All because of you

Trip Start Dec 15, 2009
Trip End Aug 27, 2010

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Where I stayed
Taj Plaza

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Sunday, May 16, 2010

Trains in India don't tend run to their printed schedules and accordingly our train finally arrived at Tundla Junction (35 km from Agra) six hours later than scheduled. At least this time when we stepped down from the carriage there was a driver waiting to drive us to the hotel in an air-conditioned car. It wasn’t long before Agra city offered up the first glimpses of the beauty that had drawn us here – the Taj Mahal. The drive also passed Agra Fort and I think the kids were then ready to leave already – "It’s hot here and we’ve seen them both now so we can go can’t we?".

The Taj Plaza hotel is about 0.5km from the East gate of the Taj Mahal and we had a magnificent view of the spectacular marble structure from our room. Other than the views, the hotel isn’t worth writing home (or blogging) about, but it’s clean enough and met our needs. We ate dinner in the rooftop restaurant hoping to catch the sun setting over the Taj, but alas a heat haze obscured the sun and there really wasn’t much of a sunset. Alex then became the latest victim of Delhi Belly and was in bed and fast asleep before 8pm.

Kids seem to have remarkable immune systems and Alex in particular seems to always bounce back from sickness amazingly fast. Sarah woke at 5am, and Alex awoke shortly after having apparently fully recovered, meaning all systems were go to catch the sunrise at the Taj. Less than a hundred metres from our hotel is the ticket office for the east gate, from where an electric bus runs to the entrance itself. No gas powered vehicles are allowed within a couple hundred metres of the monument to protect it from the associated pollution. On our way to the ticket office, a pair of hungry dogs (they’re everywhere) spotted some crackers that Sarah & kids were eating and proceeded to demand their share… no amount of hissing and scolding could discourage the really aggressive one who started jumping up at Sarah, leaving her no option but to throw the crackers away for the dogs to eat. By the time we had bought tickets, fought our way through the touts and caught the bus to the entrance, the sun was up, but again somewhat obscured by cloud. Despite not catching a memorable sunrise, it was a great time to visit, when crowds seemed to be minimal and the temperature was manageable. The Taj Mahal truly is a beautiful monument and quite breathtaking to see in reality. It was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his second wife, Mumtaz, who died during the birth of their 14th child. Quite the committed couple indeed! From a distance it looks like the many classic pictures you are familiar with, but up close, you can see the beauty and elegance in the stonework and the translucence of the marble becomes apparent; features that are maybe lost in the photographs. Even the ubiquitous monkeys seemed to appreciate the monument, or maybe they’re more interested in the many visitors and what they can “acquire”! By the time we left, the crowds were building and we were quite glad to be returning to the hotel for breakfast, though not before a lesson in instant karma? On our return to the vicinity of our hotel the very same dog that was bothering Sarah & the kids so much was lying dead in the road….quite what happened we’ll never know, but could it be some sort of instant doggy karma at work?

Being in India in the summer time has meant having to adjust our schedule; normally late risers, we are finding that the only time of day when temperatures are tolerable for doing things is early morning and that afternoons (when we normally do things) are best reserved for napping or hanging out in an air-conditioned hotel room. So, after breakfast we immediately set off in a tuk-tuk to buy our next train ticket and visit the Agra Fort. The train ticket was easy enough to buy, though it seems as though Derek has a confirmed berth while the rest of the family is waitlisted? Hmmm, we’ll have to wait and see what happens with that one….

We entered Agra Fort and explored the limited portion of it that is open to the public. Most of Agra Fort is constructed from red sandstone other than a few of the palaces constructed of white marble, built by no other than Shah Jahan, builder of the Taj Mahal – guess he had a thing for white marble! Not long after completion of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son and imprisoned in a tower of Agra Fort overlooking his wife’s mausoleum.

Exploring one of the marble palaces and admiring the views (including Taj), we were approached by one of the security guards who seemed to take a keen interest in the backpack that Sarah was wearing and was convinced that we had a laptop inside (which of course we did but were strongly denying). The backpack had been searched at the entrance and there didn’t seem to be a problem then, but the guard kept insisting that there was a 5000 rupee fine due for bringing a laptop into the Fort! We were a little concerned that we were going to be forced into paying off the guard to keep our laptop, and managed to keep out of his way for the rest of the time on the fort, but were noticing some activity with the soldiers/guards. Suspecting that we may be stopped at the exit by the guards we came up with a cunning plan to throw them off the scent. We surmised that the message transferred would be to watch out for the Western family and search the mother’s backpack which was adorned with a Canadian flag. So we switched the backpack to Derek, tied his hat to cover the Canadian flag and split up so that he’d leave first, and alone, to be followed shortly after by the smaller bag-less family. Our ruse worked and although the guards did indeed seem to be watching out, Derek slipped by unnoticed so when Sarah & kids came through the guards were confused and resorted to trying to withhold her ticket which they were also unable to do! So we managed to get out of the Fort safely with our laptop and all of our money intact. Close one!

With both the fort and the Taj under our belts, much of the rest of the day was spent hibernating in our cool(er) hotel room! Like Varanasi, Agra is also plagued with power outages, but again we’d selected a hotel with back-up power generation and were able to maintain a comfortable temperature in the room.

We’re beginning to get the hang of early starts, and so a 7:40am train seems like a good idea, we suspect it won’t run on time, but let’s just hope we’re not delayed for too long this time…
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