New Delhi, Agra and The Taj Mahal

My third annual trip with my God-daughter was to India.

We arrived on the 28.07.16 and left on 02.08.16 for 6 whole days.

E-tourist visa (eTV) can be acquired online at e-visaindia.com prior you entering the country. I applied for mine on 27.06.16 and had to send them a gentle reminder before receiving it on 09.07.16

The trip would be that we meet in Delhi where we would spend a few days, before catching the early morning train from Delhi to Agra. We would rest for the night before getting up at dawn’s crack to see the Taj Mahal before the coach loads of tourists, followed by tours of the Black palace also known as ‘Little Taj’ and the gardens across the river from the Taj Mahal. From there we would take the train back to Delhi, stay the night and return to the airport for our separate flight to our respective countries.

For reasons that seem pointless now, instead of flying directly to Delhi from Melbourne, I was forced with the unprecedented use of the ‘three line whip’, to make a round trip from Melbourne to Ireland, then from Ireland to England, where I picked up my God-daughter for the trip from England to Delhi.

We arrived in Delhi at 08.20 in the morning and traversed customs with comparative ease.

Our hotel was the Radisson Blu Marina on Connaught Place, however getting there was going to present as the first deviation from our plan.

I had planned to get a public bus from the airport to Connaught Place, the idea being to give Lalah a feel for the hustle and bustle of Delhi life, but unfortunately that day all public transport was on strike, so reluctantly we made our way to the taxis, who had specially adjusted their prices for the occasion.

The hotel was good, so we freshened up and turn around to get back into the Delhi streets.

The hotel is conveniently located between the Ramakrishna Ashram Marg underground stations and New Delhi railway station that we would need in order to get to Agra.

We orientated ourselves around Connaught and through the markets. Once orientated we quickly worked out the underground tube system before setting off on our journey to the railway station to pick up our tickets prior to our journey to Agra.

The central railway station in due north of Connaught circus. Stay on the main artery going north for about twenty minutes walking.

I was informed that tickets could be booked online http://contents.irctc.co.in/en/iticketGuide.html however it would let me get so far before requiring an Indian mobile number to complete the booking.

There are a multitude of travel agents that are design to look like the official train station vendor. I would assume that you can buy tickets from these vendors, however we were looking for the proper railway station ticket hall.

I would like to say that you can not miss it, but you can. The entrance is through a large wooden gate with a guard house at the entrance, and you have to walk across a court yard that makes you think that you are in a government building rather than a railway station ticket hall. You then go through some unassuming doors which open up into what is unmistakably a ticket hall.

There are a bank of 20 odd ticket windows, some with long bustling crowds forming very loose queues, some were for women only, and some with people sitting on the steel chairs waiting for the teller to beckon them forth.

It always embarrasses me when I go to a non English speaking country and the regular works speak excellent English, and this was another example. If you take too long at the window someone would thrust a hand full of money through the window of your teller, saying what must be the Hindi equivalent of “I just need a ticket to ___, these tourists are taking too long”.

We had triumphed in out mission to buy our train tickets in advance, after we had been told that it would be impossible for westerner to negotiate this obstacle. I do not think they realised that we possessed the power of being Londoners.

We spent the next day looking to Parliament, the National Museum, and a series of day and night markets.

We got the tube to Parliament and wondered around the massive mall. The buildings are impressive, and the lack of traffic was unusual, but I put this down to us getting there before noon. We took a tuk-tuk to the National museum and stayed there from 13.00 until they kicked us out at 16.00. The museum is massive, and we only felt that we had scratched the surface. We could probably have easily spent another two hours looking through all the rooms filled with hidden treasures.

In one of the rooms we got talking to a tour guide who was fascinated to see black people in the museum. We talked about being from the Caribbean and it quickly became apparent that she did not understand the difference between her indentured ancestors and slaves. I watched with pride as Lalah eloquently enlightened her on the legal and emotional differences.

From there we wondered back past the administrative heart of Delhi heading towards Nizamuddin Dargah and Humayun’s Tomb with a night market opposite.

We walked around the Humayun’s Tomb and its gardens until it closed and then went across the street to what we thought was just a night market. It transpires that hidden deep in the middle of the night market was Hazrat Nizamuddin, where a religious ceremony which involved hundreds of people sitting cross legged on the floor or standing around the outside chanting. From time to time the chanting/singing would crescendo and men would hurl money into the centre of the ring. We were all in close quarters and the room was hot, so every now and again one of the huddled would pay a fan-walla to circulate the air in their direction. The fan-wallas did not in any way a sedate job, these men were skinny and lean, and really put their backs into carrying out the job for which they were paid.

We spent about an hour in the room, absorbing the atmosphere and being present in the now, before leaving the hidden sanctum and wondering back through the night market to find somewhere to stop for dinner.

We then went back to the hotel after getting off at the wrong station and having to get a connecting tuk-tuk to take us onto a connecting underground line. Once at the hotel and prepared ourselves for our early train journey to Agra the following day.

We arrived extra early in order to navigate our way around the maze that is New Delhi station.

Once we found our platform we waited patiently for the train to be announced, along with a growing crowd of western looking tourists and travelers.

Lalah watched with interest as passengers boarded and disembarked trains from the tracts rather than platforms as the train was still moving, and how luggage and goods were being hurled into moving carriages.

I started to become suspicious that with minutes to go our train had not been announced, and upon instinct we ran down the platform stairs and boarded the train in front of us, I then asked the guard from the carriage window who said it was the Agra train just as he waved it out of the station. I felt sorry for all the other western travelers that I know had just missed the early express to Agra, and would now have to catch the slower train.

We had bought second class tickets which meant that we got an allocated seat and a vegetarian meal for the three hour journey. We supplemented this with our own crisps and sandwiches.

Upon arrival into Agra we ran the gauntlet of tuk-tuk drivers and taxis. We selected a tuk-tuk driver to take us to our homestay, and worked out a deal where he would be our driver for the duration of our stay.

The Aman homestay was a nice large multilevel house with a central indoor courtyard which housed a huge dining table. It transpired that as part of their activities, you could engage in cooking lessons and then communally eat together.

We went to our rooms to drop off our bags, then headed back out to our waiting driver. We headed out to the Mehtabh Baga which is a series of gardens and archeological site on the opposite side of the river to the Taj Mahal. It is a great place from which to get a overview of the Taj Mahal.

We spent a few hours taking in its majesty from across the river before being wisked away to the Kaserat Bazar where Lalah bought India clothing to help immerse herself in the experience. We were then taken to his “cousins” restaurant for dinner before retiring early in anticipation of the big day ahead.

We got to Agra at 06.00 in the morning and the tuk-tuk driver gave us the usual warnings about speaking to strange men. We walked through the town surrounding the Taj Mahal as the vendors were setting up for the day.

The entry process involved a bag and body search which is when the found Lalah’s tobacco pipe. Unfortunately this was to be the casualty of the trip as it was confiscated, never to be returned.

We walked through the gates and made our way towards the court yards to the primary viewing spot, also known as the “Lady Diana spot”.

There are few words that can describe the majesty of the Taj Mahal or the Iguazu falls and in both cases they require silence to fully absorb, where you are at that moment in time, and how to sear the impact of these wonders into your living soul.

At that time of the morning the coach trippers and day trippers from the train have not yet arrived, so you have the place to yourself. You are joined in your experience by only a handful of fellow hard core travelers.

If is after the first hour, after you have familiarised yourself with your surroundings, that you begin to enjoy where you are. We sat o the steps of the Taj and enjoyed the quiet. We wondered the grounds and overhear tour guides, and by 11.00 the hoards had arrived. We lest so as not to sully our experience and returned to our carriage who took us to Agra Fort, also known as the Black Taj.

We clambered the stair cases and peered through the windows at the gained a different view of the Taj. We listened to the love story of its creation and the tragedy that made it famous.

We hung out some more visiting Jama Majid mosque before making our way back to pick up our bags and make our way to the train station.

Upon arrival back into Delhi, we realised that with a slight diversion we could get to one of the night markets that Lalah wanted to visit, so of we went, rucksacks on our backs, experiences all that the night market had to offer.

The next day, Lalah wanted to explore the Old Markets of Kinari Bazar, Chotti Qabar bazar and the Meena bazaar surrounding the Red Fort.

It was wonderful watching Lalah explore the markets, try new foods and take in the sights and sound of an Indian bazar.

Lalah and I hung out. She introduced me to Spotify and began sharing songs that she felt I should know.

Later that evening we returned to the hotel, repacked our bags and caught an uber to the tube station that would take us directly to the airport.

Indian airports are like many in Asia where unless you have a valid boarding pass or an email with your name, and flight details, you can not get into the airport.

We wondered the airport for a few hours as Lalah tried to find Pokemon to fight until our 23.30 and 02.00 flights.

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~ by jeditopcat on 3 August, 2016.

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