It was the morning after the night before when my train pulled into Agra. Looking out a thick fog hung over the city. It didn’t leave until late afternoon and in tune with the film ‘the fog’, I expected something quite gruesome to emerge. But at first it seemed that Agra had repented and was now on course for redemption! I couldn’t help but ask myself, this nice side of Agra cannot last can it?
As a city Agra was a typical Indian affair, dirty, noisy and congested. However the locals that I met there made up for it. There was the rickshaw driver who seemed to be achieving the impossible by funding his childrens successful education. The group of males interested in politics not least the incident in Amritsar where British soldiers opened fire on Indian protesters. And the various small time restaurant owners one of which would greet you like a long lost family member even if just passing by. It was a pleasure. But the one thing that made Agra so special was that little known building that I first saw emerge from behind the fog whilst sat in my rooftop restaurant. The Taj Mahal looked incredible.
The first day I spent exploring the local bazaars and slumping myself in-front of the box. I had not watched TV for two months. I hadn’t missed it. But when it was there the pull was to great. Starting with Magicians Greatest Secrets 4 I was captivated. Later the Simpsons, plus ample amounts of Premiership football almost had me hugging it.
The following day I was up early and at the gates of the Taj eager and excited. I had checked with the helpful Indian police sat around working hard at the gate where I bought my ticket. They assured me you bought it inside the gates. 5 or so minutes later the gate keeper arrived. “Have you got a ticket?” he asked. A 30 minute walk later left me a long way back in the queue. I abandoned my visit and slumped in a cafe. I felt like a kid throwing a strop because they are not first in the line. (I wonder who that reminds me of!)
Instead of the Taj I went to Agra Fort, which was awesome. Unlike the Red Fort, which is impressive from the outside but a big let down inside, Agra’s is the complete package. I spent hours just wondering around and enjoying being taken back in time. With time to spare I planned an out of the way excursion to the other side of the river, which according to the Lonely Planet offered unbeatable views of the Taj. This sounded to good to be true!
Forty five minutes and a bit of barbed wire later I was stood on a beach like wasteland with the Taj right in-front of me. No one else was to be seen. With sunset a couple of hours away I walked as far along as I could aiming to be in a place where I could get a classic Taj picture. That decision was one that would push Agra to far. In a matter of minutes Agra decided to let down her disguise and reveal herself.
From behind the trees walked a policeman. He explained in no uncertain terms that I was trespassing on government/military land and would be required to accompany him to the station. To give evidence of the severity of my crime he pointed to the barbed wire and the guard towers. I thought they might be beach huts! Quickly I put my Hazelbury lessons into practice and rattled off as many excuses as I could. I didn’t quite manage ‘it wasn’t me’ but I came close. The excuses meant little but the ‘it doesn’t need to come to this does it?’ line raised an eyebrow and a smile from the policeman. It was in that moment when I realised the line that I had crossed. The advice given by a couple in Mcleod Ganj echoed in my mind:
“Once you enter the process of bribing a police officer you can’t back out.”
But I didn’t know how to bribe a police officer. It just isn’t very British. Fortunately in the policeman’s ramblings he kept repeating a figure. Ignoring the advice given I tried to offer him less. This was met with a look that only meant one thing and it was not that we were cool. I retracted and paid the dizzy heights of five pounds. With that his mood changed. He took my photo with the Taj and after further negotiations allowed me to stay as long as he could not see me.
I sat looking at the Taj feeling a little aggrieved but pleased to be allowed to stay. And then my five little saviors arrived. From a distance they waved me across to join them. I squinted my eyes. Where they really carrying what I thought they were? A gift from god himself…a football! As an eagle hovered above and the sun set behind us we played a strange version of football directly in-front of the Taj Mahal. It is a moment that I will never forget not least my domination of the midfield!
After the events of the previous day I expected the Taj to be a relative disappointment. But being the second person through the gates I had the Taj all to myself. I raced around admiring every possible angle before the crowds arrived. I don’t get very excited about buildings, I’m much more fascinated by nature’s creations however the Taj left me speechless and now wordless. Since the moment I left the gates I have talked with many visitors to Agra. Almost have been left incapable of putting into words what makes it so incredibly special.
So from the eventful stop in Agra I made my way to the gateway to India’s most popular state, Rajastan. Also the last stop in the Golden Triangle, Jaipur was my next destination.