enjoy at all and meant the no photos (other than on phones and the GoPro…) for a while until we could get it fixed.

We also went to visit the “baby taj” which was of a similar design, but much smaller and less grand. It was rill worth a visit though and we hid inside while waiting for our taxi to arrive to avoid the onslaught of tuk tuk and non Ola (Indian’s versio of Uber) taxi drivers, which made for a more pleasant wait.

After that we were done with Agra, having decided we couldn’t cope with another visit to a Fort, which Agra also has one of. We got in a taxi to a train station an hour away (Claire had skillfully found us the only 2 remaining train tickets from vaguely near Agra to Varanasi) where the driver  tried to make us pay a lot extra for going so far, which we refused on the basis he waited until we got there to do so rather than explain it upfront and it therefore was almost certainly nonsense.

We then sat and waited for a few hours with the rats on the urine soaked platform while our heavily delayed train meandered its way along India’s railways. We were thrilled when it finally arrived and hopped on with crossed fingers in hope it would be vaguely clean and we could manage some sleep.

Agra itself was pretty nondescript, but the Taj was well worth the visit and the homestay was excellent so we were glad to have visited. I’d certainly recommend the trip to anyone in the area, even though it adds a couple of days for the sake of visiting one thing.

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