Myles Harrington

Ample Time in Agra

In India on June 22, 2010 at 11:20 am

Travelling while the World Cup is on is tough business. It adds and extra layer of thought to where you have to be at certain times. No way was I going to be on an overnight train while England had a crucial match. I cleverly took photos of the schedule while I was in Darjeeling from the guesthouse wall so it’s always on my camera and in the back of my mind, when I unfortunately am on a bus for 12 hours.

Never miss a match with a digital schedule

So with the schedule fixed I decided to spend two and a half nights in Agra so I could scout out a place to watch the next England match. The half night happened because the train I got from Khajuraho arrived in town at 3am. An awkward time to arrive anywhere. Instead of wasting 300 Rs on a night in a crummy hotel near the station I decided to camp out in the upper class waiting room where the AC worked, sort of. I’d arranged to meet a German bloke I had stayed with in Darjeeling and Varanasi at the station when his train arrived at 7am. His phone was dead so I decided to get a taxi into town and discover what Agra had to offer.

I saw two western girls in the station and asked if they wanted to share a cab. The driver offered us a day trip to the must see site of Fatehpur Sikri 40 km from Agra, Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal. Although I was tired, I had nothing else to do, a German to wait for and good company for the day so I decided to go along.

The ancient mosque of Fatehpur Sikri

Fatehpur Sikri has two main attractions, a beautiful mosque and a massive old palace. The mosque is free and well worth the hour drive to reach it, but the palace, which you have to pay 250 Rs (£3.70) to enter is really not worth the money. I thought as much, so I used all my night club sneaking techniques honed in Soho to my advantage and blagged my way past the guard. It went something like this:

him: “ticket?”

me: “no, I just walked round here from the other side”

him: [confused look] “okay”

me: [walk on through]

My fellow day trippers were slightly gutted they’d been conned, especially as the mosque was so much nicer, but how can you charge for a place of worship? Both of the sites however were ruined by the hawkers selling chess boards, Taj Mahal snow domes and over priced jewellery. As usual, girls being girls, and therefore shoppers, they couldn’t resist a bargain and by the end of the day had both snapped up a chess set for 100 Rs.

Eventually I managed to get through to Matthias (obviously the German guy) and he’d checked in somewhere we could watch the staff TV for the England and Germany games in two nights time. The quality of the TV was surprisingly good for Indian standards but the snores from the cleaner distracted us slightly.

The next day it was time for some more intense sightseeing to finish off the Agra set. The baby Taj, an old Muslim mausoleum on the river bank and the garden on the backside of the Taj. We asked the hotel boss how much we should pay a rickshaw driver for the trip to all three and he suggested 300 Rs. With my strict budget always taking decisions for me, we agreed to go for 100 each and to visit one of his associates’ shops. The deal with that is he gets a voucher for a litre of petrol for every rickshaw full of stupid westerners he drops off at the shop. Even if they don’t buy anything.

The baby Taj was nice but ruined by a little girl asking for a school pen. Why she wasn’t in school on a Friday I don’t know. The mausoleum was very nice and not ruined by anyone and the garden was a great place to get the generic Taj pic, but for free (if you walk round the side).

Our driver for the day. We stopped for 20 minutes so he could pray on the way to the commission shop

And so it is, Saturday morning, bright and early, a 5.30am start after a 2am bed time (the England game I don’t want to talk about) and we were off to the sight you’ve all been waiting for. The site that is the epitome of India. We paid the painful £11 entrance fee and strolled past security, after they made me hide my penknife and lighter in the bushes, through the gates of the Taj Mahal.

I wish I hadn’t gone.

Even at 6am the hundreds of day tripper tourists were gathered around to get the perfect shot. The building was beautiful and the craftsmanship superb, but the price, the hustle, the heat and the tiredness wrecked it for me.

The money shot

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