From Dehli to Agra and Jaipur

The Taj Mahal

India is starting to feel a lot calmer as we travel through Rajasthan, despite the fact that we’re here during Diwali which is a huge annual Hindu celebration. The fireworks might be filling the air with smoke but it’s not too bad in smaller cities such as Jaipur or Jodhpur.

In the past few days we’ve headed south-east to Agra then west to Jaipur and next we move on again to Jodhpur. This fast pace has hardly allowed us to take in each city and it’s difficult leaving so many friendly people behind as we move on. I booked our flight down to Kochi far too soon which means we’re cramming the north in quickly and leaving little time to look around.

Red Fort in New Dehli
Red Fort Dehli

Sunday morning was an early start like most of our mornings recently. We woke up early with the plan to see Red Fort with Ankan before our train to Agra in the afternoon, but a change in the fort opening hours meant he couldn’t get away from work. Instead we arranged to leave our bags at the Airbnb a little later than checkout and went over to Red Fort on our own. The building and grounds were beautiful and it was a lovely way to spend our final morning in Dehli.

Red Fort in Dehli
Red Fort in Dehli

Red Fort was our first experience of the strange obsession some Indians have for selfies with foreigners. The first man to stop us had asked for a photo and I’d assumed he wanted one of his wife and him in front of the building, but realised when he didn’t let me take the phone that it was me he was asking to have a photo with. This caused a chain reaction and suddenly selfie sticks and phones attached to people who hadn’t even asked me to pose were coming in from all sides. It’s really strange to me that there’s random photos of us in someone’s digital holiday albums somewhere, but if they get a buzz from it then it’s okay by me. It won’t be long before Mark starts declining them though, that’s for sure.

Tourist with Mark for a selfie at Red Fort

Once we’d seen all we needed to see we headed back to the Airbnb apartment to collect our bags. There was a panicked half hour where the host had left the apartment with our bags locked inside, but thankfully he returned in time for us to reach the station for our booked train. Our first experience on a train in India was actually pretty easy. We were in 2A which means sleeper bunks with air conditioning and enough room to sit up if you like. Arriving in Agra wasn’t as easy however.

Abigail looking out of the window on a train
Mark on and Indian train in 2A
Mark taking a photo of Abigail sleeping on the train
Conductor checking books on a 2A Train in India

When we got off the train we were instantly targeted by taxi drivers desperate to get us in their cars. I’ve noticed one of their tactics is to give tidbits of semi-useful information to build trust between you and follow you until you need a ride. From platform to ticket office we had three different men walk alongside us telling us where to buy tickets and the last guy I had to look in the eye and tell him straight that we didn’t want his help. Even then he hovered around outside for a while hoping to catch us, but we were taking ages getting our next train tickets so he wandered off. We still fell for the charm of a friendlier driver when we got out again who walked us to a sign with prices on, which we later learned was a prepaid tuk tuk price list and he was just a regular driver.

Finally at the hostel we were able to shower and grab some local food before the early morning trip to the Taj Mahal. We played some Jenga in a nearby cafe and enjoyed a curry and a veggie burger.

At the moment sleep is something which keeps escaping us and when we left for the Taj Mahal we were a bit like sleepwalkers wandering around in a dream. The experience of seeing it in person was amazing and the lack of sleep mixed with the beauty of it made me want to cry. I’m so pleased we saw it first thing in the morning when we could hear more birds in the gardens than people and the light at sunrise was wonderful. After the Taj Mahal there was very little we wanted to do in Agra. We knew there were forts and other places to go but we were far too tired to go anywhere else so we opted for a lazy afternoon knowing we had yet another early morning train coming up.

Our second train journey was a little less comfortable than the first, but the change in ticket price made up for it. In 3A you have no choice but to lie down unless you’re in one of the side seats as there’s not enough room to even sit hunched over. I’ve discovered on this trip that I’m able to sleep pretty well on Indian trains and they seem to rock me to sleep when I least expect it. Having slept curled around my 60 litre rucksack I woke up a bit stiff, but all sleep is very welcome right now.

When we arrived in Jaipur we walked to the hostel, which is brand new and only opened in September this year. When we arrived there was no sign outside and we had to sheepishly wander into what looked like a regular home and wake a guy up who was sleeping in one of the dorms. Thankfully it was one of the owners, Sid, who had been napping because we got in a couple of hours later than we’d said. Our stay at Hoztel in Jaipur was great. The owners, Sid and Rahul, were both very warm and welcoming and we spent a while hanging out with them chatting about music and techy stuff. They even ordered a takeaway for us which was really tasty and I finally got to try a Rogan Josh over here.

We weren’t sure what we wanted to do with our time in Jaipur and our low energy everywhere has been making us want to just lie around all day. We took it easy in the morning, despite Sid telling us we were missing out on loads of things in the city by lazing around. While we were drinking chai on the balcony we started chatting to a guy from Illinois who asked if we wanted to share a ride in an Uber or tuk tuk around the city. Sid had a driver available who he knew well so we bartered for a good price and decided to go to the Amber Fort and the Monkey temple.

The Amber Fort was beautiful and massive inside, though it was only Mark who went in because he could get a student ticket for 100 rupees. Dave and I wandered around the grounds instead and snapped some photos from various balconies.

When we were dropped off at the Monkey Temple we walked up a huge hill (which was pretty difficult in the heat) and found a sun temple and no monkeys. The path wasn’t signposted but thankfully with our Indian SIM we were able to check Google Maps and find our way to them. It was late afternoon by the time we arrived and not many of the monkeys seemed fussed on the bag of nuts Dave had bought, though he did manage to feed a few near the water which eventually tried to steal them all. It was really peaceful at the temple with it being tucked away over a hill in a valley, so the experience was a breathe of fresh air in comparison to the ride over. Spending an hour or two just feeding monkeys and looking at a few temples with very few tourists was lovely.

Back at the hostel Sid and Rahul were busy getting ready for the first night of Diwali celebrations and had decorated the place with fairy lights and candles. Although Diwali is only one day, people in India celebrate the evening before and a few days afterwards. Ours evening consisted of lighting some symbolic candles, ordering a Domino’s and hanging out with the other guests getting tips for the road.

Agra and Jaipur have been great, though I think I definitely prefer Jaipur over Agra. There’s a lot more to see and it’s not so touristy that you’re approached on every street to buy something or get in a cab. It also helped that the hosts were so friendly and made us feel relaxed and at home. We were sad to leave Jaipur as we were having a lot of fun there, but our train was booked and we had yet another early morning start to make the trip to Jodhpur.

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