After earlier unsuccessful attempts to visit Taj Mahal, I finally made it in February, piggbacking on a work trip to New Delhi. Located in Agra, which is about 200km south east from New Delhi, you can opt to travel either by road or train. With the express trains, a train ride gets you there quicker, and as I am also keen to sample the India train ride experience, I opt for the Bhopal Shatabdi Express (12002) and Gatimaan Express (12049) trains which ply the Delhi-Agra and Agra-Delhi routes respectively. Getting hold of the train tickets myself was not an easy task (if you are a foreigner buying them in advance from abroad) as you need to register with the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) at their website and specify a valid Indian mobile phone number to receive an SMS OTP (One Time Password) to complete the registration.
It was chockablock as the hotel car approached the New Delhi Train Station (NDLS) drop-off zone at 5.30am, I actually contemplated getting down and walking the rest of the way as missing my train would be a disaster. Thank god the traffic eased up a little and I arrived minutes later. The moment I got down, a team of porters crowded round offering to help with my luggage. I went with the one who had the gumption to just grab my luggage and asked to follow him, I had no other choice :). He got me to the right platform and coach in no time, it’s all about local knowledge, and I am thankful for his help. After a little bargaining, his service fee was pared down from INR400 to INR100, still an inflated foreigner price but that’s ok. The Bhopal Shatabdi Express (12002) departed New Delhi Train Station (NDLS) at about 6 am.
The Bhopal Shatabdi Express Executive Class fare is INR1010, with a morning newspaper and ‘Meals on Wheels’ breakfast thrown in as part of the package. You start with a cup of tea and digestive biscuits, followed by a small bowl of cornflakes and local bread coming with side dishes. All good, I enjoyed them all and am pretty pleased with the assortment and quality. Over breakfast, a conversation ensued with a couple seated in front of me (I was assigned a 4 face-to-face seat), they are traveling to Agra to attend a relative’s wedding dinner over the weekend. As it’s a big event and all family members/relatives will be present, they planned to arrive earlier on the Friday to spend more time with them. They could have driven down from New Delhi but preferred to take the train as it’s less tiring and they arrive fresh for the event.
The changing foggy landscape outside toward the east is quite a spectacle at the crack of dawn as the train speed along towards Agra. The faint details of the passing wheat fields, trees and villages picked up by the warm glow of the sun permeating through the morning fog … everything look so serene and calm … nature and man, rested, revitalised and all ready for the start of a brand new day. After a brief stop at Mathura, the train rolled into Agra Cantonment (AGC) station at about 8.00am.
As the Taj Mahal is closed all day on Fridays for prayers, I will visit the following day. Meanwhile, I chartered a tuk tuk to visit the Agra Fort in the afternoon and then onto Mehtab Bagh to catch the Taj Mahal Mausoleum view from across the Yamuna River at sunset.
All photos: Fujifilm X-E2 with XF 23mm, XF 35mm, XF 55-200mm and Huawei P9 Lite