Wake up call was 4:30AM, through some clothes on, zipped bag and left the house. Pretty sure I did all of that with my eyes still shut. Ragesh met us at the school gate and we piled into the taxi for the ride down the mountain to Dehradun and the train to Agra. We were then on our own with no Howard to negotiate for us or speak a local language to locals. The ride down was quiet, not many cars on the road at that hour. We still had the horn at most corners though, just in case. Will not miss that.
Ragesh helped use with our bags and to find out seat on the train. The we squeezed then bags under the seats and settled in. A few locals joined us. The ticket collector confirmed we didn’t have to change trains in Delhi, which was awesome. I was not looking forward to that prospect. It did mean we weren’t on the Shabati tourist-friendly express to Delhi, but 2 tier aircon was fine. After we started moving I disappeared up to the top bunk to sleep.
The trip was largely uneventful. Country side, town, stop, country side, town, stop, repeat. Near Agra a couple of locals asked if we were getting off. Why would a tourist go beyond Agra? (Why would anyone go to Lucknow?)
When we got off the train there was someone to meet us with a yellow placard. They spotted us easily. The only westerners on the train. A porter asked if he could take our bags. We politely said no thanks, and wheeled pur bags along the platform. The person who was there to meet us said something in Hindi to the porters and I picked out the word ‘Australian’. Pretty sure he said “Don’t bother, they are Australian and do it all themselves.” Which was true. We were all completely capable of wheeling our own bags.
We were introduced to our driver for the next few days, Praveen. His car is a Toyota, about the size of a Tarago but with individual seats in the back, not a bench. But no seat belts in the 3rd row, where I was sitting. The greeter told my parents in the 2nd row there was no need for seat belts. It’s muscle memory to reach for the seat belt whenever getting in a car though. We got our luggage in and headed into Agra. The roads in Agra weren’t quite as crazy as those in Lucknow, and slightly wider.
This was our first quite fancy hotel. Complimentary drinks on arrival. Check in done at a lounge, not the desk. All of our luggage was X-rayed, and there was a metal detector at the front door, did manage to avoid a pat down though. Shades of 2008 I think.
We were taken out to our rooms. The hotel was huge. It was made up of villas with 4-8 rooms in them surrounding a garden. There was more construction going on out the back. Our greeter had offered a dinner show thing about the Taj, but we just ate in the hotel. We had been travelling for 13 hours, and it was a bit tougher than flying.
The “multi cuisine buffet” was closed that night due to lack of guest/interest, but the coffee shop was fine. I had to negotiate to get minimal rice, he refused to serve me none. They even listed sugar free deserts, but none were available. Chocolate protein bar from Australia FTW!
We had another early day the next day. The Taj a sunrise.