21st August: Agra
Still tired when time to leave comfort of Golf Links. Jane brought me toast and marmalade for breakfast. Set off at 6:30 and miraculously - no auto rickshaws so took a taxi. Rs12/- not bad and a lot cheaper than the rip off trip there from Connaught Place the first morning I arrived.
The station was crowded but I found a seat (wooden with no cushions but not too uncomfortable) on the train which was far less crowded than I expected. I had had visions of people sitting on the roof and hanging out of the windows - but that would come later - this was the express to Agra. Journey time three hours.
A constant stream of porters brought around tea, coffee, cold drinks and an assortment of food but I was not brave enough to try any even though I was hungry.
Station on route to Agra
Arrived Agra. Booked in at the tourist bungalow. Rs25/- per night for a clean but fairly dingy room: two beds, chairs, tables, flush toilet and a shower. Didn't need anything more. Perfectly adequate.
I hired a rickshaw for the day - a real one - with a man pedaling it. He asked for Rs 20/- but I'd been told I must always haggle but it didn't come easy and I felt mean -- but I did haggle and he settled for Rs 15/-. It was getting hot and the man spoke poor English - but it was better than my Indian (I didn't even know what language he spoke! Hindi maybe?). He said he'd take me on a tour. I asked him to take me to the Taj Mahal. We didn't understand much of what each other said. It was getting hot.
Puncture repair. Rickshaw man on right.
He headed out of town. It was difficult to say how far - about 2 or three miles at a guess. I had no idea of the route to the Taj Mahal, but I instinctively felt that we were not heading towards the river. The rickshaw man said it was "a tour". He pedaled hard. His thin muscled legs pumping up and down.
Was this a good idea? Did I trust him? He seemed harmless, just making a living. Should I have given him Rs20/-? I had to go along with him, not really any choice. I had no idea where I was. Then he stopped and pointed. "Go there".
I didn't realise until afterwards but he had taken me to the Sikandra Mausoleum, Akbar's tomb. I should have been pleased. I knew nothing about the area and he had decided I should see more than the Taj. He was clearly proud of his region and had taken me to a much overlooked but rather splendid monument. At the time I didn't enjoy it as much as I should and noted in my diary I wasn't impressed. But afterwards I knew I had been. Looking back I must be the only tourist to this splendid monument that did not take a picture of the actual tomb. The picture below is from one of the upper levels of the five terrace tomb, looking back at the southern gate.
After Sikandra my guide took me to a Sihk temple, but of this I have no recollection and only one indistinct picture. My diary notes that I was more interested in the sights and sounds of the street. In New Agra we suffered a puncture and while I waited for it to be repaired by one of the many road side bicycle repair men I bought a banana and an orange for lunch. The road was very busy, many heavy lorries passing and few rickshaws. Later discovered it was the main road from Agra to Delhi.
Main Road - Agra
From the Sikh temple to what the rickshaw man called the "Baby Taj", of which I have no pictures, and by now I was more lost and disoriented than ever. I was hot and thirsty and bought a drink which was far too sweet. I asked again about the Taj Mahal. Was I going to spend two days in Agra and be the only tourist never to see it?