What a relief, the train car is filled with nice, helpful people (I swear I’m not just saying this and I’m not being paid by the tourism bureau). As I board, there is a family in the sleeper car I am assigned to (actually, it is called 3rd class, which apparently means 1st class but not exactly “uber class” because I have to share—very complicated). The “Papa” is akin to my perception of “Tevya” in Fiddler on the Roof, everyone knows him, everyone assumes he knows what he was talking about and everyone seems to like him. He is a huge form in white cotton who sits like a sumo wrestler, with an enormous belly between his widely spread legs. He speaks loud and talks fast. His wife is in my seat but I hardly care–I am just happy to be out of the station waiting area and on the correct train. The large Papa left with his entourage before the train departed Delhi station so I quickly sit in my assigned spot. I’d like to imagine they stayed just long enough to assure me I am in the right place.
Then, an older couple and their granddaughter entered the space and sat down in the 6-person seating area with me. They are lovely people. They are kind to speak English to me and even offered me some of their picnic dinner of homemade chapattis. I politely decline as I was not hungry and did not want to take from their small provisions. As the train begins to move, another couple squeezes in (it is getting cozy now) and they seem a bit stuffy but nice enough. At this point, I was just happy that no one smelled.
We arrived in Agra station and I immediately find a taxi stand and hired a car to take me to my hotel. My driver, Hussein, insists on taking me around town the entire day tomorrow and I agreed since he spoke English, has a clean, air-conditioned car and seems friendly. Why not? Hussein is short, stalky and reminds me of a used car salesman or a character I’d see on a Seinfeld episode because he says things like “no hurry chicken curry”…but I have no plans aside from photographing the Taj Mahal for my grandmother so why not. Hussein promised to take me to photograph some elephants at a local rescue tomorrow in addition to the Taj, I’m very excited to photograph them and the people who tend to these beautiful beasts. They were apparently rescued from being circus animals; I hope I’m able to share the good work of these good people.
The Gateway Hotel (http://www.thegatewayhotels.com/fatehabad-road-agra/gallery.html) is quite fancy. Since I arrived off-season (because no one with any sense would come to India during this heat wave but a rookie like me) the hotel was nearly empty so they upgraded me to an executive room with a view of the Taj. What I didn’t expect was the pounding music from the discotheque next door but no matter, my cocktail of Benadryl and Melatonin will knock me out with no problem. I am attaching a photo of my view. One of my girlfriends said that she really noticed the contrast of the dilapidated buildings in the foreground with this white marble “wonder of the world” as Agra’s backdrop. It is this inequality that I continue to notice throughout my journey.