Agra

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Our flight to Delhi from Kathmandu with Jet Air was uneventful and service was good. Delhi airport is modern and huge. We were soon on our way to our hotel. The traffic was thick and we had nearly made it to our hotel when our driver tried to do a u turn and hit/was hit by an auto rickshaw. Much discussion between the two drivers and everyone else in the area who thought they knew how to solve the situation took place before we got into the hotel. We checked in with our guide’s help, then up to our room 222, great room with excellent facilities. We had a quick snack followed by a shower and then to bed. We would be up at 4:30 for a 5:00 start as we would be catching the 6:00 train to Agra. We were given a breakfast box at the hotel and once our gear was loaded we were driven to Delhi railway station or as close as we could get. It seemed as if half of Delhi was catching a train! As we made our way onto the platform it was clear our train could be boarded. We made our way through the crush to our seats. There are seven of us travelling together with our guide to Agra. At exactly 6:00 the train pulled out. Certainly more punctual than Melbourne! Soon an attendant brought us water bottles followed by a cup of tea and biscuits. The scene outside transitioned from city to rural after a while. About an hour into the journey we were brought a breakfast tray, a bit like on an airline. So we pick and choose from the two breakfasts we now have before us. Along the way we rested and lapsed into sleep at times. After about two hours we reached Agra station. It was raining so we quickly followed our guide to a bus a short distance away. The bus made it’s way through the streets of Agra to our hotel, the Hotel Utkarsh Vilas. We settled in to our room 216 by unpacking a set of fresh clothes and taking a shower. Then we tried to organise some laundry but service was really slow. At 10:30 we took it downstairs to leave it to be done. We met some more new people, apparently our group for the next nine days will be fifteen people. Back into the bus we went to go to Agra Fort. Once again it was a busy scene as we arrived. There were lots of hassling hawkers which we passed by on our way to the fort entrance. It was certainly a massive structure. We were introduced to our local guide for the day and off we went. He showed us all around, told us excellent background information and allowed good time for photos. We even had misty views of the Taj across the river. At the end of our tour we went back to the hotel with a brief stop to try an ATM – unsuccessfully. Had a lovely creamy chicken curry in the hotel restaurant for lunch. Karen ate veggie soup and chappati. We enjoyed getting to know Rex from our group. He’s from Brisbane and travelling alone. We went back to our room for a rest. At 3:30 we gathered again to go on our bus to the Taj Mahal. We parked nearby then used a local tourist bus to get to the East gate where we entered the Taj precinct. Our local guide was with us again. There were people everywhere! Our guide took us down the left side of the garden. Along the way I took a few snaps. At the bottom of the stairs to the Taj we put on white show covers. The alternative is take off your shoes. We started to queue but our guide pointed out there is a short cut queue for foreigners. I suspect our tickets were dearer. After a quick explanation we went into the main chamber below the central dome where the coffins of the two royals are. The queen in the centre, king slightly to the side. No photos allowed here. We moved around in a clockwise direction. The crowd was very close together and it was stiflingly hot! Finally we came full circle and exited with a bit of help from the pedestrian traffic police. On our exit we looked around at the other buildings and the minarets. Then we started back along the other side, stopping frequently for photos and to also get past the thousands of others. At one point we were asked to take a photo for someone. We did so and the man reciprocated. He and his wife and son were from Victoria, Calcutta. We chatted briefly then he took a photo with his family and us. After some time we met up with our group again at 6:00 pm. We made our way back past the many keen hawkers. A few of our group stopped for a bit of shopping from the stalls. Our guide got us onto a local bus which took us back to our bus. Lots of extra jobs being created with this system! We returned to our hotel for a quick freshen up and had dinner with Gerry, Jan and Julie from our group. I ate a lovely chicken korma and Karen had a veggie cottage cheese korma. Beers here are Kingfisher in 650ml bottles, lovely and refreshing in this heat. Went to bed about 9:30 after a good chat.

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