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Agra, India

I didn't feel well and wasn't really looking forward to dealing with this train ride on my own but here goes it. I arrived early enough so I could take my time and thankfully I did because there weren’t any signs or an info desk to figure out where I needed to go...just a screen with words in Hindi moving line by line that I wouldn't understand so I ended up asking a vendor guy by showing my train ticket on the app I downloaded (thankfully heard about it through a native). After finding the right platform by walking up and down stairs with all my backpacks, the train was there waiting so I got on to find my seat, which was more like a side booth than an actual seat and it sure enough wasn’t clean. It was really hot and I was feeling sick, so I was not looking forward to this 4 hour train ride. As the train was about to board, I went to grab some snacks and a water and stretched a little outside. There were loud men talking in the curtain section next to me so as the train started to leave, I closed off my little side booth section, put on my Beats headphones and tried to get comfortable so I wouldn't’ throw up. Then we were off and that little train window was all I needed as I admired the view of the other tracks in the distance and locals out and about doing their everyday thing (who knows what or why they were hanging by or alongside the train tracks), but it reminded me a little of that movie, Lion. It was also a beautiful sunset as you could see green fields in the distance at times, I'll never forget that view. We made stops along the way and I didn't realize I could track the progress on the app with my ticket, but as I kept checking on, I knew we were getting closer to Agra. I had been distracted on my phone when I realized we had been stopped for quite some time and were probably very close to Agra so I looked at and sure enough, we were in Agra. I freaked out and quickly took off my headphones, hid some of my belongings and jumped out to try to find someone to confirm, but there was no one to be found. I found the doorway and asked this man where we were as he boarded the train and he seemed surprised by my question but said Agra and then I asked an authority man standing out on the platform and he said Agra as well and that the train was about to depart. So I ran back to my seat and quickly gathered all my belongings as the kind man helped me carry my backpacks off the train, having only just made it by 1 minute...the train literally left right after I got off it (hoping I didn't leave anything behind, my heart was racing). It was the most rushed I had ever felt, I was so fluttered, I was in shock that I had just made it in time and at the same time annoyed and confused why they don’t announce these things for this exact reason. I couldn't imagine what would have happened if I had missed my stop. Once I caught my breath, I just wanted to get the heck out of the train station and tried to find an Uber as I walked out of the station, but the location of the Uber said I needed to walk further away. It was dark and of course there were taxi drivers and tuk tuks hassling me all around and thankfully this one tuk tuk guy stuck with me as I was walking towards my Uber because when I realized how much further it would be, I decided to just get the tuk tuk after-all (with a bit of negotiating of course).

Agra was cold and I arrived at night around 7pm so I couldn’t see much along the way to my hostel as the tuk tuk driver wouldn’t stop talking about his tour offerings that I wasn’t interested in. I checked into my hostel that was this tall skinny building with many floors, decorated with American film picture frames and a playroom in the basement and finally to my private room which was nice and big. I was hungry so I went straight to dinner at this family owned restaurant that was recommended by the hostel, about 10 minutes walking. As I walked to the restaurant and to find an ATM, I could tell this was a very secluded, run-down town with nothing going on besides the Taj Mahal and fort nearby - very poor and struggling. There wasn’t anyone in the restaurant and it was in a family’s home, upstairs, but it was cute and the people were very friendly. I ordered the traditional dish with roti and ginger tea and then walked back to go to bed since I was planning to wake up to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. Paola (the girl from Chile I had just met up with again in Rishikesh) was on her way by bus that night from another part of India, but was late and wasn’t going to get in until 1am so I set my alarm, thinking we would meet at 6am downstairs (she was supposed to come to the same hostel). As I was about to go to sleep, she texted me saying she booked another hostel and would meet me at the Taj Mahal later since the fog was too foggy at sunrise. So I decided to extend my sleep and go around 8am instead.

There was a tuk tuk waiting outside the hostel so I asked how much it would cost and he overcharged so I just ordered an Uber and arrived at 8:45am to the drop off location where I was being hassled for tuk tuk and tour guides to take me to the entrance (you have to walk a little more to get to the ticket booth, past these souvenir shops). Paola finally texted me saying she was on her way so I bought a ticket and started to walk towards the security point. As I walked towards the first structure through this courtyard area, I could start to see the Taj Mahal with some fog in the distance through the small entry way and I started to get really excited walking through...I was about to see something in person that I've been wanting to see for many years. Thankfully there weren't too many people there yet so I just stood in the first spot and admired the view on my own and then started to take some pictures. Then Paola showed up and we started to walk around and take pictures with everyone else - so many different types of people walking around and taking pictures trying to get that perfect snap...same with all the other touristy places (thankfully I didn’t have to ask strangers to take pictures since Paola was there). But it was lovely and beautiful walking around and admiring this large ancient marble structure surrounded by green grass and a few temples and there was actually is a river behind it that I didn't know about. We decided to go check out the inside to see the tomb and it was pretty neat and then to the surrounding temples as well. I’m not sure which is my favorite world wonder, I think I enjoyed Machu Picchu and Christ the Redeemer more honestly because of the nature surrounding them. But this was special in it's own artistic way.

I also wanted to check out Agra fort and Paola wanted to stay to take professional pictures so we separated, thinking we were going to meet up again later that day, but didn’t. As I was trying to exit, I had to pay an extra fee because I was 15 minutes past the 3 hour mark, which really bugged me because I didn’t realize there was a 3 hour limit, but whatever. On my walk to Agra fort, I had about 100 tuk tuk drivers ask me if I wanted a ride, so I wasn’t in the best of moods. That’s something I do not miss about these touristy attractions is constantly having to say no to tuk tuk and taxi drivers (it was probably especially worse for me because I was alone). The walk to Agra fort took about 20 minutes and had to pay another 600 rupees to enter (Taj Mahal was 1300) so at least I didn’t spend it on a tuk tuk. I’m glad I ended up making it to Agra fort as it was nice walking around viewing the statues and learning about the history (there was an audio tour I had heard about that I listened to while I was walking), but tough taking pictures as I had to ask strangers to do that. I was ready to go when Paola messaged me that she was leaving her hostel to meet up with me and then mentioned her phone was drying so I decided to head to lunch at this cafe near my hostel which turned out to be an NGO women survival center where you pay however much you want. As I entered what I thought would be a typical cafe, I realized right away that something was different, especially when the waiter came over with a mark on her face. This cafe was meant as a peaceful place for women who had acid poured on them to go to for work. It was quite horrifying to see that this kind of thing was real, still happening to this day, to innocent women...there were many pictures on the walls and a video playing in the background. I ordered a chai tea and a rice/chicken dish that was yummy and the sweet weater was so nice that I wanted to take a picture with her. I had overheard a group of women at a table speaking in English about the program and it was very interesting to me (I was just so taken back by the whole thing). I gave them as much money as I thought appropriate and then walked back to my hostel around the corner. I was exhausted, I think mainly from having to figure out where to go all day as well as walking in the heat and then just experiencing so many new and different I relaxed in my room for a while. I was getting hungry so I showered and went to the same restaurant as the night before since I liked it so much and didn’t feel like finding a new place. As I ate, I felt full, tired and sick so I rushed back to my hostel to try to relax some more and go to bed as I was flushed, needed sleep.

I woke up in time to get to the train station and tried ordering an Uber but the data wasn’t working and the Wifi login expired, so I had to get the tuk tuk that was thankfully waiting outside as I was now in a rush. I informed the tuk tuk that I would pay 113 rupees since that’s how much the Uber would have costed and he said that was fine. When we were halfway there, his tuk tuk started to give up as it was cold so he kept having to restart it. I was in a rush and didn’t have time to waste as I needed to make my train and I asked him what was wrong and he said it was okay but then 3 minutes later, the tuk tuk stopped and he tried to fix it as I waved down another tuk tuk that thankfully came and picked me up. I guess the second tuk tuk paid the first tuk tuk 113 rupees since that’s what I quoted, but after the tuk tuk broke down and he was going to make me possibly miss my train, I only gave the second tuk tuk 100 rupees as I quickly managed to gather my backpacks and he started yelling at me but I ran off to the train platform, trying to catch my train. I felt bad that the second driver lost some money but I was in a rush and that's just what happened. I couldn’t find the platform so had to ask a vendor guy again and it turns out my train was delayed by an hour (after all of that hassle, I was annoyed). So I got some snacks and tried to figure out some things on my phone. The train finally arrived and I was happy to find Tier 1 (first class) was a really nice cabin compared to Tier 2 (second class, where I was on the first train from Delhi to Agra). At first I got to my sleeper, which was shared with one other sleeper and a man sitting on the couch/bed. The whole day turned around yet again as the man in my sleeper was part of a family that wanted to switch with me so they could all be together and I would have my own cabin, so it ended up working out perfectly. I was very happy and comfortable in my own little cabin and there was even this guy walking around with a bucket of masala chai yelling out “masala chai 10 rupees"), so I got one (which I probably should have been more careful with but thankfully didn’t get sick). All of a sudden the data service stopped working and I thought it was just because we were going through a bad service area but apparently service was turned off from the protesting in different parts of India (I went over and asked the family man where we were since I couldn't look it up and he informed me of this). About halfway through the train ride, it turned back on so I was able to message and see where I was during stops. The train ride was originally supposed to last 6 hours but turned into 7 hours (on top of being an hour late), but I arrived in Jaipur around 3pm with some time to make it to one of the palaces I had researched about.

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