I'll never forget this
in Agra, India on 6th April, 2012


Delhi was one of the more polluted places I'd visited during this trip. It had it's charming moments and interesting sights so I still managed to leave Delhi with some positive feelings for the place.

I arrived in the morning at Delhi train station. This was the first time I'd ever taken a train in India. The platform was crowded with people who looked like they lived on the platform. I couldn't really imagine them as passengers, just people who lived at the train station and blocked everyone with bored looks on their faces. I asked a few people where they thought my carriage might be when the train arrived but it wasn't until I found a man in a dress shirt that I was able to get my answer.

I went to buy a sprite and as I paid a man stood 40cm away just staring at me with fear and shock in his eyes. He held his position without flinching as I looked at him and away multiple times. It was as if he didn't believe that I was real.

When the train arrived chaos broke out. Everyone was pushing and running. It was as if a disaster had struck. I had a 22KG bag and a 7KG backpack that I was holding onto while trying to push onto the train. I had read on a good train travel advise site that train trips are fun in India, I didn't find much fun or pleasure in this.

I got into my carriage which was made up of four beds of which could fit 12-16 people if they squished in. A woman who shared the bed with me asked me to leave the compartment and go somewhere else. I refused as it was the seat I paid for. Her kids kept on trying to play with my suitcase and take the bottle of sprite away from me.

Mobile phone signals came and went as we rode on down to Agra. When it was available I could see on my iPhone where we were and could guess if we were on time or not.

When the train was pulling into Agra an Indian man jumped on board and started chatting to me. He was a tout. He was demanding to know where I was from, where I was going and shouting instructions on where to walk. I told him to go away but he refused. He said it was his job. I then asked him to come to me, he walked ever so closely with fear in his eyes. I told him to come closer. I then shouted at him "Fuck off!"

I had managed to get rid of the one tout but there were at least 25 more I could see around the station. Another followed me as I went to buy my onward ticket to Jaipur. He handed me the order form that needed to be filled out and he took a pen of a soldier queuing and handed it to me. There were five people ahead of me in the queue reserved for foreigners and "freedom fighters". It still took an hour till I was able to buy my ticket. Later, the man was all over me as I was trying to get a good price on a taxi.

I eventually got a rickshaw to my hotel, dropped my bags and walked up the road to the Taj Mahal. Touts walked along side me the entire way begging for money, offering rides, asking me questions. It was horrible. You might as well just take a ride from the first tout so you aren't hassled by the others.

If you're Indian you can see the Taj for £0.25. If you're not Indian it's £8.90. I was incensed by this racist pricing. It basically says that there are no Indians with enough money to pay any more than a few pennies while everyone else is so bloody wealthy we can offer a huge subsidy to everyone crowding around us at this attraction.

The Taj itself was magical but the stresses of the day ruined my mood. I think it shows in my photography when I'm having a bad day. That day I also learned something: I never realised the Taj Mahal is a Mosque.

The next day I woke up dreading the pollution, heat and touts. It was to be 38C that day and I had a 7:30pm train. I'd slept in to avoid having to eat breakfast anywhere. The whole town smelt of smoke, pee and animal droppings; I didn't think it'd be possible to eat anything clean there. My room was without windows looking outside and the only thing on my mind was how to leave India.

At one point I was able to pull myself together. I headed to Agra fort (which runs a similar racist pricing model as the Taj Mahal).

Once inside the fort I calmed down and began to explore. I'd been lonely since I'd last had a friend around in Hong Kong. I was keen for some photos of the locals. I didn't realise they were keen for a photo with me but too shy to ask. I went up to one couple and I asked the man if I could photograph his girlfriend. He reluctantly said yes and I snapped a pic. This set off a wave: he had a photo with me, then his girlfriend had one with me, then some other random Indians queued up for pics with me. It was like being a celebrity.

In the afternoon the heat was unbearable. I went back to my hotel I'd checked out of and rented the room for the afternoon again. I cheered myself up by buying an Emirates flight to leave India.

In the evening I bought dinner at McDonald's and then headed to the train station. It was dark and smelt of pee everywhere. I had my nose in my shirt a lot. It was crowded with people sitting and laying down on the most disgusting platform I'd ever seen in my life. Then an announcement came that my train would be at least three and a half hours late.

For a mad moment, I thought I could stand around that station till my train arrived (which was to be around midnight). I walked around and tried with no success to find anywhere that didn't smell like pee. I looked outside and couldn't see anywhere nicer to stand. I then just got a rickshaw back to my hotel. It was the one place in all of Agra that I knew of that didn't stink. Sales people bug me everywhere I go here and for once I honestly needed a travel agent just to sort something out.

I got back to my hotel, told them I'm going to sit in the lobby till eleven and then I'll head back to the train station. Then I heard the best thing ever: I can get you a car to Jaipur for £27. What? Fuck, is that it? Jesus, I would have paid £80 but £27, yeah, let's go!

A car arrived 20 minutes later, I loaded my bag into the boot and we drove off from Agra to Jaipur.

Along the way there were some mad traffic jams at junctions, I had ten people stare at me as I drank a Pepsi at a gas station around midnight and I found out my driver didn't know where anywhere was in Jaipur when we got there. The google maps cache I had of Jaipur decided to expire as we got closer as well.

At 2:30 in the morning I laid down in bed with the feeling I'd just broken out of jail.


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