How to pick the worst day to visit the Taj Mahal
01.25.2009 - 01.26.2009 25 °C
Written: January 27, 2009
Massive crowds of tourists, locals and foreigners alike, fanned out the Taj Mahal grounds. Many were trying to get as many photos of their subject (partner, spouse, family) with the Taj Mahal. Some were attempting to get pictures of them holding up the Taj with the palm of their hands. Something I promised I'd never do after the Pyramids of Egypt.
I had picked a holiday Monday to visit the New World Wonder and it was a big mistake. The queue to enter was long and paying the ridiculous overinflated foreigner price (by 10 times) was made even more bitter by the impossibly huge crowd overrunning the grounds. Not even the complementary bottle of water and shoe coverings made it any better.
I left Jaisalmer on Sunday afternoon by bus arriving in Jaipur at 5 am. I was a bit sad to leave since I really enjoyed my stay and Hotel Renuka. However, it was time to move on and so I was going to Agra via Jaipur. Once in Jaipur, I was told to go to the Sindhi Camp Bus stand to take a nice express bus to Agra. I thought I did just that, I went to the station, bought a ticket for Agra and got on the bus. I knew I had made a mistake since it was not the Volvo Express bus I had thought but a decrepit local bus. It took us 8 hours due to the heavy fog to get to Agra and countless stops in small towns, pick-ups along the street and yelling disagreements between the passengers and the fare collector. I have to say, riding in an Indian local bus with 3 metres of visibility is not a lot of fun. Especially when you realize the bus is on the wrong side of the road sometimes and honking like crazy to warn the oncoming traffic.
Finally, at around 1:30 pm I arrived in Agra and dropped off my big pack at Agra Cantt station before heading off to visit Agra Fort. I can't say too much about it except it has been modified by several rulers including the British who used it as barracks and prison. After the fort, I headed to the Taj with what I thought was ample time. However, closing hours were earlier in winter and due to the queue I only spent approximately 1 hour on the grounds. I wish I had more time since standing there and seeing its magnificent splendour and tribute to love is far different than seeing pictures of it.
I returned to Agra Cantt station to wait until my train at 11:30 pm. The wait was long but I had a delicious meal at the comensum composed of curried pancakes with 2 dips/sauces for 14 INRs! I also got to finish my book called "The White Tiger" by Aravind Adiga which is really popular in bookshops in India. It's an excellent book and gives insight into the real two India's; one that is prosperous and called the "Light", the other being the poor, uneducated and hopeless called the "Darkness".
There was some confusion about where my train, the Mathura Patna Express #3240,, was going to come in but after talking to the station master and seeing a few foreigner headed to Platform 5 I knew I was correct. I had some doubts at first since Platform 5 was badly lid, incredibly dirty (even for India) and it even had live rats crawling and running around while Platform 1 was moderately clean and full of people.
I was able to easily meet many other tourists since they were confused and taking this train as well. I first met Benjamin from Frankfurt, then Doug and Kate from Australia before meeting Angéline and Brunilde from France. Little did we know how long this train ride to Varanasi would truly be. The train, which was not quite listed on Cleartrip and required the specialty of an agent in Jaisalmer everyone called "Uncle" to help me book, arrived at Platform 3 about 20 minutes late. Since Kate and Doug rented Royal Enfields from Delhi and had them waiting on Platform 5 for transport, they had to quickly push it up the ramp, over to Platform 3-4 and down to the proper platform for storage/transportation.
I don't know when we took off from the station but by the time I woke up the update was that the train was delayed by 6 hours due to heavy fog. After passing Lucknow, the train was essentially left with foreign tourists on the way to Varanasi. For the next 6 hours, we talked, exchanged stories and took bets on the train would actually arrive in Varanasi. We pulled into Varanasi Junction at 6pm after sunset and the race was on to get out and get into a decent hotel. I met up with the French girls and Benjamin and we made for Shanti Guest House. Angéline told us they had a chauffeur and I was welcome to join. I expected a car/taxi but it was actually an auto-rickshaw and so the 4 of us had to amazingly fit into the rickshaw with our backpacks as well! I of course got the honour to ride in the front which meant trying not to fall out during every crazy turn and in the stupendous traffic of Varanasi. In more than a dozen instance, I was sure we were going to hit or knock over someone. It's a miracle there was no collisions. We were not dropped off very close to the hotel, which is not accessible by rickshaw. So we walked for nearly 15 minutes through small alleys with the help of a guide (20Rs) before finally reaching our destination. I can't say much about the 70Rs room and I was definitely not found of the uneven bed but what can you expect from a room that costs less than $2? The important thing was that I arrived in Varanasi and I'm that much closer to going into Nepal.
Well that's all for now, I've got an early morning boat ride to see sunrise and the ghats!