Agra

Next stop on our tour after Jaipur was Agra. We got a second class train, so much more comfortable then the local train we had taken to Jaipur, thankfully because this journey was 6 and a half hours. First port of call in Agra was lunch. At this stage we have been in India for 10 days so we are getting a bit more adventurous with our food choices. Today we tried the ‘Dosai’, which is essentially a giant pancake folded in half and filled with spicy potatoes. It was delicious! I think this is where having a local guide comes in handy; We would of never thought of trying this, and wouldn’t even know what it was if it hadn’t been recommended by our guide.

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I realise this picture looks super plain- but its very tasty!

After lunch we headed to Agra fort. Neither of us were too bothered about going here as we thought it would be much the same as the Amber fort in Jaipur, but it didn’t disappoint. This fort was much bigger and had five very different sections built by the five different kings that resided there. At the back there was a ‘jail’ that one of the princes built to imprison his father. It’s definitely not what we would call a prison cell. There was a balcony out the back where there was an incredible view of the Taj Mahal. Seeing the Taj in the distance really increased our sense of anticipation and excitement for visiting it the following day.

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The kings ‘prison’

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At 3.45 am our alarms went off. This was the first morning that neither of us minded getting out of bed so early, as it was time to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise. We were the first people there, even before the gates opened at 5.10 am. After the security checks were done, the panic started to get pictures before all the crowds arrived. We had a local guide with us that told us all the tips and tricks to get the best picture. We made our way to ‘Diana’s bench’ and got the most amazing photos with no one in the background. We were then advised to go to the mosque at the left of the Taj Mahal to watch the sunrise. This was hands down the best experience we have had to date. Watching the Taj slowly light up and seeing the beautiful colours of the sky reflect off the white marble was breath-taking.  The fact that there was almost no-one around made it so magical, it was like we were the only people there.

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When the sun was up we could wander around inside the Taj, no photo’s were allowed unfortunately, but it is just as beautiful inside as it is outside, take it from us. When the rat-race to get the best photo was over, we found a bench and just sat and took it all in. The beauty is definitely from a distance. This is when you can really see the Taj Mahal for what it is. The perfect symmetry, the piercing white marble, the colourful painting and decoration, it’s going to be very hard to top! When we were leaving, it was only 7.30 am and the place was packed! There were people shouting at others to get out of their photo and a massive que for Diana’s bench. If anyone is thinking of ever going here, we would definitely recommend getting up early and being one of the first people there. Don’t bring any bags because this is a separate line and it takes longer to get through. Just bring yourself and your camera and be ready to experience one of the seven wonders of the world.

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The rest of the day was pretty relaxed. Agra doesn’t seen to have much else going on, and everything seemed less significant after the morning we had just had. That night we took a 14 hour overnight train to Varanasi. We weren’t really sure what to expect as this was the first of the trip and to be honest I don’t think we could of been prepared for this journey. I don’t even know where to start describing this train! There were beds everywhere. There were no such thing as cabins, the carriages were just one big communal bedroom, like a massive hostel dorm. Everyone was local and looked at us like we were aliens, people literally just stared at us while we walked through the middle of the chaos. When we found our beds there were two local men sitting cross legged on one of the beds eating curry. When we made them aware that they were in our seats, they were in no rush to move, so we just had to stand and wait for them to finish their dinner. When they eventually moved we got to the task of making our beds somewhat hospitable. We were so grateful that we got a leaving present of sleeping bag liners from Jen so we didn’t have to sleep in the bed sheets provided. We tucked all our important belongings into the bottom of our sleeping bag liners and tried to get some sleep. It wasn’t as bad as we had initially thought, we got some sleep, nothing got stolen and we made it out alive so I mean it could of been worse. We were never so happy to get to our hotel in Varanasi for a shower!

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See bottom right to see how well we hid our shock….

Róisin & Bernard 

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