The Taj Mahal At Last!
Trip Start Mar 29, 2007
74Trip End Sep 30, 2009
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We left Hyderabad on a late night flight to Delhi where we knew we'd have to spend one night. It sucks, but if you want to take the morning train to Agra from Delhi, you really have no choice but to fly to Delhi the night before and spend $100 for a crap room for a few hours of sleep. Fortunately we knew a decent hotel from a previous trip to Delhi so our overnight stay there wasn't so bad. However...we did notice a funky mirror in our room that looked like something out of a police lineup...meaning we thought it looked like a one-way mirror and people could be on the other side checking us out
Saturday morning we're up at 5AM to catch our 6:30 AM train to Agra. Believe it or not, this would be my first train ride in India which is somewhat amazing because India's train network is huge and goes everywhere for very little money. I read on seat61.com that the India rail network has over 39,000 miles (63,000 km) of rail routes and 6,800 stations making it the third largest network in the world after Russia and China, and the biggest in the world in terms of passenger kilometers. Indian Railways are also the world's biggest employer, with over 1.5 million staff on the payroll...wow.. And in the upper classes, the trains are actually pretty comfortable. The early morning train from Delhi to Agra is a popular tourist trains full of people just making the day trip to Agra to spend a day at the Taj. We however are overnighting in Agra so we're also towing along a couple bags of luggage as we get dropped off at the central train station around 6AM. The train station is "interesting"...imagine hundreds of locals camped out and pretty much sleeping in every piece of floor space outside the station. It's so full of people who have obviously been there all night sleeping, that we have to pick up our roller bags to get through to the station platform
Our driver and guide showed up around 11 and we were off to the Taj Mahal. About 3 blocks before the Taj, all vehicles are banned and we had to take a horse and buggy the rest of way. Because I'm an Indian resident and Tanya speaks a bit of Hindi, we got in on the Resident rate of 20 rupees (less than 50 cents) vs. the foreigner rate of 750 rupees (close to $20)...it's good to be a resident. :) Our guide start explaining more about the Taj, how it was built by a former emperor in honor of his favorite wife (read more about the Taj here)...many of the stories I've already heard. To be honest I was expecting a bit of a let down from the Taj just because over the past 20 months people have gone on-and-on about it and I guess I felt it would be hard to live up to such large expectations. As you enter the main grounds and enter thru a gate, the Taj really doesn't disappoint. It's indeed beautiful and it might even be worth a second visit sometime before I leave India. We spent a good two hours just checking this place out including the tomb chamber where you can see some amazing semi-precious stone inlay work. There are so many places to take your obligatory Taj photos and we definitely did our fair share of photo-taking.
After the Taj we heading off to Agra Fort (which you can read more about here)
After our full day of touring we headed back to the hotel for some rest and relaxation (read: nap time). I have to say again...Kudo's to the ITC Mugal Sheraton for giving us a suite...it was an amazing room and we both thoroughly enjoyed everything the room had to offer (including lot's of free amenities). Dinner was in the hotel and was a bit of a let down. Living in South India for nearly 20 months has really changed my palette and I need a bit of spice in my food in order to enjoy it. The buffet at the hotel had to be the blandest food I have ever tasted
The next day was departure day from India, but out train to Jaipur didn't leave until 7PM that evening...so we decided this would be our lazy day and we basically did nothing. After sleeping in, we took a stroll around the hotel property which was beautiful and huge. We had a big breakfast then went back up to our rooms to pack. We went ahead and checked out but decided to spend the entire day at the hotel spa and pool. The hotel's spa is called the Kaya Kalp is was recently voted as the best "City Spa" in the world...and it was definitely nice. First stop was the pool where we had a light lunch (I had a great salmon sandwich). After digesting for a bit we went into the spa for our massages. As is typical, I slept through most of mine while Tanya laughed thru most of hers (she's a bit ticklish). The men and women's dressing rooms were huge and both had large hot tubs, lounge areas, cold plunge pools, showers and lockers. We both took our time getting ready and met in the spa lobby to settle the bill. A quick cab ride later we were at the Agra train station trying to figure out which platform our train to Jaipur would be departing from. After asking 4 people and getting 4 different answers we finally started to receive some consistent responses and went over to our platform. The homeless-kid-begging-mafia was in full force and Tanya bought them off with some food and treats. Our train arrived as the sun set and Tanya and I made our way to our AC-Sleeper 2nd class cabin which was fine for our 4 hour journey. The ride was uneventful except when Tanya and I tried to learn how to play chess. In our first game I beat her in like 7 moves and she decided we shouldn't play anymore. :-) Next stop Jaipur!