We left our B&B so early this morning that we missed the second B. We got across Delhi with no traffic in sight until we got within a block of the train station. Then the throngs appeared. Tuk Tuks and taxis were moving in eight directions. Everyone was honking horns, and there were a thousand people carrying huge bags, balancing bags on their heads and pushing and swarming across the street all trying to be the first lemming into the train station. It took thirty minutes to cover the last block. Mentally I went into turtle protection mode and retreated into my shell.
Our driver started asking us questions like “you have ticket/ What seat numbers? What train number?” Mary Ann started deciphering our travel documents. I tried to ignore everything, but ignoring anything in India is like trying to light a cigarette in a hurricane.
Finally our driver pulled up in front of the terminal and suddenly people started pounding on our window. It is still dark and these guys are all wrapped up in scarves. They are unshaven and sorta scary looking. Or driver rolled down his window and started Hinduing with one of them, quickly and loudly. Then he turned to me and said “this your coolie. He take you to train. He show you to seat, you give him 50 rupee.”
I was still in my shell. My wife had to screech at me to get me to open the car door and enter this world of mass transportation/chaos. If the fact was not that I was on my way to see the Taj, to scratch an item off my bucket list, I would have asked to go back to the B&B, had the B and a Beer, and crawled under my covers.
So now we were following this scarf wearing guy into the train station. He led us past dozens of people asleep under blankets on the floor, and past a security checkpoint that most people subjected themselves to although it looked dysfunctional. He took us to a certain spot on the platform and we waited in the cold for the train. I started feeling better because there were other tourists there who seemed like they were in the right place. Mary Ann started asking me what was wrong with me. I was not sure. Although I cannot call my sensation at the time fear, I said “I’m afraid.” She just laughed at me. My wife is a fearless traveler.
The train finally showed up. It is billed as India’s fastest train. I guess I expected a bullet train, sleek and silver. This train is something between that and the Tombstone Express Butch and Sundance robbed. Closer to the latter.
Before the train even came to a complete stop, the masses started pushing each other out of the way to board. I finally got into the groove and shoved a couple of Gandhi looking guys aside and climbed onboard.
Normally I always give my wife the window seat. I took one look at the window and realized it did not matter. In country with a billion people, seemingly half of them beggars, you think they could pay someone a few Rupee a day to clean the windows on the tourist train.
Now that I was aboard the Taj express, I poked my head out of my shell and decided to enjoy the rest of the ride.
The train has many porters. One came by two minutes out of the station and flipped newspapers at the passengers like he was tossing them onto porches from his bicycle. There was nothing in the paper worth reading unless you are a Bollywood fan.
Then another came by with a pitcher of hot water and a tea set. It was really good tea.
Then they came by and served us breakfast. Like all the food in India, very tasty.
I found patches of the window to look out. All along the tracks, there was garbage. Plenty of garbage. The type the holy cows cannot eat so it just sits there.
I am now excited. We are a half hour away from Agra, and my bucket list objective.
The station in Agra was another mass of people. I began to think that if the population of India increases in the next 20 years like it has in the last 20, there simply will not be anywhere to put everyone. They are going to have to be allowed out of their homes on alternate days.
We were met right on the platform by our guide, and before I could light a smoke we were in a cab. Our driver for the next two days is named Babu, an easy name to remember. He took us to our hotel then out on the town for some preliminary touring to build up to seeing the Taj Mahal. When he recited where he was going to take us I thought it was weird he did not say Taahg Mahaul, like we do. The local pronunciation is one word, “ozmeahl”. That is close anyway.
First we went to the Agra Fort. This fort was built by the Mughals. They were Muslim and spoke Farsi. They came into northern India from countries now called “somethingstan” bent on conquest. They ruled northern India for 400 years until the Brits came along with better artillery.
In that time, one of the rulers built the Taj as a tomb for his favorite wife. She must have been a hottie. She bore him 14 children in 20 years. She then died in child birth. He also had 300 concubines living in the palace inside the fort. His pure white marble bedchamber looks out over the rooms for the 300, and he had a gold plated hot tub that looks like it could hold him and about 20 of his girls. If you can get reincarnated into the past, I know who I want to come back as.
Agra Fort was a great place to see before you go to the Taj, because you get the love story that led to the creation of the world’s greatest monument to love. You also get to see where this king was imprisoned by his third oldest son. Son #3 killed 1 & 2, and then had his father arrested and put in prison. The prison is in the palace. If ya gotta be in prison, well hell, why not here. It is as beautiful as the king’s chambers he used to live in and it has a breath taking view of the Taj. I imagine he got conjugal visits.
Next we went to “the baby Taj”. I had never heard of it before. It is about 1/5 the size of the real thing. It is also built of white marble. There are maybe 6 tombs inside of it, princesses mostly.