Megan and the Paparazzi

Trip Start Oct 22, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Sunday, November 6, 2005

We decided to go for an upgrade from standard Sleeper class to 3AC - yes we still get the three bunks, but this time with air-conditioning! As we were on the waiting list, unfortunately our beds were on different carriages. We spoke to the conductor on the platform and he said he would talk to us about it on the train. Trying to find which carriage we were on this time was a bit difficult as all the print-outs were in Hindi. Eventually we found AC3 and sat down at one of our seats.

When the conductor rocked up Rick pulled the "My wife needs to be on the same carriage with me" line and "she is too scared to ride by herself". Luckily we managed a bit of a swap with Megan down one end of the carriage and Rick at the other, surrounded by an Indian family, their snoring Dad and a screaming child. He got a lot of sleep that night.

The train ride was pretty un-eventful, but by moving up to the AC3 Class there were not the masses of people lying around everywhere. Everyone had a ticket and a separate bed. We also got a pillow, sheet and blanket for the journey. Arriving in Agra we made our way, via an auto-rickshaw that dropped us halfway then on separate pedal rickshaws, to the Yash Cafe. They had the facility to leave our bags there for the day, so we had a quick breakfast and walked to the Taj. We did end up at the south entrance, but with no obvious signs, ticket counter etc and not being hassled we thought we were somewhere else. Heading over to the west entrance we were confronted by hundreds of Indian tourist all queuing up to get in. We saw the 'foreign' queue and paid the exorbitant 750 rupees each (included a bottle of complimentary water and some booties to cover our shoes while in the temples). The ticket guy told us to walk straight in and to ignore the queue. With our tickets in hand we attempted to walk straight in. Alas a police officer, with a massive rifle, told us to join the queue. We questioned this and again tried to walk straight in. The police offer repeated his request to join the queue and considering the weapon at his side, we went to the end of it (separate queues for men and women). The men's queue was very short so Megan queue-jumped the women's one and we got in together. Our bags were thoroughly searched and we got patted down as the security at the gate had been beefed up with the recent bombings in Delhi.

Inside the compound we proceeded to the main entrance. The Taj Mahal was magnificent, sitting raised up on it's marble slab; you can only see the sky behind it. Another amazing thing was the thousands of Indian tourists all over it. We pushed our way to the front for some good photos, then decided to walk around it's base. This is when the fun began...

We could not believe that in a place with such significance a lot of the cameras were turning away from the monument, aimed squarely at Megan and the Indian boys at her side. A queue was forming with many a young lad wanting his 5 minutes of fame with her. She was being pulled from pillar to post, being groped and hassled for many a photo. We'd never seen anything like it. Rick got some of it on video as proof! After about 50 shots Megan (and Rick) had had enough so we declined further photos and moved on to admire the monument. We also put on our trendy blue booties and went inside to see the replica caskets of the Sultan and his wife. Afterwards we checked out the small on-site museum.

All Taj'd out we got the oldest pedal rickshaw driver in Agra to take us to the Agra Fort. This guy was 70 not out, but still managed to get us there. He also advised that we'd have to pay more money to get into the Fort. When we found out it was an additional 500 rupees, we decided to walk around the front (and hopefully ditch the old guy as he wanted to take us to a few shops and we couldn't afford the 10 years it would take to get there). Leaving the Fort's grounds about a kilometer down the road, up pops the old codger and says "You come to my shop? Please madam." Bloody good eyesight for an old guy. We had time to kill so thought why not. On the way to the shop, he asked us to get out and walk for a while. We were paying for this!

Nothing much at the shop so we headed to a roof top restaurant to watch the sunset over the Taj Mahal as we ate our dinner (the restaurant was right next door to the Yash Cafe). We then made our way to the very crowded station for a few more hours on a train, taking us to Jaipur. On the train we met an Indian family on holiday. After the obligatory photo of Megan and their kids, we swapped sweets - our Chubba Chumps for their local home-made Indian sweets. They were yummy.

The Taj Mahal was definitely a highlight of our Indian adventure.
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