After talking to fellow travellers and doing some basic research online, one piece of advice we kept coming across was this: if you're in India, see the Taj Mahal.
Vicki was in India in 2008 and had already visited the Taj, but this being my first time, we decided it was a must-do activity. We heard that Agra itself was a bit of a hole, so we decided to do a day trip to the Taj Mahal from Delhi.
As we were on a really tight budget, we decided to do a DIY day trip using India's railway system, rather then splurge (this is relative, especially in our cheapest country we have visited) on an arranged tourist bus tour.
We booked our train which was due to arrive in Agra at 3:30pm, giving us plenty of time to get to the Taj and watch the sunset. Our return ticket was booked to depart Agra at 9:30pm, getting us back in Delhi prior to midnight. The whole journey cost us 750 rupees ($15).
Colin and Victoria, meet India's train system.
Welcome to Sleeper Class...and I thought I had my own seat...
Our train was an hour late leaving Delhi, but we were not concerned at this point as the sun was supposed to set around 6pm. As we got closer to the time we were *supposed* to arrive in Agra, it looked like we were nowhere close. We were painfully sitting in sleeper class, looking out the barred windows watching the sunset as we slowly moved past monkeys, ghettos, and farm fields.
Taking the trains in India really shows you the real India
We finally arrived in Agra at 7:30pm, of course, when it was pitch-black outside. Our train not only departed an hour late, but took a whopping three hours longer than was scheduled. We were not surprised when we arrived in Agra and saw that our train taking us back to Delhi was delayed an hour and a half, giving us ample time to head to the Taj, take some pictures, and be back in time.
We were slightly disappointed it was dark and entry to the Taj was closed, but I decided seeing it at night from a nearby rooftop would be better than nothing, as surely one of the Seven Wonders of the World would have beautiful lights to boast the Taj in all it's beauty...
We hired a tuk-tuk driver for 200 rupees ($4) to take us the 5km from Agra Cantt Train Station to a good roof top view of the Taj to take some pictures, and then drive us back in time for our (now delayed) train back to our guest house in Delhi. On our way over, the tuk tuk driver kept talking to us about how great the Taj Mahal is and how beautiful it will be for us to see at night.
We walked up the stairs of an empty restaurant and onto its rooftop, where our tuk-tuk driver pointed in a direction and said "There it is!!!".
We looked where he was pointed and responded "Where?!"
After taking a closer look, I could (vaguely) see a slight outline of what looked to be (maybe) the Taj Mahal. It turns out, you see...the Taj Mahal isn't lit up at night!
The beautiful Taj Mahal at night
We couldn't help but burst out in laughter that our day-long journey led to us seeing just a dark outline of one of the world's most beautiful buildings.
It was slightly disappointing, but gave us some very important lessons about India on only our second day in the country: things will likely never go as planned, and always, ALWAYS, bank on trains being delayed!
While waiting a few hours at the Agra station for our return to train to Delhi, we were stalked by a group of four Indian men who kept telling us it would be smart for us to donate our iPhone to them. After dodging them and hiding behind a few stalls, our train finally arrived and we were back in Delhi at the ripe time of 2am.