We had left our bags out the night before and then had a very early morning, meeting in the lobby at 5.00 so as to depart at 5.15 for the railway station. The station even that early in the morning makes rush hour in new York, Toronto or London look uncrowded. People were sleeping against pillars, or eating in small groups, while a long line snaked towards the security check. Interestingly, Indians, unlike many Asians, are very willing to line up, and the queues moved efficiently. We boarded our train, in first class, and took our assigned seats. Comfortable, a bit old, and certainly NOT Rocky Mountain Railtours. But it was air conditioned and it was on time, and beverages and a light breakfast was included. I really enjoyed the experience of the train, as Indian Railways is not just the largest employer in the country and a mode of transport for many, but is also the largest railway network in the world.
It is a shame that Indian Railways don’t have a third category of service, “International tourist” or something, where they could charge even more for a truly modern, first class experience which would help to cover the costs of the railway for less well off Indians. Maybe one day.
It took about two hours to get to Agra, where we immediately went to our hotel, and were checked in and reunited with our baggage, before setting out the Taj Mahal. We are all so familiar with it from photographs that I won’t spend a lot of time on the magnificence and beauty of it, which is sublime, except to say that took 20,000 people working on the site, plus thousands of others on transportation and logistics, 20 years to build it. And all to build the final burial place for the Mogul Emporer and his favourite wife. The Indian people clearly have a resilience and tolerance and patience that enable them to work away in searing heat, year after year at comparatively monotonous tasks, for little pay. Of course, so many conquered people and feudal societies endured the same, but in the heat here it is particularly hard to credit. Anyway, the whole complex is stunningly beautiful, and glorious to visit. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.
As an aside, it is also most efficiently set up for tourism. Petrol or diesel vehicles aren’t allowed within a 2 kilometre or so radius, so we were transferred to electric carts and then driven to the entrance. Everything was clean, and well organised.
Shah Jahan lost his wife giving birth to their 14th child, although only 6 of the children survived childhood. His was an interesting empire but not for this blog.
The ITC Moghul where we stayed, http://www.itchotels.in/hotels/itcmughal.aspx is a lovely hotel, with great public spaces and like every hotel so far in India, with tremendous food and staff. There are many colleges here that offer hospitality and tourism courses, and they really, clearly do a great job. The hotel rooms are well equipped, clean, efficiently and quietly air conditioned, and like the ITC in Delhi come with a great kettle and coffee and tea supplies, which I enjoyed each morning. We enjoyed the food and service, and those that used the spa reported it was outstanding. All in all a good value, four and a half plus star property which i really enjoyed.
However, should I return to Agra, which I hope to, I will stay, if I can afford it, at the Oberoi Amarvillas, http://www.oberoihotels.com/oberoi_amarvilas/index.asp This property has the most sense of place of any hotel I have ever stayed in. Pristinely beautiful with grounds that are built in the Moghul formal garden style, (reminiscent of French formal gardens such as Versailles) with beautiful formal water features, the hotel absolutely breaths “Taj Mahal” and furthermore every room overlooks the fabulous mausoleum. Just a perfect place to stay, in my opinion, with great facilities, good food and service, and a wonderful style that will get you into the Taj Mahal feeling.