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- Subject: Agra(vated)
- From: "Roberta Jenkins" <robertajenkins@xxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Fri, 04 Feb 2005 19:59:19 +0900
Night train to Agra, home of India's most recognizeable monument, the
Taj Mahal. One of the wonders of the world (so they say), haven't been
to India if you haven't been to the Taj (so they say). And home of 6
different train stations.
Party of 4 pulls into one of the 6 stations (not the one we are
scheduled to disembark at) at 6:30am. Not long before sunrise, one of
the prime times to see the Taj (and very high on the list of one of my
travelling companions). Most of the other passengers get off (and good
riddance to the surliest lot of train passengers I've ever shared a car
with!). We sit, waiting for the train to move on to the next stop
(ours). And sit, and sit, and sit.
We ask a couple of different people when the train will go on, when we
will get to our station. The answers are unclear. To help pass the
time, and to figure out exactly where we are, we pull out our guide
books. The sky grows bright, sunrise passes. At least we still have
the day ahead and sunset before getting back on the train tonight,
continuing to Varanassi. We sit some more, continue to read.
Erik and I, in two different books, come to the critical information
that we 4 have all missed until this point at nearly the same time. The
Taj Mahal is closed on Fridays. Today is Friday.
In addition, 50% of our party has arrived in town sporting fresh cases
of Delhi belly and are taking turns sharing the toilet at frequent
intervals. Welcome to Agra!
After over an hour stopped at the same station, we decide to get off one
stop early and head out to find a rickshaw into town. Where we are told
that it's lucky we got off the train, since it may have stayed there for
another two hours. Turns out the station we were headed to is very
busy, yet has only one track, so trains must queue to enter it. Why no
one on the train, most of whom knew where we were headed, couldn't have
passed along this little gem of knowledge before we sat and sat and sat
is beyond me. At least it kept us (me) close to the toilet during the
most critical period...
So that we don't need to carry our bags around town with us all day, we
decide to rent a cheap hotel room near the Taj where we can also chill
out if we're tired. Our first view of the Taj itself is from the hotel
rooftop about 9am. It is large and impressive. And shrouded in mist
and clouds. We decide to take the rickshaw wallah (driver) up on his
"tour" offer - to a viewpoint across the river, then around to the Baby
Taj (another tomb built in the same style but 16 years earlier) and the
big fort - once the sky clears. In the meantime, we walk.
To the monument gate, just a block or so away, where we figure we will
at least be able to look through the gates. Which turn out to be large,
solid, and made entirely of (very opaque) wood. Erik, Jodi and I stop
infront of a Taj poster inside a film store window to take goofy photos
of us ïn front of" the Taj - probably as close as we're going to come to
the real thing. Paul goes inside to buy some postcards, while the few
merchants who are actually open eye the rest of us strangely.
From there we walk around the wall to the (free) public viewing area
around back of the Taj. Where the beautiful view is punctuated by the
barbs of the barbed wire fence spanning the gardens, which are being
"rejuvenated". The river alongside is nearly dry, and smells more than
a little funky. And we have our first run in with a very unpleasant
local, whose primary purpose seems to be to yell at foreign visitors
that only locals are allowed (even though that is clearly not the case).
We get to see him again across the river, from a further vantage point
(punctuated by captive pigeons and a skinny cow, on top of the rancid
stench of the receding water).
Next on the tour is Baby Taj. Which you have to pay $2 to enter.
Whatever minimal taj curiosity I may have harbored before arriving in
Agra has long since dried up, and I decide to wait on the bench outside
with Erik - who was only humoring the rest of us in coming to Agra at
all (having a gut feeling nothing good would come of the whole
enterprise), and even less impressed than I am by the recent turns of
event. Then the scary woman in green snaps at us for trying to walk as
far as the ticket-taker at the gate (across the empty garden which we
are sitting in and can see across in any case), and all good-will for
this city evaporates. Whatever was left of it, I mean.
Cutting the tour short, we return to the hotel. Perhaps a leisurely
stroll through the old market will restore our spirits (or at least pass
some of the time before our rooftop lunch and cribbage games) - bicycle
rickshaw? The short version is that we never got to the market, despite
the long ride, and only narrowly escaped being dragged through a series
of handicraft shops (where the drivers would get a commission just for
brining us in). I am very, very, very happy to see the hotel rooftop.
And delighted that my time in Agra is already nearly done.