You'll have to forgive me for showing SO many pictures of the Taj Mahal, but it's just so effing beautiful. I couldn't exclude any shots. Plus, the Taj Mahal has a special place in my heart ever since I was a kid and I got the 3D puzzle of the Taj Mahal (for Christmas maybe?). It took me a long time to put together, but I love symmetry, and I was in love.
To get to Agra, I got an unreserved train ticket from Delhi, which meant I would be riding in the general coach where they seat somewhere between 150 and 250 people in a coach that has 80 actual seats. It's a madhouse; before the train had even stopped (and before a single passenger had disembarked - a regular practice here I have learned), people were trying to push on and reserve a seat for themselves. I stepped back and let the havoc happen before finally getting on (with my oversized backpack) and finding a spot for my luggage on the luggage rack and then finding a seat for one of my two buttocks. I plopped down and noticed that quite a few of the luggage racks were inhabited by people fully sprawled out, leaving no room for people's luggage. I kept staring up at the man in the overhead luggage compartment across from my seat with a curiosity (and some frustration - who is he that he gets to lay up there and not let anyone put luggage up there) when all of a sudden he invited me to come up there too. Well, of course I couldn't turn down an invite, and look how much leg room I would get comparatively.
That is how I met Bhaskar, the off-duty police officer on vacation for 30 days so he could visit his family and his friend Rahul, also a police officer. There was an 18-year-old student behind us on a different luggage rack who spoke great English and acted as translator between Bhaskar and me since his English was limited and my Hindi is awful (30 words max). We had an awesome time the whole 4 hours to Agra, sharing grapes and channa (roasted chickpeas), and he even shared some of his secret rum with me. He poured it into a Pepsi bottle that had some Pepsi left in it and added some water (my second encounter with water of questionable origin), but how could I turn down a rum and coke in a luggage rack in the general coach of a train from an off-duty police officer?
When I arrived at Agra, I walked past all of the aggressive auto-rickshaws at the train station and about 5 minutes later, I found a nice boy (probably 10 or so) driving a cycle-rickshaw who didn't know too much English and who also didn't know where Lucky Guesthouse was, but we just kept asking until we found it. It was probably about 500 meters or so from the Taj Mahal and had an amazing rooftop view, so I took it. The manager (Harry) looked like an Indian version of Richard Gere and was very nice. He just kept saying, "Don't worry; Be Happy," and he told me about 1967 when he met Bob Marley, at which point we sang "Buffalo Soldier" together. His main worker Mohan and his son Lokehs ran the place, cooking the food and cleaning, etc. Lokehs was very friendly as well and taught me quite a few Hindi words. His English was amazing.
My time at the Taj was great, but it really is much more amazing from far away than it is from up close. However, there was some really intricate jewel patterns encrusted right into the marble. Also - paint me naive, but I didn't know that the man who built the Taj for his deceased wife was Muslim, so the doorway is surrounded by Arabic writing from the Qu'ran. If I haven't said it before, I'm learning a lot about India and its history; for example, its relation with the Mughal Empire.
I borrowed a cycle from Mohan and explored the city a bit, but I got a flat tire. A man on the side of the street fixing bicycles helped fix my tire and give me a general tune-up, so I gave him an orange and 20 rupee. I wasn't sure what to do. I got some really good street food that day, and I even saw the place called Baby Taj.
My view on the train from Delhi to Agra
A camel on the street
The views from Lucky Guesthouse near sunset
A statue of a woman warrior
Some art by Harry outside of Lucky by the bicycle that I used
Views of Agra Fort just after sunset on my way to the train station
Oh, and this video was also taken from the rooftop of Lucky Guesthouse during the Muslim Call to Prayer. Just a beautiful moment.