Wednesday, March 16, 2011

India Part III - Journey to the Taj

We woke up the next morning in the wee hours of the day. In order to get to Agra we had to take a three hour train ride. The owner of the hotel arranged a cab for us to take to the train station. He also warned us that as soon as we exited the cab we were going to be bombarded by several touts and to head straight to the entrance and not accept help from anyone.
Latanya and I have obtained really good tunnel vision when it comes to traveling up until this point. Well it paid off for sure here. As we exited, keep in mind it is 5 am, several men immediately bombarded us. They tried to tell us that we needed to go this way and that way and that we needed to get tickets first and that the ones we had were not the boarding passes. It was just like the owner had said, one attempted scam after another. Outside the train station was so lively and hectic that you would have never known it was this early. But I guess the scam game never sleeps.

After pushing our way to the entrance we finally got into the station. It was a little difficult to find our platform so we had to use a little logic. Follow the other foreigners, works most of the time. There weren't that many so we were banking on everyone else going the same direction we were. It worked out because our train finally arrived so we hopped on and took our seats. It turns out we were sitting across from a really nice family from Korea. Go figure. We got to chatting and had a really nice conversation with the father and mother. The dad worked for a University in Delhi and the family was visiting him.

As the train ride grew deeper in to the journey the sun was beginning to rise. It was really wonderful looking out the window to the country side seeing the beautiful landscape while the sun began to shine a new day.
Breakfast was served a little later. Train food in India, as one can imagine is much different than train food anywhere else. It was vegetarian and consisted of a curry or two along with a couple of other Indian sauces. It was served on a cafeteria tray. It was actually not half bad.
By now it was getting closer to eight o'clock and we were nearing Agra, the city known for many things but most famously the Taj Mahal. I had forgotten to mention that during this journey via train we were giddy with excitement knowing that we were going to see the Taj. We did not know what to expect at all. And to come to think of it, how were we going to get there from the train station.
When we arrived, we looked out at the train tracks leading into the station. The sight was pretty poor. There were many people actually living on or near the tracks. People were using the restroom right on them in fact as if it were their toilet. It was quite a reality check. It turns out that there is a lot of poverty that normally surrounds most train stations in India, this was no exception.

The train finally came to a halt and we got off. We now knew exactly what to look for because we borrowed a travel book from our hotel and got to reading it. We needed to find the taxi stand just outside station. Just like any adventure in India up to this point we needed to put our blinders on, avoid scams and walk  briskly. It felt like it was an episode of the Amazing Race. Once at the taxi stand we were constantly being pestered, politely however by a man, a tour guide in fact. He wanted to know whether we would want to rent a driver and tour guide for a whole day instead of just a one way taxi to the Taj. The man was persistent and we knew that we were booking through the taxi stand so it should be legitimate. Also a return trip was good enough for me. I did not want to think of how we were going to get back from our day out and about in Agra. Anyways, we finally decided after a few moments of discussion that it was a fantastic deal and that it cost less than $20 for a private car, tour guide and drop off back at the train station later that night. What a deal!!! Our guide's name was Rashid. Rashid took us on journey through Agra and through time that day. What an experience, let me tell you.

No comments: