We spent 3 days in Agra, home of the Taj Mahal, and that was 3 too many. Besides the Taj Mahal, there really isn’t too much else to do. If we did it over we would’ve only spent a night, or even just done a daytrip from Delhi. Sadly, Agra felt like the most rundown city in India we visited. After reading other people’s blogs as well, it looks like lots of people have the same opinion. The hostel we stayed at was also the worst we’d seen in our entire trip so far. Paying less than $10 a night, you might think ‘well you shouldn’t expect it to be nice.’ That saying was also posted on the walls of the hostel, telling us not to expect luxury and to be happy with what it was. Well…we’ve stayed at a good number of hostels so far that have been around the same price point and none where we felt we might catch something until we got to Agra. The only plus side was that the owner was nice enough, and that we were within walking distance of the Taj Mahal.
We had read in in multiple blogs that the line to get into the Taj Mahal starts building at 6am and to get there as early as possible. We got there around 8ish and there was no line – probably since it was off season. There were more people inside but still not a ton. The Taj Mahal itself was pretty spectacular. We had been looking up the history of it and seeing it in person and knowing it was built in between 1631 and 1648 was pretty amazing to see. It was built by order of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife. The grounds were huge and the actual Taj Mahal was even bigger than we imagined up close. We walked around for a while seeing the tomb from different angles and being stopped and asked to take pictures with other Indian tourists. We left when we couldn’t stand the heat anymore but it was definitely worth seeing.
On our last night, we ventured out to find a restaurant that looked cute and had good reviews. They served burgers and sandwiches and we figured it would be nice to get something different from the usual Indian food we’d been constantly eating. After wandering down countless side roads (maps.me on our phone always seems to lead us down strange alleys) we got to the main road that the restaurant was on. Since sidewalks are basically nonexistent in India, we continued forward along the dirt beside the pavement. After a few minutes, the winds started picking up and blowing dust into our faces. We could barely see anything and really weren’t sure what to do from there. To make it worse, it was getting dark and we began to feel raindrops as well. Our map told us that the restaurant was somewhere close, so with nowhere to go but forward, we trekked onwards. After a few minutes of struggling forwards, we glanced across the road and saw the sign for the restaurant beckoning us over. We crossed the street, dodging cars, and ran into the restaurant. After ordering, it started storming heavily, and the power promptly went out. Thankfully, after it eventually came back on we were able to get dinner at least. We hung out there until the rain let up, and thankfully found a tuk tuk driver to take us back to the hostel.
Overall, India was an intense experience that was far different from anywhere we’ve been (aside from Nepal, which was good preparation for it). It was dirty, loud, and chaotic. There were scores of animals wandering around the streets (dogs, cats, goats, cows, monkeys) and defecating where they pleased, and usually eating out of trash bags lining the streets. There were loads of people out to make a buck off of foreigners who didn’t know the value of what they were paying for. It seemed like everyone was a salesman and had a brother, sister, father, mother, uncle with a store or hostel they’d like us to go to. And of course…the temperature. We were told India only has a few; hot, hotter, and hottest. Unfortunately, we really only experienced the “hotter” and “hottest”. With it regularly going up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit, we were almost forced to spend afternoons in our hostel room (usually with a fan; no A/C) trying to keep from overheating. This, coupled with the haze of pollution over each city, made spending long periods of time outside difficult. By the time we got to Agra, and then Delhi, we were exhausted and ready to leave. Realistically April/May wasn’t the best time to visit, but it fit with our timeline and places were less crowded since it was the off season.
All that being said, India was also a beautiful country with loads to see, amazing food, and kind people. All of the palaces and forts were saw were amazing, and worth dealing with the heat. The food was great as well, no matter where we went we had good meals. Chana masala, aloo ghobi, and sev puri are new favorites! People would come up to us here more than any other place just to say hello and chat for a bit. Schoolchildren would wave to us on the streets, or out of windows, or passing by on motorbikes. While some of them may have only been trying to sell us something, we met loads of friendly people on the streets that wanted nothing more than to have a small conversation or practice their English. Everyone at the guesthouses we stayed at were also instrumental in figuring out the railway and bus system, as well as giving us general insight on India. Looking back now after having moved on, we remember our time there fondly and are happy to have experienced it. While it’s not on the top of our list of places to go again, we are glad we went.