Delhi – Traveling to Agra to see the famous Taj Mahal.

21 Sep

The options were to travel by express bus, private taxi or express train.

Private taxi by road would take around 5 hours. Based on prior experience, I thought it was boring and the way rich tourists travelled. When you stop at the traffic lights or in a traffic jam, beggars would knock on your windows begging for alms. The road is also very noisy with all the honking and the dust. Your nose and ear would be very dirty after a days travel by road.

I didn’t consider express bus because I didn’t want to travel by road and be stuck in a jam.

Train travel it was then! I have always wanted to travel by Indian rail. During my past 2 visits to India I never had the ‘opportunity’ to travel by rail like the locals did and as showcased in Indian films. I read that there were a few trains headed for Agra in the morning from both Nizammudin and Delhi railway stations. Since Nizammuddin railway station wasn’t walking distance from the metro station, we decided to go from Delhi railway station.

“….after queuing up at the platform tickets queue, we realized that it was the wrong queue. We found out that the reserved tickets had to be bought on the 1st level which is actually the second level, India is complicated that way. There were around 4 long queues so we waited our turn at one. Eventually when it was or turn, we bought 2 general tickets at Rs106 in total. We didn’t buy reserved tickets because it wasn’t available…

…waited at platform 3 for our train to arrive at 8am. Husband went to buy water but there was only the rail brand and we didn’t want that. Husband heard the announcement that the train to Agra arrived at platform 11 instead. We grabbed our stuff and headed to platform 11 in a haste. There was no train there! The morning sun was shining so brightly and I felt like i was melting. Perspiration broke all over me. We asked the person siting in the std phone booth at platform 11 and he told us it was platform 4. We ran all the way there only to see the train pulling away. We missed it! I wanted to cry because I felt so helpless. I scanned through the faces of the locals and didn’t find any friendly one instead they stared at me. We eventually asked a few policemen and other guys in the std phone booth but no one could help us. The policemen only spoke Hindi. Most locals we met only spoke Hindi as well. Maybe it’s not that they don’t want to help but they couldn’t help.

We eventually went to the enquiries counter and there was a long queue even there. We checked with the guy behind the counter and he told us 8.30am train at platform 2. We rushed there. Quickly boarded the train and sat down. The carriage was full of people. Some nicer people just asked us to sit. We were separated. Husband confirmed with a young man opposite him whether the train was going to Agra and the duration of the journey.

We realized that the women there often argued with one another and they are vey strong. A lady came to my place and asked me to move in. The seat can take up to 4 and there were already 4 people. The girl next to me refused to move her bag so the lady carried it and placed it on her so that she can sit there. The girl was angry. Someone asked me to move to the next carriage where I could sit next to husband.

We moved seats a number of times but were still comfortable. At the different stations more people boarded the train and very few alighted thus it became too full. People were sitting on the floor, some sat at the baggage storage area above the seats and others squeezed with those already seated. Those with children are the most pitiful but they manage.

I feel Allah always protects us in ways which we would never understand or expect. There were these couple of young men who sat opposite us throughout the journey and they spoke up for us when the locals were not ‘behaving’ themselves. For instance, the people sitting above us at the baggage storage area spilled some salt/ sugar, they told the people to be careful. Another instance was when the locals wanted to sit in between us where our legs were, he scolded the frail elderly man. They also tried to speak with us in Hindi and tried even harder in English. They were also headed for Agra. When we were approaching Agra, they told us to follow them to the door. It was crazy to squeeze our way to the doors, felt like I was almost losing the battle when I made it through the doors of the train. We bade goodbye to our temporary travel companions and thanked them for making our tedious journey a manageable and enjoyable one.

One of the guys didn’t want us to go, from the body language it seemed as if he wanted to bring us with him. His friend held him back (physically) and I guess told him to let us be on our way. We went on our own and didn’t want to impose others’ hospitality. I wouldn’t have minded going with the locals to the Taj. Oh well…you’d be surprised at how fate works.

While trying to figure out our way to the Taj, we were approached by a taxi driver. It was raining in Agra, he brought us to his auto and showed us the price card for tour Agra, red fort, market and some place else for Rs550. We agreed and went on our way to the Taj.

He couldn’t drive in so we walked on our own towards the Taj. It was a 10 minute walk before we were met with the loooong queue to buy local tickets and an even longer queue to enter the palace. There were a few more queues inside.

A guide told us that he charge Rs1295 for guided tour and it doesn’t include entrance fee which is Rs750 for foreigners and Rs20 for Indians. The guide told us that we can buy the local tickets because we look Indian. Well it’s kinda cheating I know but we ARE Indians 🙂

I told him we didn’t want any tour but to just go in and look around the Taj. He agreed to bring us past the many queues for Rs500. We agreed and went past all queues in no time we were in the Taj. After everything, he asked for Rs500 and for us to pay for the Rs750 each for the entrance fee. We know we were cheated but well he reasons well and we could still not have paid him but we gave him Rs1000 and we told him no more.

While trying to find our way out to the west gate, we got lost and guess who we met? Our travel companions from the train! They went to eat first and were headed for the Taj and urged us to join them but we told them we’ve seen it.

Our driver is one odd guy, he was afraid we will cheat him so he gave us his taxi license and called it his ‘zindagi’ meaning life in hindi. Well I guess it is his livelihood. We brought it back to him safely and he brought us to lunch. The place was dirty but Alhamdulilah food was good and we were well after that. The waiter wanted a tip and we didn’t have any, he was happy to receive a S$5. After the Taj, I had no mood to go anyplace else and just wanted to go back to the comfort of the hotel but we agreed with the other places so we did them.

We finished everything at 3pm and he brought us back to the train station – Agra Cantt. We bought the general ticket to Delhi and waited for the train which was supposed to arrive from Amritsar at 4pm bit arrived earlier at 3.30pm. It was so full!!! People were spilling out of carriages and many more were trying to board. We ended up in front at the very first carriage for the handicapped and disabled, someone asked us to board so we did. The train left at 4pm. We were standing this time and it was FULL of men SQUEEZED with one another. No one squeezed me though. It is a journey I will never forget! Again there was a man who ‘looked over’ me so that people don’t stand too close to me or hit me unknowingly and told us when it was Nizammuddin station, I couldn’t go until Delhi station. The 4 hours of torture was too much to bear, I felt like fainting many times but Alhamdulilah didn’t. Husband took care of me too and luckily we had our bottled water. Alighting was also an experience; people started alighting before the train stopped and I was not brave enough to do it like in the movies. We thought it would be a good idea to wait till the hoards of people squeezed their way down the train and then alight gracefully. Oh how wrong were we to imagine graceful was in the dictionary of the people who took general class trains. When the train stopped more people started boarding, husband was trying to squeeze through but I told him to go first as lots of people were pushing their way in. Husband stood at the door waiting and many pushed past him, I felt sad ad angry but with no choice we pushed our way through the people. If I said anything, the people would pay no heed or look at me questioningly as if I was from a different planet.

Hot. Smelly. Men. Noisy. Crazy. Squeezy. Stares. These would summarize the whole 4 hours which I hope never to experience.

The journey earlier this morning was manageable because we were seated. Getting a seat makes a whole lot of difference.

Delhi Hotel – Ashtan Saravor

It was nice and modern. Good hot shower at all time. Television programmes were good. Breakfast was sumptuous, we had the vegetarian varieties. It is centrally located near Green Park metro.

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