It was a slow and restful star the our first full day in Delhi, except we were preparing for our train ride to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. At 10:15 we began our walk to New Delhi Train Station to wait for the Kerela Express which would take us to our destination sleeper class style. We hung around for a while and she arrived, we found our coach number, boarded and took our seats! Of course sleeper class meant that we had no air conditioning and we were sat among local people, it was hot and stuffy, the small dusty fans circulating what little air there was around the coach.
The engine began and we slowly started to move out of the station, the clattering of the train on the tracks getting more intense as we gained speed. It didn’t take long to get out of the city and into the countryside. The more of rural India I see the more I fall in love with the rural area, it is still hot and humid and there are still people everywhere, but you don’t have to go far to see the lush green fields and huge trees providing a welcome shade for the local people. Makeshift homes dotted about the countryside, home to villagers and coolies. Small villages and towns interspersed among the open spaces crammed with people going about their daily lives. The air is still oppressive yet it seems fresher once out of the city, the breeze of the day gently blowing through the windows of the train.
After almost 3 hours we arrived at Agra and it was time to endure the chaos of the auto rickshaw drivers. We were greeted by about 20 men offering their services, but eventually there was calm and we managed to communicate that we needed 6 auto’s to take us to the Taj Mahal, one man obliging and working it out for us, we ended up with 5 and a German backpacker but that was cool and we began the journey. Once close to the Taj we decided we needed to refuel before going any further and so the rickshaw leader took us to a place called Shanti with a roof top cafe. We climbed the marble stairs, the place itself seemed a bit of a dive, but once at the top we were greeted with a view of the Taj Mahal in all her splendor, the hike up the stairs disappeared to become a distant memory. Even though I had visited before it still felt surreal to sit and eat lunch with one of the seven wonders of the world sat beside us.
After lunch we headed in, got our tickets and entered the south gate. So many children lined the entrance asking us to visit their shop when we had finished, each one promising a bargain of the century, and thou their English is good it appears the word “no” has not yet permeated their vocabulary or their understanding. Once inside e sense of awe and wonder takes over, yet so too does the sense of reality that behind the beauty of this creation there is a history of violence, I have heard that the builders had their hands chopped off and some where blinded in a bid to prevent them ever reproducing this amazing creation. I also learned that all of the domes along the tops of structures where copies of his wife’s breasts because he loved them so much – you learn something new each day!
As I had visited previously I left the group to wander and explore while I found a quiet archway on the external wall of the Taj and sat quietly reflecting on the journey so far, the things we have done and the things we have seen. As we regrouped we had some fun with photographs and headed out into the street. Mather young boys where waiting at the gate and pounced like a cat waiting to catch its prey. Before we knew it we where surrounded, “you come in my shop, just look no buy,” “you come in my shop, I will give you a good price,” “please take my card, come to my shop,” these boys would’ve been no more than 14 and I am adding age on to how old they looked because experience in India has proved that the children are much smaller. These boys are experts, they are so well versed in the touting of the tourists, I am beginning to believe they keep going because for many tourists it’s easier to surrender and visit the shop and even buy something than to engage and keep going!
Our rickshaw men then took us to some places where they would get commission for our visit and more if we purchased something, we didn’t argue because they had hung around for us all day and we had some time to kill before we went back to the train station. Once at the train station some went and sat in the cool of the air conditioning while a couple of us went to our platform and as we did we were greeted by some very small children whose home was the station. They wanted water and food, so we gave them our water and popped to the food hawker in the station to buy them some food. They hung around for a while with their plastic bags packed with food they had collected, a few older kids came along so we fed them too. It’s so hard to know that these kids live at the train station, they are so young yet so streetwise, it’s a harsh reality check. Some visitors didn’t even look at them, they just moved out of the way, but when it comes to vulnerability at such a great extreme I cannot walk away. With the little kids I played round and round the garden and they chuckled before they headed off to the ramp and sat to eat their feast.
Our train came and once more the engine started and the clatter of the train along the tracks began, it was time to journey back to Delhi, we arrived home at 11:45pm quite exhausted from the day.