Upon arriving in Delhi I was anxious to get started on planning my trip to Agra, little did I realize it would take more than I had anticipated, not even knowing what I anticipated!
I touched ground at the hotel by 7:15, the railway station was said to close at 8PM sharp. I ran to the station as it was a mere few meters from the hotel, stood in the wrong line (wasting precious time) and by the time I made it to the foreigners booking area, time was not on my side. The only other option available was a private cab.
Fortunately, the hotel agreed to send a driver out with me for Rs. 5,500 (I’ll keep the numbers bold so anyone wishing to do the same will know the average cost). We were to start our journey at 6AM. However, as a result of delayed breakfast in the form of Pasta (I was going to Agra to run!) we started our journey at 6:30AM.
Our first stop was for fuel, the sun was just beginning to rise, I spotted what I thought to be a cat in the distance, climbing a walk, then hanging on with its arms… wait… arms? OMG it was monkeys! Wild monkeys in the streets as clear as we have cats in Kuwait!
The second unusual sight was an elephant walking down the road, laden with goods. Till now the most I’d seen roads was oxen, horses and donkeys.
After a perilous journey whereby I was unable to tell whether the fellow was asleep or awake, we finally arrived at our destination at roughly 9:30AM.
First thing that happened was that my taxi driver introduced me to a tour guide hired by the hotel for me; which was amazing as after looking back on what happened, I doubt I would have succeeded on my own, plus all the extra tidbits of general knowledge on the Taj Mahal!
A ticket for a foreigner to go into the Taj Mahal is Rs. 750, it is expedited, meaning you do not have to wait in a long line to get to the Taj Mahal, unless of course there are several foreigners visiting at that time, in which case you are sh*t out of luck. The local ticket costs Rs. 20.
Upon passing the gate, where the security checkup involves a pat down and nothing else, you will be jumped by several “professional” photographers, advertising their work to you and requesting a simple payment of Rs. 100 per large photo and Rs. 80 per medium. Be cautious as they will insist on a minimum number of photographs. They know all the hotspots for photography, however quite honestly they are not worth the hassle. I ended up paying Rs. 500 for 9 medium sized photographs.
As soon as we entered I informed my guide of my plan to run there, he cautioned against it saying I would draw attention to myself, which I ended up doing, so instead of running 10K I only ran 1.5K, however it was directly around the Taj Mahal (which I never intended on doing) as well as in the courtyard below it.
The Taj Mahal is a magnificent structure of symmetry and asymmetry, the pillars surrounding the Taj Mahal although appearing to be straight are actually at an angle. The intricate handiwork on the outside of the Taj Mahal shows carvings into solid marble embedded with semi-precious stones from all over the world. The Arabic writing (scripts from the Quran as I was told) is also a wonder to behold as according to the guide, the font is not the same all around, it only appears as such due to an illusion of making the higher up font larger for unity.
After the tour was over and we had paid the cameraman, we headed back towards the taxi and off towards the next logical destination: souvenirs.
The first shop made textiles, I was informed a single piece costs Rs. 500 however I was able to get two for Rs. 750 (neither too firm or too lax). At this point my money reserves were running thin as I had not brought that much cash on me. To add to my woes, the tour guide whom I was informed was complimentary by the hotel, wanted payment as well. As though squeezing water from a rock, I managed to offer him a small amount that although was totally not worth his time or value of information, ensured that he did not leave empty handed.
The taxi driver, who seemed to have misunderstood that I had no cash left on me, took me to yet another shop which I was actually thankful for; a marble workshop. You learn to appreciate the fine details on the Taj Mahal after seeing how it is done in real life. The workers fingers were cut and blistered from numerous hours spent hard at work on very minute, fine details. The result however is breathtaking. Suffice to say, marble is expensive, and as I flipped the items over I had a mini-heart attack over the price. I could not simply walk out without buying anything, that would be rude, plus how many more times will I ever be in this moment at this place? As he regaled me with his many devices to take cash and credit, and even FOREX, I quickly pointed out that I had Kuwaiti Dinars on me. For a sum of 5KD (which I had calculated as being Rs. 1,000 although it was actually 1,031 as per the Kuwait Exchange Rate) I walked out with a miniature replica of the Taj Mahal with space beneath to fit a light bulb that would illuminate the piece of art.
The drive back to Delhi seemed to take longer, given the fact that the driver maintained playing the same 3 songs over and over again until my ears bled; something about the last love, akher something or other, not only that but as it was his favorite song he blasted it at the highest volume.
We were back safely in the hotel by 6:20PM, a journey of 12 hours.
The costs? Minimal. The gains? A lifetimes worth of memories.