the lament at the train station
30.01.2009 - 30.01.2009 22 °C
We were leaving Delhi for Agra and going by train -- first class you should know (I only mention this because trust me, it's not what you think of as first class) -- and had to leave the hotel at 5:15 a.m. for a 6:15 a.m. departure. Oy vay. We were too early for breakfast at the hotel. Because we were travelling first class Rashmi told us we'd get food on the train -- but to make sure she also organized box lunches from the hotel.
Our driver picked us up at the appointed time, we loaded our umpteen pieces of luggage onto the bus and off we went -- in the pitch dark and heavy fog. There's been heavy fog for a couple of days now which is creating havoc on the already jammed city streets and highways.
It took us about 30 minutes or so to get there. If you are thinking we were going to Union Station or Central Station forget about it. First of all when we arrived there was a traffic jam outside -- of people not vehicles. Tons and tons of people sitting, laying and sleeping all over the place -- both inside and outdoor -- all waiting to get on trains.
Luggage in hand we made our way up several flights of stairs. Barely alive by the time we got to our level we then wound our way through the crowds (no easy feat let me tell you) to the first class lounge.
I wish I had a picture but you're not allowed to take photographs in train stations (also bridges, airports etc.) for security reasons. Never were -- not just since Mumbai, by the way. Anyway you will just have to take my word for it: Dirty, dusty, littered with luggage and people sitting, standing, laying on the floors and seats. In fact, we were lucky to get seats. It was jam packed.
"Why?" you might ask. Because the fog had delayed everything, including our train which was now 1 1/2 hours late. Over and over and over and over and over again -- as in every 5 minutes -- we heard the same announcement over the PA system: The train to (insert location here) is delayed until (insert time here). "The inconvenience caused is deeply regretted."
Rashmi was now also afraid that the fog would interrupt our plans to see the Taj Mahal. The original plan was for us to get to Agra about about 8:15 ... we'd go to Agra Fort ... then check into the hotel ... then have the afternoon and evening at leisure. The next day we'd get up at 4 a.m. and walk to the Taj (our hotel is on the grounds) so we could see it at sunrise -- when it looks pink.
She suggested that we alter our plans just in case. We'd still go to Agra Fort first and then check into the hotel -- but we'd go to the Taj at around 4 pm at which point she was certain the fog would have burned off. She knew we were all desperate to see it dnd idn't want to chance waiting until the next day.
It was about 8:30 before our train left.
The usual 2 hour trip took almost 6 because of the fog. There were, however, some fabulous photo ops along the way. None of us had a pee break since leaving the hotel and none of us would go near the bathroom -- in either the station or on the train -- including Rashmi. So you can only imagine the condition we were in by then.
After disembarking -- finally -- and once again navigating through the sea of humanity, luggage and carts selling everything from produce to drinks-- our guide, driver and vehicle were there to meet us. The immediate priority was a bio break and then we headed directly to The Agra Fort -- which is, incidentally -- a world heritage sight. In truth it's not a fort, it's a fortified palace -- built by Akbar, his son Jahangir and grandson Shah Jahan (the very same Shah Jahan who commissioned the building of the Taj Mahal).
The Fort consists of royal apartments, mosques, assembly halls and a dungeon -- and it is massive!
You can actually see the Taj Mahal from there and seeing it, rising out of the mist, is a sight I will never forget.
As I stood there looking at it I remembered a movie my mother took me to when I was a child -- and if it wasn't the first movie she ever took me to it's the first one I can recall. It was Around The World In 80 Days and one of the wonders they travelled to see was the Taj Mahal.
From that moment on I always wanted to see the Taj and visit India. It took me a while but I got here -- and there I was gazing at it. And, in about a half hour I'd be standing right in front of it!!
We were all tired by then and Haidee really wasn't feeling well (she'd had a blinding headache for 2 days) but after a lot of deliberating back and forth we all decided that we had better go because the weather forecast for the next day wasn't promising -- and we had been scheduled to leave Agra for Samode very early the next morning -- right after our visit in fact.
To be there, on the grounds -- and to be so close you can tough it -- is an absolutely life altering moment. And when you see the acres of grounds that surround it ... the gardens and the sheer size and scale of it it is impossible to imagine that a man could love a woman so much he would build a tribute to her that would last more than 300 years and counting ... and would take thousands of workers more than 20 years to build (interesting factoid courtesy of our guide -- it's not solid marble -- it was built in brick and then covered in marble -- still mind-blowing!!).
There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people there and we waited in line more than 45 minutes to get in. And boy are they strict -- the place is swarming with police who have zero tolerance for anybody who tries to break into the line.
You have to wear booties over your shoes, by the way, to protect the marble.
Once you get into the mausoleum though it is disappointing, to be honest -- or at least it was to me -- and a couple of others on our trip. The tomb itself is a small room and there is hardly any light. I missed a step and almost landed on my face -- but thanks to Lesley my pilates instructor my balance is now so good it turned out to be an innocuous little stumble.
Anyway, like I said, it's small and unimposing -- however to give it its due, both inside and out the marble is inlayed with semiprecious stones.
Why I ended up with lunch box letdown is because Shah Jahan and his beloved wife, Mumtaz, are not buried in the spot where the tourists are allowed to go. They're actually buried in a crypt in the basement. What look like coffins that we see are just there for effect.
But let me assure you I'd go there all over again just to see it from the outside. To see it from the Fort and then to slowly walk towards it and see it getting bigger and bigger and more and more imposing is a thrill beyond compare.
How's a guy supposed to top that one, though? A box of chocolates on Valentine's Day isn't really working for me now ...