Monday, February 8, 2010

Delhi to Agra; First Glimps of the Taj

To the Taj!

 On February 8th we got up and headed for the Delhi train station. It was VERY different than other train stations we've been to.

You call it a sleeper train, I call it a glorified cattle car.

Luckily that charming train was not the one we were actually taking!

There was pretty much more people than platform could accomodate. Our guidebook, and other travellers, had warned us that bag-snatching and other scams were popular at the train station so we were a bit on edge.

Occasionally a train would depart. Much more often a loud voice would announce delay of train. Train delays apparently vary from half an hour to fourteen hours late. Must be great fun waiting for a train that is fourteen hours late! Luckily if you get hungry a wide variety of delicious food could be had fresh from the bucket whence it sprang forth.

Smart travellers always bring their own food.

Eventually our train showed up.

We had paid for a "fancy" express train, and the luxurious tourist car. It was adequate, but it sure makes one wonder what a budget train is like!!

We never got a good picture, but a group of children apparently make their way in the world running around the train station. They were continually racing across the tracks, jumping on and off trains, and trying - successfully - to shock the few white tourists by taking a pee and/or a poo while squatting on the train tracks facing the crowds waiting there.

Train baggage is of course loaded manually. To expidite the process is as simple as piling a lot of stuff onto each cart.

As the train took off a vendor finally found a product we fell for: Magic Masala chips!

Our train ride turned out to be very nice, largely courtesy of a oil engineer, Atul, who works for the Indian government who was in our stall. We talked the entire way and it was fascinating to hear his perspective on India, current events, and what he - obviously fairly well off - had to say about the shanty towns and shacks we passed. One thing we found particularly interesting was that he told us India is way behind China on infrastructure and positioning itself for success in with technology.

We have his card, perhaps we'll shoot him an email and see if he remembers us!

On arrival in Agra we learned that it was possible to push rickshaw rides more vigorously than in Delhi! On stepping out of the train station, or out of your hotel, SWARMS of rickshaw wallahs attack. They know there are only a few attractions in Agra and figure a tourist *must* want to go to them, regardless of how many times you have told them over the course of a 15 minute walk that you are just strolling the area. To wander past a shop and glance into it means the vendor is likely to come racing out to try to drag you in. Novel, but quite tiring.

After we checked into our hotel, enjoyed a proper shower, and looked around the area a bit we set out to get a glimpse of the Taj Mahal. Our big visit was to be the following day but we'd read that from the northern side of the river it was possible to watch the sunset over the Taj at no cost. It was a less than perfect day but the Taj still looked pretty decent.

A slightly better view could be had by walking east down a villagers goat path. However, according to the grouchy looking chap with the assault rifle only locals can be trusted on the goat path. Westerners with cameras would be a security risk.

We hung out admiring the Taj and waiting for the sun to go down.

A steady trickle of villagers and goats flowed by. At one point an old chap strolled down and let a few locals few the gate.

A short distance west of the Taj there are burning ghats. This is somewhat surprising as air polluting activity in the area around the Taj is highly restricted to avoid soot and grime building up on the Taj.

The sun gradually set but sadly refused to produce any spectacular coloration on the Taj. Luckily even at its worst the Taj is pretty spectacular.

Tomorrow a full day of Agra. Taj Mahal, Red Fort, and more!

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