North Central India is plagued by heavy fog in winter. Apparently, Indra, the Hindu god of weather, forgot about our travel plans and sent an extra heavy curtain just as we wanted to go to Agra. Our train was canceled giving us a chance to sample long distance bus travel in India. True to form we loaded up on delicious snacks from the dodgiest looking street food vendor we could find. Some things never change.
Just above Orcha sits one of India´s biggest and busiest train lines connecting Delhi and Mumbai. Logically it would seem that a major highway would parallel this line, but in India logic is never guaranteed. Our bus bounced along a dirt road, the aforementioned highway, for a seemingly impossible amount hours. This lead to another breakdown in logic, we arrived in Agra at 3:00am, otherwise known as the most inconvenient time ever. Why not just leave a few hours later and get there in the morning? We will never know, but to our luck the closet size waiting room of the ticket office was open and had a fire going. Valerie and I both manage to squirm into two tennis racket sized pieces of real estate on a padded bench, enough for Val and the Indians to sprawl out completely, I did my best to imitate a pretzel. Somehow I actually slept.
Agra is home to the sublime Taj Mahal. Foreigners are charged and impressive thirty five times higher entry fee than locals but on the upside you don´t have to wait in any lines. Wrecked from a difficult night´s travel we found a basic hotel and opted to collapse and visit the Taj Mahal on the following day, Val´s thirty third birthday. In the afternoon we finally pulled ourselves out of bed and were stunned by the view from the hotel´s balcony. As if out of a dream there it was, right in front of us – the Taj Mahal. We walked to the river and paid a boatman to row us out behind the complex. It is truly one of the most beautiful things ever constructed by man.
We woke up early for Val´s birthday and it seemed that once again Indra was having a laugh at our expense. The Taj Mahal was visible, but only barely through thick fog. In person this actually gave an amazing ethereal quality to the experience, unfortunately it did not have the same effect on the pictures. None the less it was an amazing and life affirming experience for both of us.
The story of the Taj Mahal is one of love. It was commission by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal who died shortly after delivering his child. The Taj Mahal was completed in 1653 and is considered the crowning achievement of Muslim architecture in India.
Agra as a city leaves much to be desired but there are other impressive sites like the Agra fort or nearby Fatehpur Sikri, both meant to be amazing. We still felt tired from so much traveling chose to see them next time. Indra played final joke on us the day we left. It was absolutely gorgeous during the day but fog began to roll in that afternoon. We considered returning to the Taj Mahal or visiting the other sites but frugality won out. When we arrived at the train station our departure was – cancelled. Indra might not be the kindest fellow but he definitely has a good sense of humor.