People say the trains are crowded, you don’t know where to get on and it’s a painful experience. But as we boarded our train in sleeper class from Jaipur to Agra, it couldn’t have been easier. Thanks, mainly to booking our seats online through cleartrip, we knew where we had to be and where were sitting. We sat opposite a young family for the four hour journey and relaxed in our own seats with the window up and the fresh breeze flowing through the carriage. There were not many words spoken between our fellow passengers, but I did wake to find the lady trying to ask Sarah why I had freckles. And when the two kids weren’t climbing over the seats like cheeky monkeys they would stop and whisper in each other’s ears about Sarah not having her ears pierced. How strange we must have been.
We got to Agra Fort station, one of three in city and wandered on out to find the prepaid auto stand that didn’t exist. We were hassled by all the drivers making up prices but we finally got hold of the guest house we were staying in who said roughly 200-300 ruppees. We paid 175rs and headed off on our next adventure. Sai’s Homestay is a great place. About a 30 minute walk to the Taj Mahal (if you go the right way) but in a nice area and hosted by a lovely family. We arrived on Thursday afternoon which meant we had missed our chance to enter into the Taj and on Fridays, it is shut, so we had previously extended our stay for 2 nights. We wandered into the town, along an extremely stinky canal before being chased along the road by a kid with his pet cobra. We walked the wrong way into town and wandered around the bustle of the hawkers getting ready to start their evening trade. Amongst the people, the bikes, the cows and the procession of men carrying the deceased upon the shoulders to the temple for cremation, we got lost. We had wanted to find a rooftop restaurant with a view of the Taj Mahal at sunset. Unfortunately, after having to get an Auto-Ricky to take us to the recommended restaurant at Sai’s Palace, we missed the sunset to only get a small glimpse of the silhouette of half of her minarets. To make it worse, the food was not great. We thought it best to head home, as it was dark and we also didn’t want meet cobra kid again, so we jumped in the tuk yuk and, minus one small mishap where a drunk guy just got in the seat with driver to his sheer astonishment, we made it home.
Sai had recommended we should head out of the city the following morning. As Taj was shut and as we had already been to the Red Fort in Delhi, there was no need to see Agra Fort. We took his advice to get a taxi to Fatehpur Sikiri, where it had once been the main palace for Emperor Akbar, but he had built it where there wasn’t any water so it was now a deserted city. In hindsight we would have not gone. It was okay, but the packs of boys were in full force this time, so we barely had a moment where we weren’t being hassled. Towards the end of wandering around the main palace, a group of 20 guys surrounded us (mainly Sarah) and started taking photos. I gently moved the main guy off Sarah’s shoulder and walked away. But having enough, I turned back to have a discussion. I asked them if they understood English and after they responded with the Indian Head wobble that means yes, no or neither yes or no, I began a lecture on politeness and etiquette. I realised halfway through that my tone may not have been the best, as I looked at the guys in front of me to see fear in their eyes as they leant away, as if I was about to hit them. It was never the agenda so I said goodbye and left. We were not in a great mood but spirits were lifted when an older gentlemen came to ask if we wanted a guide. We said no and walked away to hear him trail off with Big Mosque! Would you liiike some whiskeeeeeey!
The big mosque was no longer deserted as the aftermath of Eid festival was still in force. There were thousands of people amongst the traders and rubbish. We removed our footwear to find the architects here had clearly had a discussion with the architects of Mahatma Ghandi’s Memorial so, they too, opted for stone paving that would heat up as hot as a street hawkers kadai. We ran from shadow to shadow, trying in vain to reach the centre where almost mockingly sat cool-white marble tiles. When finally there, we were greeted by a family who must have heard my earlier discussion with the boys and they politely asked if their daughters and family could take a photo with Sarah. To which we obliged.
We were back in our car to Agra for a delicious Onion Rava Dosai before visiting the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, the Baby Taj Mahal. It was a beautiful building with intricate carvings and paintings on the perfectly semetrical walls, sat upon the shores of the Yamuna. It was our favourite place that we had visited, so far, in India.
We finished the afternoon by heading to Mehtab Bagh, where you can sit on the shores of the river as the sun sets over the Taj reflects off the water. Or for free, you can walk along the path next to it, which puts you in almost the same location but, you also get herds of goats walking past you. Which would you do? Exactly! Herds of goats will always win. We sat for a few hours taking photos, when we weren’t trying to sneak a little further on when the guards weren’t looking, to get a photo with the full reflection.
As the sun set we headed back to Sai’s Place where his wife, The Boss, cooked us the most incredible vegetable biriyani. It was so nice that we ordered it again for lunch the next day on the basis that she would teach us how to make it. It was agreed so we headed to bed before our 5am wake up call to share a taxi to the Taj for dawn.
We Sat for half an hour waiting for le French when they arrived at 5:30. They were told 5:30 and we were told 5:00. That aside we made it to the West gate which is the only one open at that time, where we agreed to meet the driver there between 7-7:30am. We bought our tickets and wandered in to take in of one of the most spectacular buildings we had ever seen. We waited patiently for the quintessential photos before spending the next hour wandering around, taking more photos.
The driver never arrived and the French girls were nowhere to be seen, so by 8:15am, we gave up and got an auto rickshaw driver. Its funny how perspective works. Feeling annoyed at the fact we were left behind, we turned the corner on to Stinky Canal Lane to see this:
Things could always be worse!
When we made it back, the girls were there and said they got in the car at 7:10 and the driver wouldn’t wait, so left. Annoying. But we got over it as we were going to learn how to make biriyani. Until the boss said she had already started it as her husband was leaving. She did however provide me with the recipe .
There is not much else to say, we headed to the train station and waited for our train to Lucknow. Oh hang on, I almost forgot, just as we started playing some cards to pass the time, Sarah got peed on by a monkey! Technically it was splash back but it was still pee from a monkey!
BEFORE “THE INCIDENT”