Today was finally the day I would see the Taj Mahal. It came at a price though.
That price was sleep. At 5AM, my alarm woke me up. The fact that my overly full stomach (dammit you, Indian food) had been keeping me up, did not help matters. Around 6AM, Sunny gave Akanksha’s dad and me a ride to the metro station. By 7AM, we boarded our train, he was headed for his job in Mathura, I for Agra.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the train system is quite complicated here. I was seated in 2nd class AC seater, one of the many (10?) possible classes. This one was particularly nice, unlike any train I’ve encountered in Belgium. There were leather seats that could be reclined, airconditioning, and vendors selling loads of things (newspapers, food, snacks, tea, coffee, …).
By 10AM I arrived in Agra, hometown of the famous Taj Mahal. This time, I was determined not to get hassled by touts (scammers), which actually wasn’t that much of a problem. The auto-rickshaw of my well-meaning driver did, however, break down twice on the way to the Taj Mahal. Luckily, both times the driver found someone to push the auto, which got it started again.
It still took more than 30 minutes before I would be able to enter the site of the Taj Mahal though. Backpacks are not allowed inside, at least not the 72 liter one I was carrying. Eventually, with camera and shoe covers (it’s that or bare feet) in hand, I was ready.
Inside, everyone (including soldiers on duty) was completely ignoring the many “No cameras after this point.”-boards, a practice which I happily adopted and which netted me some nice pictures. Unfortunately, the restriction on cameras was strictly enforced inside the” inner sanctum”, so no photographs of the beautiful gem-inlaid flowers there.
The best part of my visit to the Taj, however, was my short-lived, yet pretty successful, modeling career. Multiple Indian people asked me whether they could take a picture with me. One guy informed me that I am “a beautiful man”. Good to know ;). It’s my hope that soon at least 7 men and 5 women will have a picture hanging in their living room of them being embraced by a tall, blonde stranger :).
After my visit, I decided to put my backpack’s comfort level to the test and walked back the approximately 8 km to the train station in the afternoon’s heat. On the way there, I also passed by the huge Red Fort. Apart from the exercise, this was another opportunity to practice turning down pushy rickshaw drivers. Telling them that I preferred walking seemed to work pretty well, although it also seemed to convince them that they were dealing with a crazy person :).
On the way to the station I bought some bananas from a street stall (0.5€ for 1 kg). They were delicious. Well, at least one was, the remainder were stolen by a monkey that had been hiding in the train station’s rafters…
And now I’m sitting in a train southbound, for the 1300 km towards Aurangabad. It’s pretty crowded, here in 3rd class AC, so I’m hoping not everyone will spend the night. Still, it’s hard to complain with electric outlets, airconditioning, and those vendors I mentioned earlier. All for a bit more than 10€.