After 3 weeks in Rajasthan, we went to Agra, the Taj Mahal city. To go there, we decided to take the train. India is well known for its good and wide railway system… but it is really complicated ! I’ll try to explain you:
There are 5 classes in the train : the first class, with aircon, closed bed and meal included ; the second 2 thiers with aircon and 2 beds per « place » ; the second 3 thiers with aircon and 3 beds per « place ; the sleeper class without aircon (just fans) and 3 beds and the genral class : no seat numbers, no beds, no aircon ! You need to book your ticket well in advance ! (In India, 60 millions of people travel by train every day). But you can’t just go to the counter and say “I want a ticket to XXXX on that date”. You have to fill a form with your personal details and the train number, the time of the train… If you don’t know the number of the train, then you cannot book! And if the train already left, you cannot book a seat. (In India, distances are so big that some trains take more than 48 hours to get to their final destination). The only solution in that case is to buy a general class ticket, jump in the train, find a seat in the desired class and pay the difference between the general class ticket and the chosen class. When all tickets are sold out (except for the general class, where there are as many tickets as people buy), people are on “waiting lists”: they have to pay the full amount of the seat but they will get a seat if someone cancels his ticket. If not they will “borrow” a seat of another… Sometimes there are 3 people for one bed… and sometimes some sleep on the floor! There is no cancellation fee, so all tourist agencies buy a lot of tickets and the day before the train leaves, they give back all the tickets not sold. SO for every train, the day before it departs, there is a long queue of people waiting to buy a “last minute ticket”. As « tourist » we are a bit luckier: In the majority of the trains, there are some “tourist quota tickets”: those seats are reserved for non Indian people but you can buy them only in some specific places. Even if the quantity of these tickets is low, you usually get what you want. (If you use an agency, you’ll have to pay very high commission fees). But if the tourist quotas are sold out, then you have to follow the “normal way” that I explained above! Well, I don’t know if you understood what I try to explain, but at least you understand that the train system in India is kind of very complex ! So, we wanted to go from Jaipur (in Rajasthan) to Agra. It takes about 5 hours so we just bought a general class ticket (for one euro). At the train station, many many people were waiting on the platform. When the train came, some people jumped on the rails to enter the train from the other side. People still on the platform jumped onto the train, caught the doors and windows before the train stops. Everybody was shooting, screaming, trying to push, pull… to enter or get out of the train. We looked at this from far away… With our big bags, impossible for us to enter in the general class! So we jumped between to other coaches (from second class) and we try to find a place. But every single seat was at least occupied by 3 people so we gave up and we stayed between the toilets ofr 6 hours!!!! What an experience… Thank you “Incredible India”! We finally arrived (tired) in Agra! After a good sleep, we visited the Taj Mahal!!! What a wonderful monument! And what a symbol!!! For those who don’t know it, it is one of the most beautiful love proof ever. In the years 1620’, the sultan of Agra called Shah Jahan, fall in love with a lady who became his wife. In the Agra Fort he built her a white marble palace (while the rest of the fort is in red stone) decorated with gems. The sultan was the happiest man on Earth (or so) and the life in the Fort was pleasant. But when his wife died in 1631 while giving birth to their 14th child; the sultan’s pain was huge. So huge that he decided to build a monument to celebrate his wife’s immortality. He called the best architect of that time and killed his wife, so that he could also feel the pain and give all his energy in the construction. The architect used white marble to represent the pure and intact love the sultan had for his wife. In the middle of the building, the body of the queen lies. The tomb is encircled by 4 minarets which are not perfectly perpendicular but built inclined so that in case of a earth quick they will not damage the tomb. It is a sumptuous representation of the love of the sultan for his wife. After that, the sultan wanted to build a copy of the Taj made with black marble for his own tomb. But one of his son, upset that his father was spending all his money « for stupid things » arrested him and the sultan was imprisoned during 8 years in the fort where he died. His body was put near his wife in the Taj Mahal. We really liked this visit…. Even if Pomme Pidou couldn’t enter inside!!! Fortunately the view from the backside of the Taj is free and we could have good shoots with her!! After this perfect day, we went to Delhi. We were expecting a lot of people, especially a lot of touts out of the train station but it was empty! In fact, we arrived the day of Dewali and everybody was with their families. Dewali is a Hindu festival to celebrate the new lunar year. It is celebrated in all India, with candles in front of the houses, fireworks and crackers… and about the crackers, a lot are handmade and are used by very young children!!! While walking in the streets we were really afraid by all of these “bombs” very loud and dangerous. Dewali is known as one of the most celebrated festival in India but here in Delhi we didn’t really enjoy this event…. We spent the two following days discovering the Old and the New Delhi. As every big city, we feel oppressed after a while. There are some nice monuments and places to see but we would not consider Delhi as a Must! After, we moved to Varanasi : the city on the Ganges !