“You haven’t seen India before you have visited Taj Mahal”

When we got to Delhi we were considering whether to visit Taj Mahal or not. It would mean a two-day trip to Agra (you can do it in one day from, but then the place might get crowded and you miss the sunrise) and Risto was quite sick. However, his condition was getting better, and we decided to book a flight to Goa on 18th, so a two-day trip to Agra got possible. And many of those train station scammers told us that visiting Taj Mahal is a must, so why shouldn’t we believe them.

When we arrived at the train station, our cameras were sealed tightly in our backpacks, so again we missed the opportunity to record these guys. Today’s first crook said that we may not enter without tickets and demanded that we show him ours. Risto thanked him and we continued walking. He raised his voice and told us that we may not go without ticket. When we ignored him and kept walking, he started yelling at us. As we still ignored him, he calmed down.

Inside the station, after posing for locals to take selfies with us, we bought water and some chips for the trip. We have already long ago learned never to travel anywhere without plenty of water, unless we are absolutely certain that we can fill our storage on the go.

One funny fact that we have noticed already in the metro is that people here won’t queue, and the result is a chaos. And as we were trying to get into the train people just kept pushing past us. This didn’t matter to us, as we had seats reserved. However, we are quite sure, that the total throughput would increase if people decided to wait in line instead of squeezing.

Laura waiting in line to let others pass us.
The crowd inside our train coach, before departure.

Our train compartment on AC3 class consisted of 6 berths (two columns on three levels). During daytime the lower berths are reserved for mid and upper berth passengers to sit. With us were a lady and her adult son and two males, maybe in their early thirties and sixties. This older guy looked quite disappointed as we appeared and started talking about us to this lady (in Hindi), but we didn’t know what his problem was, and didn’t even try to find out. Maybe he just was disappointed that there were six people on the compartment, maybe he had had bad experiences with westerners. We had our places on the side where the mom and son sat, so we four sat there and the two males sat on the opposite side. After everyone but us had eaten (for some reason all the passengers seemed to eat at the same time), it was time for our companions to take a nap. The oldest guy seemed very happy, when the mom told him that we will be leaving the train already in Agra. We got the whole lower berth to share with Laura as others took their own beds and started sleeping.

Agra – restless night and Taj Mahal

Our hotel was 7.4 kilometers from the Agra Cantt. railway station, so we decided to use Uber. For some reason it decided not to work, so we downloaded Ola Cabs and booked a taxi. The cost was 140 rupees (1.8 EUR), but we paid 200, and the driver was very happy. The place, Bedweiser Backpackers hostel, was quite like the earlier ones in India, but the cost was only 809 rupees (10 EUR) for the night, just about what we thought we would be paying in India. Today was the day that we decided to taste local food. We had been taking it very slowly to avoid delhi belly, but three days would be long enough to give our bodies time to getting used to local bacteria. The place we visited was called Good Vibes Cafe, which had nice reviews on Google. The dinner was 500 rupees (6 EUR) including a small tip.

Using Ola Cabs in Agra was a joy, and cheap as anything.
Having dinner at Good Vibes Cafe.

The night was quite restless again, as our German neighbors were having a party. When the Germans got silent, there was something else, maybe a rat, trying to get in the room. We checked that it wasn’t in our bathroom (nope) and that our windows were closed. After a restless night our alarm went off at 5:15 A.M.

As we started walking on a chilly morning, we decided to go back and put the jackets on. It was only +7 degrees Celsius, so the decision was correct. Taj Mahal was less than 1,5 kilometers from our hostel room, so we were there early. Tickets cost 1100 rupees to area + 200 rupees to mausoleum each (16 EUR) for foreigners and 50 + 200 rupees to Indians. As the gates opened around 30 minutes before sunrise (7:01 A.M), we had quite some time to wait behind the gates. We would have loved to take tripod with us, but it along with food, drinks (you get a half-liter bottle of water from the ticket counter), electronic devices (except mobile phone and non-video-camera), religious items, posters, books, banners, cigarette lighters, and so on are prohibited on the area. The logic behind some of the restrictions didn’t quite open to us, and our solution was to go with minimum gear and leave everything else to the hostel.

Chilly December morning in Agra before sunrise.

Just as we had gotten inside the gates, locals wanted to take some pictures with Laura. The Taj Mahal area was surprisingly large and had gorgeous other buildings all around it. And the main thing is beautiful as well. We tried to get a picture from the place during sunrise with water reflecting the palace (quite original, we know). The main water front was dry, and sunrise was quite lukewarm, so we didn’t get the pictures we wanted. But we were quite happy to visit this beautiful place anyhow. It felt like we were in a different country, even though the smell of smog was filling the air.

Laura – the famous white girl from north.
The famous Taj Mahal in all its glory.
The view from Taj Mahal.

After we got back to hostel, we asked for late check-out. It was 400 rupees until 2:00 P.M. and we were quite happy to accept and slept a few hours. After checking-out, we took a tuk-tuk to Agra Fort and Agra Cantt station (total cost 250 rupees). With the long lines to and entrance fee of 650 rupees per person, we decided just to observe the place from outside, and then head to the railway station.

Seeing the amount of people made us quickly abandon our plans of getting into Agra Fort.

We arrived the railway station around 3:15 and had 30 minutes until the scheduled departure. There was this one man just staring at us, then he came to sit right next to us, getting closer and closer. As we were not sure whether he was trying to pickpocket us or whether he just was curious, we decided to walk 50 meters away from him. He followed us, this time he decided to keep around 5 meters’ distance from us (so we believe our first guess was the case). The train was late as we had time to meet a cow at the platform.

Yep, this guy decided to show up.

The trip back to Delhi went well. This time four young local guys, and a tiny mouse on the floor, were accompanying us. Our entertainment during was Risto Siilasmaa’s book Transforming NOKIA, in which the new Chairman of the board tells surprisingly openly the story of Nokia’s fall as a giant phone company and the new beginning as mainly a network infrastructure company.

Reading Risto Siilasmaa’s book on the AC3 class of the train.

Back in Delhi we had booked a room from Hotel Viva Palace for 1300 rupees for the night near Aerocity. Even though the place was similar in price, the place felt like a real hotel, standing well above the first three in India. We slept like babies. Now it’s time to fly to Goa.

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