I arrive in Agra on Friday, after an early train journey from Sawai Madhopur to Bharatpur, then a noisy, chaotic, and at times seemingly life-threatening bus journey on to Agra. I check into Sheela Hotel a few hundred meters from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. Much to my dismay, the "Taj" is closed on Fridays, so I pass the afternoon wandering around the various bazaars and fending off the pushy shop-keepers nearby.
Eager to move on (Agra being nothing exceptional apart from the Taj), I decide to visit first thing in the morning on Saturday. At 6 a.m. I'm the first visitor through the gate. Still dark, I have the place to myself for a while, and take a seat watching the silhouette of the beautiful building appear before my eyes as the night slowly fades into the daylight. By this time, I'm surrounded by dozens of eager visitors, many of them trying to figure out why their photos come out completely dark despite their flash (we're a good few hundred meters away from the building!!). I await patiently for the right conditions, the mausoleum still appearing distant through the early morning mist, contemplating silently before trying to capture the scene on "film".
I visit the gardens and the tomb, admiring the wonderful pietra dura and arabic script decorating the cool translucent marble walls, before leaving the Taj behind. On my return to the hotel I discover my entry ticket hasn't been punched, and manage to resell it to a friendly French couple for a reasonable price.
After packing and checking out I take a rickshaw to the train station and procure my onward ticket to Delhi, catching the train just before it pulls away. This time, no sitting room available in 2nd class, I stand for the 3 hour journey, watching some fellow passengers sitting on the floor playing cards.