The best way to see India is at ground level using the Indian railway system. My trip to India would not have been complete without experiencing the bustle of the country’s railway stations. I expected it to be dirty and crowded, and it was, but what surprised me most was how safe and comfortable I felt, and how friendly and fun the people were — so much so that I found myself leaning out of the train to take photos on my journey.
India’s rail network is one of the largest and busiest in the world. There are more than 7,000 stations and a whopping 23 million passengers are transported along the network (which is about 114,000km) every day! Because the cost of travelling by rail is so ridiculously cheap, it puts this mode of transportation in the financial reach of the majority of the population. Travelling by train therefore is a quintessential Indian experience.
I had booked a hotel in Agra for a couple of nights and thought, ‘Why not take the train to get there?’
A small tourist quota is set aside for foreign tourists travelling between popular destinations. In order to book such seats you’d need to go to a dedicated reservation office in one of the country’s major cities. Be sure to take your passport and visa with you as identification. The Indian Railways and India Rail Info websites offer updated railway information, which is very useful given the hundreds of options available.
Fares are based on the distance and class of your travel. There are senior travel discounts available when you travel in India, so be sure to check if you are entitled to a discount.
Nothing quite compares to travelling by train in India, an experience that engenders wonder, nervous anticipation and heady exhilaration in equal measure.
Agra has three railway stations — the Agra Cannt., Agra Fort, and Agra City. The nearest train station to the Taj Mahal is the Agra Fort. It’s about 3km away from the monument.
My hotel had a pool on the roof where you can supposedly swim while appreciating the distant views of the Taj Mahal, but I don’t think the smog has ever lifted enough to find if there is truth to the claim. If you are considering a trip to India, one thing you will need to come to grips with before you go is just how different life is there. You will see everything you could possibly imagine in India and you will see it with great intensity.
I was up before the sun rose to see the Taj Mahal. You can purchase your tickets at a row of stalls near the monument and then you move on and wait for the huge gates to open. Admission is approximately AU$20. A wonder of the world, a monument of love, an iconic structure – the Taj Mahal is a bucket-list item that is breathtaking to visit.
I was given paper socks to cover my shoes so that I could wander along the white marble at will. This ivory-white marble mausoleum on the south bank of the Yamuna river was commissioned by emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. While there was a sense of calm and very few people at the early hour, the crowds and the temperature both increased after a few hours, so it was time for me to leave.
Perhaps it was this whole ‘love’ association, but outside the Taj Mahal were people selling Karma Sutra videos. It was quite unusual. I passed on the offer to purchase one — I’m just not that ‘bendy’ these days — however, I did buy a snow dome from a young boy for AU$1. The smile on his face was worth more, and when I look at that dome now I can still see it.