Thursday, 27 October 2016


Getting to Agra involved another difficult train journey for us. We’ve wisened up to checking one of the many websites that tell you a train’s actual progress and when it is really expected to arrive. We arrived at the station after it was due and waited and waited but finally we departed on our 13 hour trip. Unfortunately, when we woke up in the morning, expecting to be close to Agra, we were told that we were about half way! Five hours later we finally rolled in to Agra. much later than planned and after the check-in time at our hotel, so we didn't have to sit around twiddling fingers before jumping into the much-needed [cold] shower!

After the mayhem of the old city area of Varanasi we found Agra surprisingly spread out. Lots of big roads, green areas, large barracks, even a golf course in the centre of town. Heading out of the station on the tuk-tuk it seemed to take forever to get past the impressive red sandstone walls of Agra Fort, clearly a place to be investigated later.

Our hotel turned out to be quite different from the little guest house we had been in beforehand (or since, he says with hindsight). Rows of units overlooking a large private garden area, all protected by a security gate. Very quiet! The room was clean and huge, almost perfect if you ignore the sewerage smell from the drains in the bathroom.  Sigh, nothing is quite perfect. Our first evening we noticed small [non-biting] flies in our room, which were dead on the floor in the morning.  The next night they were worse, but not as bad as they were in the office - we had to dash through a cloud of them to get to the office door, and close the door quickly behind us. There were still plenty inside and they had a full-size fly-zapper set up on the floor which was constantly 'zapping' - it was like listening to a string of miniature fire-crackers being let off. The staff said it was because of the lawn - all the flies hatch there then head for the lights at night - we were grateful for being upstairs and for having a better sealing door!  Still, very comfortable, quiet and the hotel's room-service food was excellent. Best Kadhai Paneer yet (new favourite)!

For our first venture out we wandered around Agra Fort. Just inside the gate was a little alcove with one of the many little Indian Palm Squirrels eating a biscuit. Possibly the cutest animals ever! The rest of the fort consisted mainly of large courtyards on different levels, and tourists. As Agra is the home of the Taj it must be the most visited place in India so not surprising there were so many people about. We enjoyed the armoury with its amazing collection of old swords, daggers, blunderbusses and armour. While there was little info about the items – and no photos allowed – it was very impressive. As were the views across the bend in the river to the Taj, whetting our appetite to get there.

Testing us for tomorrow ...

Before dawn we were up and queuing at the gates of the Taj – different lines for male and female. Security is tight everywhere, all the major sights and railway stations have x-ray machines to scan luggage. And most sights have different prices for Indian nationals and foreigners, with extra charges for cameras. However, the moment the Taj comes into view all is forgiven. How could it not be the most beautiful building in the world? The scale is enormous which tends to hide the thousands of other tourists, though the queues for the prime photographic spots like the directly down the ponds to the frontage or “Diana’s Seat” are rather large. Actually, being India, “queue” should always be replaced with “scrum”. We enjoyed wandering for hours including the magnificent-in-their-own-right outbuildings.

not matching white sneakers - shoe covers

The mosque

Inlaid marble detail

Carved marble detail 
Testing Diana's seat

Taking another traveller’s advice we opted not to watch the sunset over the Taj from the park across the river but to walk down behind the Taj to the river and hire a boat. This proved to be a perfect end to the day as we spent 20 minutes seeing the back of the Taj from the river as the sun was setting. Very peaceful and awe-inspiring, occasionally brought down to earth by the strong smell of sewerage whenever the oarsman shipped oars.

With not a lot of time available we enjoyed seeing just the two major sights at a leisurely pace and left the other main attractions to the other tourists.

Plenty of options while waiting for the train to depart ...

And ...

Because you can't have too much cuteness!
So check out the video here for some more of the Indian Palm squirrels.

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