Our train to Agra began in a bit of a panic. Having taken a flight the day before from Goa to Delhi at 15:45 my brain confused the train to Agra as the same time when in fact it was 15:05. We arrived at the station at 15:08 thinking we were early when suddenly my mistake dawned on me. With our backpacks weighing us down like tons of bricks, we ran up the stairs to find a platform that might still show the train. I could not believe how stupid I had been. I expected Roscoe to throw a fit but he was as calm as could be and told me not to worry. We just needed to find someone to help us. Arriving exasperated at the information stand, I pointed to our confirmation print out and the friendly soul beamed his Indian smile and chuckled – this train is running 4 hours late… 4 hours?! And here’s me having a coronary over being 3 minutes late.
When the train finally arrived, 4.5 hours later, we settled into our usual sleeper class carriage, on the upper bunk to stretch our long legs out. This train was an express to Goa with only a few stops, one of the first being Agra. About an hour in a fellow approached us and asked us for our dinner order. We hadn’t experienced on board food yet on Indian trains, only the delicious hawkers who alight at every station with yummy treats. Despite our order of two chicken biryani’s arriving about two hungry hours after ordering, for only 70 rupees (1 GBP) who’s complaining?
Arriving in Agra was sadly rather unpleasant. We had arranged a pick up from our friends Lisa and Leigh’s recommendation – the Saniya Palace Guesthouse. The first thing that hit us was the stench. This wasn’t just the smell of heat and over population – this was genuine open sewage that hadn’t changed in over 400 years. Piles of rubbish scarred every street; endless buffalo manure tainted every other step. The air was thick with pollution. Our hotel boasted ‘the best view of the Taj’ from its roof garden. We arrived just after midnight and as the Taj isn’t lit up at night like most tourist attractions, we couldn’t really judge the view. A faint shadow outlined that we were certainly close.
The next morning we awoke before what we thought was sunrise only to find that it had already broken. We brushed the sleep out of our eyes and made our way up to the roof and were very pleased to find an impressive view of the Taj.
Getting a good sunrise/sunset shot of the Taj was very important to Roscoe. We decided not to go into the grounds and instead scope around for a good vantage point. We felt the river would be right. Our Rough Guide told us you could charter boats for groups of people but none of these could be seen. Instead there was one guy with teeth blackened and destroyed by chewing tobacco who smiled and offered us his rickety wooden boat. He and Roscoe took a liking to each other and we made an arrangement to come back for a sunset boat ride.
Regrettably it was very hard to ignore the astonishing filth of the river. Just getting into the boat was difficult with the smell being so overpowering. The water could barely flow – it was so clogged with rubbish that the boat had to take extreme diversions just to miss huge blockages of dirt and sewage. We just had to keep reminding ourselves to look up and cast our eyes over this long awaited wonder of the world.
Our boat guide helped us get into the right angle and we marvelled at the perfect symmetry of the Taj. Shah Jahan’s love struck vision was utterly mesmerising from the river. The marble glimmered in the fading sun. Seeing the endless crowds inside the compound and then our perfectly quiet and rather romantic boat ride was incomparable. Roscoe got his shot.
The next day we went in to the grounds to see the Taj up close. Getting in proved to be extremely annoying as we happened to be on the side where in order to buy your ticket you have to take an overpriced cycle rickshaw to the newly built ticket office a mile away. Why on earth the Agra authorities thought this was a good idea when there is a perfectly placed kiosk right outside the entrance, I will never know.
Upon entering we were instantly aware of how clean everything is compared to the filth of just outside the gates. Everywhere is spotless. Walking through the arches and seeing that famous view of the water walkway and the incredible Taj at the end is a moment I will never forget. It took my breath away. It almost looks like a mirage – it’s too perfect.
We just couldn’t resist ending our day by getting back into the boat to cherish the sight of the Taj just us two.