Exams done, my sons and I set out from Chandigarh to see the Taj Mahal. With no pressure on time, we decided to travel by day. We left Chandigarh to New Delhi on a Monday morning, by the Jan Shatabdi, which doesn’t require one to wake-up very early in the morning! We had for company during the journey, an elderly lady who was returning to Delhi after attending a Baba’s darshan the previous night. She spent most of the journey knitting a sweater that she said she would take two days to complete. Such was the speed of her knitting!
A two hour halt in New Delhi. We first got ourselves on the right platform for our connecting train. The N.Delhi-Jabalpur Super Express that would take us to Agra was waiting on the platform and we got in and settled into our seats and had a good lunch – a combination of home-cooked puliogare and ‘Economy meal’ aloo-poori bought at the station. We had just finished when the train cleaner, on the instructions of a supervisor, made us get off, saying that it was still too early to be on the train. So we stepped out with our small bags and spent the rest of the time exploring the book stalls and watching the trains chug in and out on various platforms. After we re-boarded the train, we were joined in our compartment by a newly married couple who had luggage indicative of people moving house. They lived in Agra and were very helpful in guiding us on what to definitely see. During the conversation we realised that one thing we had not considered while making our travel plans was the Assembly Elections in UP, scheduled for the next day (28th Feb). We knew that the Taj and other important places are closed on Fridays but we had totally forgotten about voting! The day was a general holiday in voting constituencies and we were now not sure if we would be spending the day in our hotel room instead of sightseeing. Anyway, with our return trip to Delhi not yet booked, we had the flexibility of an extra day, so we were sure that we would not return without walking on the Taj!
We reached Agra on schedule and were contemplating how to reach our hotel, Hotel Taj Plaza where we had reservations, made through Makemytrip.com. We decided to take a pre-paid taxi to Taj (East gate) – cost Rs 200/- plus Rs 10/- as booking fee. The taxi driver Afzal Bhai, the owner of the taxi, was very informative and he answered my first question about whether sites would be open the next day very reassuringly. The government directive was that though voting day was to be a holiday, all tourist sites in Agra and other voting cities would remain open.
As we drove to the hotel, that was on the road that led to the Taj, our first glimpse of the Taj reminded us of the first glimpse of the Pyramids of Giza almost two years earlier. My boys were thrilled at seeing their second Wonder of the World. On reaching the hotel, we lost no time in rushing to the terrace of the hotel to get a better view of the Taj. And what a view it was! With very pleasant weather that evening, we sat on the terrace sipping tea and watching the sun set on the magnificent white marble building.
The next morning the day started early. We walked down to the ticket counter and got our tickets. Though the Taj was just a km away, my boys and I decided to take a cycle rickshaw ride to reach the East Gate of the Taj. We were there by 6:30 and were wondering why we had to wait, then realised that the gates open only at 7!
The queue moved really fast and once we were in, we walked briskly, through the red sandstone arch and were awestruck!
After seeing the sun rise over the Taj and spending about 90 minutes, we walked back to our hotel, had a quick breakfast and awaited our taxi (from Afzal Bhai) that was to take us to Fatehpur Sikri and also to the other spots in Agra.
Being voting day, most of the shops were closed, roads were relatively empty and we were able to pack in most of the sights. We even got to ensure that our taxi driver was able to go to the polling booth to cast his vote!