No trip to India would be complete without a pilgrimage Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan’s, tribute to love, the Taj Mahal.
We arrived after another fitful night’s sleep courtesy of the slow overnight train from Varanasi. The group was woken up early by Bhanu, our leader, to make sure we didn’t miss our stop, but every half hour we didn’t seem to be any further along the line. This meant my companions and I turned to a desperate (mostly me) mission to find a steaming thimble of chai or coffee and get something restorative down our throats. No dice. We stopped at one station for around 20 minutes and every time I leaped out onto the platform, I seemed to miss the wallah by a carriage length.
Not to despair. I had packed a travel kettle (and thus proving I truly am ready to become a British citizen in the near future) and had stashed some emergency instant coffee sachets in my wallet. Between us, Shell and I managed to perilously boil a jug of water and make a nerve-soothing brew in our tiny travel cups. While the kettle was completely useless the rest of the trip – I thought I might boil water and refill my bottle in an eco-friendly manner, but that doesn’t work when you’re sculling nine litres of water a day – I did have this win to my name.
We were only in Aghra for a day, so we had to make it count. First up, Agra’s 16th century Red Fort, which was built to enclose the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It was an unexpected architectural treat, and according to our guide, we only saw 25% of the estate.
The Taj is situated in Agra, city sitting on a large bend in the holy Yamuna River. The train sweeps in from the east, crossing through dusty land, when suddenly, you get a glimpse of this most majestic building in the middle of the landscape. I honestly couldn’t do it justice, so turn to the incredible Steve McCurry for his perspective.
The above is a shot of what you see if you’re standing on the raised platform, looking back across the gardens.
And close up… I honestly thought it had been a bit over-hyped – a la the Diana seat, which had a scrum of people around it – but it was breathtaking – especially at sunset.
Agra is also notable for being the place where I was weed upon by an obnoxious monkey, but we shall not delve further into one of the most embarrassing moments of my life!