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Brian McMorrow | all galleries >> Asia >> India भारत >> Uttar Pradesh >> Agra > Agra Fort Station. Click for the Agra trip report
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Agra Fort Station. Click for the Agra trip report

My train from Rathambhore was 8 1/2 hours late, so instead of leaving at 1645 I left at 115. We pulled in to the Agra Fort station at 5:10. After dodging the ugliest tuk-tuk (here called motor rickshaw) driver on earth who wanted to charge me double plus to get to the Sheraton where I'm staying, I found a driver who would take me for 50 rupees to the hotel. On the way to the hotel, the driver stops and runs into a house to collect his cousin who speaks English and wants to get me to do some tours with him. This town has a bad, but well deserved, reputation with people scamming off tourists. At least I got a great rate Internet-only rate at the Mughal Sheraton in Agra for $62/night for 3 nights. I stayed for three nights, which gave me time for the major sites as well as excursions to Fatepur Sikri and Gwalior.

The first impression of Agra is that it's filthy, more so than the other places I've seen so far. There are more annoying people harassing you, but they're still not as bad as in Egypt. It's about a 20 minute walk from the hotel to the Taj. I didn't want my main visit to be when I was so tired after my disasterous train ride so I contented myself with walking around the perimeter, starting from the west gate. On the way I passed the Hotel Siddartha, whose sign proudly annouced they were recommended by Lonely Planet and that they had a free terrace on the roof to view the Taj. I went up and got some pictures and declined several offers of their menu. The view was nice but it was pretty misty (ok, it was smoggy with really filthy air). Continuing my counterclockwise circuit from the west side around to the south side, I entered Taj Ganj, a touristy area with lots of hotels and cheap internet places, one of which I used, for 35 rupees an hour instead of 230 per half hour at the Sheraton.

Continuing around to the east side of the Taj, I went down a side road to look for a high spot with a view since there's a huge wall so you can't see much. A local guy pointed me up to the top of some decrepit ruins, which are possibly called the elephant house. Climbing the ruins gives you a clear view of the east side of the Taj. The guy who showed me the way didn't ask for money. He did want to change 100 rupees into dollars but I didn't have any with me. When he recommended that I not continue farther down the side road, I took his advice and backtracked to the Taj. Keep following the wall to the river and you'll come to a small Hindu temple. From that temple, there are great views of the Taj, all for free. Unfortunately, the river bank is filthy, just like the rest of Agra. I can't believe that they can't at least keep the bank in front of the Taj Mahal itself clean.

A boatman operates from the temple to take you to the otherside of the river. I overpayed by giving him 150 rupees round trip. The "back side" does have good views, and the reflections of the Taj into the river were quite nice, though the water is the color of shit. After watching my step as I walked along the opposite bank, I took the boat back across to the Taj side. When I told the ferry man I wanted to complete the circle back to the west gate, he hooked me up with one of his passengers who was going that way. There's a path all along the riverfront of the Taj. You're kept away from the wall by a large barbed wire fence. At the northwest corner, there's a little entryway you go in to get directly along the outer wall of the Taj, and you come to a chained gate which has been pushed open to give a 3 foot gap. There may or may not be an old man there looking for baksheesh to "allow" you to pass. Along the western wall, you come into the gaggle of touts again, and the guy I was walking with was helpful in keeping them away. He didn't ask me for any money.

Back at the hotel, I enquired about getting a car to Fatepur Sikri. There happened to be an Australian woman, Leisa, who was travelling on her own and was also booking a car to Fatepur Sikri. She invited me to split the car putting it at 700 rupees instead of 1400 for the trip. She's a teacher in a rural town in interior New South Wales, about 6 hours north of Melboune. Her students (high school geography) think of Indians as the bow and arrow type with feather caps. She's hoping to set them straight on that matter. I didn't like the driver very much...he wasn't good on slowing down for me to take pictures of the dancing bears on the side of the road...but Leisa was good company.

Fatepur Sikri is about an hour from Agra and the historic sites consists of a mosque and a palace, which served as Akbar's capital from 1571 to 1585 before being abandoned in favor of Lahore. The monuments are quite impressive but the touts and "guides" were annoying. I handle them much better than Leisa who, as a young blond woman travelling alone, gets more unwanted attention than I do. For the afternoon, we were married and had a 4 1/2 year old son named Hamish back in Australia. The excursion took about 5 hours.

Back at the hotel, we had lunch together. I had mystery meat "steak" (of cow or perhaps some other unfortunate critter). Leise went to the Taj but as I was tired I decided to save it for the next day. Good thing too as Indian food caught up with me for the afternoon and I ended up skipping dinner. I got a good night sleep and after a couple of Immodium with breakfast I was fine.

Friday morning, I tried to take a cycle rickshaw back to the Taj. The guy ignored me when I told him he was going to wrong way, and he drove me to some stupid hotel. When I got him back on track, he only took me as far as the park near the Taj were the next group of cycle rickshaws was waiting. I stiffed him and only gave him 3 rupees. It turns out I should have gone to the Taj yesterday after all as it's closed Fridays now. I grabbed another rickshaw to the Agra Fort, which is worth visiting with some neat palaces and what on a clear day would be a good Taj view.

After that I walked by the Agra Fort station where I arrived and into the old town to see the Juma Masjid, Agra's Friday mosque, a grand Mughal construction built by Shah Jahan in 1648. There was a class of little kids in session at the mosque medrasa (school) which is held on the side of the main open courtyard. From there I meandered with no particular goal heading basically north a bit, then back east to the river. I found that as I left the touristy areas of Agra behind, the people became friendlier and the touts evaporated, making for a more pleasant experience, similar to what I had seen in other places.

I popped out of the old town across the river from the "Little Taj", the tomb of Itmad ud-Duala, built 1622-1628. Crossing the bridge on foot was an experience in itself, with an good view of Agra's outdoor sewar system. People simply sqat on the river bank to relieve themselves, and then clean up in the river. India really needs to invest in a sanitation and sewar system. From the Little Taj, for 120 rupees, I grabbed a motorrickshaw (tuk-tuk) for the 10 km ride to Akbar's Tomb which is quite impressive, then back to the Taj where I took the boat across the river for sunset.

Since the Taj was closed on Friday, Saturday morning I had to get an early start to visit the interior before my 8:30 am train to Gwalior. Luckily, it opens at 6 am. Watching the sun rise at the Taj Mahal is a popular ritual with tourists. Entrance fees for foreigners to visit are 750 rupees, whereas Indians pay 20 rupees. Even though I had gotten great views from the river side of the Taj, which is free, the real postcard views are from the inside with the beautiful gardens. It would be even better if the fountains were working. I was only able to stay just over an hour, which was not enough for a relaxing visit, but I had a train to catch, and changing rail tickets in India can be a real hassle.

Nikon D100
1/350s f/10.0 at 28.0mm full exif

other sizes: small medium original auto
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