After a restless two hours of sleep i awoke on my second day in India ready for a long day trip to Agra. This would by my one escorted tour of the trip. I knew i could manage a day trip to see the Taj Mahal on my own, but Agra has so many great, far flung sights, that booking a guide seemed prudent.
I left for the train station at 5:15 am, at which time the station was teeming with people. Some waiting for trains, but many more sleeping or camped out with bags and carpets.
The train to Agra was great. The day before a man i chatted with told me that i should not take the train and that i should cancel and take the bus because the train is not safe for a woman traveling alone. That certainly was not my experience. It was rough-looking but comfortable and the price included water, tea, breakfast, dinner, and ice cream. I am fairly sure however that it was the breakfast that left me sick and vomiting for the rest of the day. I still have no appetite. Anyway, the ride was great. I got to see some of the countryside and also number of residential areas which i can only describe as slums, with modest, broken habitats, and piles of garbage. We also passed parts where there were dozens of men squatting and shitting by the railroad tracks. So many of them. I never seen anyone defecate before and now i have seen more than i can count. I guess you have to go somewhere. On a similar vein, i also saw women making and leaving to dry dinner plate sized cow patties which were then stacked up into tall mounds, like large beehives. The dung is used for fuel.
So i arrived in Agra at about 8am and was met by my guide, who took me right away to the Taj Mahal. I am so glad we did this first, as this was just before the vomitting and painful muscle aches set in. The Taj Mahal did not disappoint. The walk into the complex was impressive and along the way were working camels and curious monkeys. Finally, we stepped in, passed through a gate that in its own right was amazing, and then were facing "The Taj", as my guide called it (but i won't call it that; i haven't earned that level of familiarity).
It was beautiful in all of its gleaming white symmetry. He told me the history and noted the architectural details - sometimes it is great to have that available. We circled it, with me taking a zillion pictures, and then we left.
Out next stop was after a long ride into the country. We visited Fatehpur Sikri which was a former, walled city from the 15th C. It was quite magnificent and i enjoyed looking at it and hearing about the king and his many wives, but at this point i started to feel lousy.
After that was lunch, which i spent throwing up as soon as i had my first and only bite of lentils. Following lunch we visited the Agra fort, which was also great and beautiful. By this point though i was aching so badly walking was unpleasant and i threw up in a garbage can.
I rallied a bit after that and my guide and i went to sit in the gardens across the river from the Taj Mahal to watch the sunset. I had a cigar and he told me all sorts of things about life in India, women's roles, poverty, education, religion...you name it. It was very edifying and he answered all of my questions.
After the sun went down and we finished watching tourists taking idiotic pictures of the Taj Mahal (holding it in the palms of their hands, picking it up by their fingertips, making archways with their arms over it...seriously moronic, but each to their own i suppose), i still had over two hours to kill until my train and i couldn't eat or drink anything, so i suggested we find a hookah bar, which we did. It was a divey place, nearly empty, except for a few guys working there and playing the loudest, most annoying rave/club music imaginable. I was just happy to sit down and the shisha was good, even if it was smoked from a hookah that had as the neck a replica AK47.
The train ride back was a lost to me in sleep and i crashed as soon as i returned to the hostel. The day was a good one, but a long one, and i felt like garbage. I knew i would get sick at some point on this trip, but i thought i would make it longer than 36 hours.