Up at seven to pack and have a quick breakfast before catching a rickshaw to the train station. The station was a madhouse and my train showed up ten minutes early which so confused me that I almost didn't realize it was my train. When I found the right car I went to get on and discovered a completely different world from the last train. It took me twenty minutes to fight through the dense bodies packing the aisle to get to my seat in the middle of the car. However once the train started moving most of those people seemed to disappear and it really wasn't that bad - actually quite a lot of room. There was an American and a Dutch guy sitting in my compartment so I spent a lot of the seven hour ride talking to them or reading the guide book.
In Agra the three of us decided to share a tuktuk to where are chosen hotels were (right outside the gate to the Taj Mahal). It was a very tight squeeze with three large guys and rucksacks - I had to share the front seat with the driver. As were were coming around the imposing red fort that dominates the center of town we looked across this dry barren field to see our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. It is beautiful. So perfect and hazy in the distance that it looked like the backdrop for a movie. As we came around the field we were back in to the small streets and could no longer see the Taj. At the hotels they're on a tighter budget than me so they chose the hotel where they could pay less than $1 each for a double and I splurged for a nice room wit hot water, refrigerator, and a balcony for about $2. From the door of the hotel to the giant entry gate to the Taj Mahal is about a hundred feet. From my hotel roof you can see the top of the pure white dome floating above the red walls. You can also see that all the neighboring roofs are infested with monkeys - I must remember not to leave outside windows or doors open!
After settling in I met up with the guys and we found a place to eat. After a great meal we set out to see if we could see the Taj while the sun was setting. The main gate had already shut so we set off along the perimeter to see if we could find a view. From the west side the gate was still open but it definitely wasn't worth the $20 admission to be able to go in for a half hour. We followed the west wall towards the river along a totally deserted street until we got to a gate. There the guard beckoned us in and then led us through some gardens and up a steep bank to the start of an aqueduct. We walked along the top of the ancient waterway until we were about level with the outer wall. In the fading light we could see the Taj! It's was so ghostly and ethereal and so perfect and just so indescribable. We followed along the top of the aqueduct to near the river and just sat for awhile appreciating the rare silence. On either side we had auxiliary garden of some kind and across rose the giant domes of what may be the most beautiful building on the planet. When it was quite dark we walked back and then argued with the guard as to what an acceptable tip was.
Back near the hotel we climbed to a rooftop restaurant for a beer - my first in India, not great, but not bad. But quite expensive - almost as much as my room! Ever since we got to Agra the power has been out for the entire city - obviously a common problem since almost everyplace has a generator running. After my beer I looked around to find an internet cafe that was open - most were closed, I assume due to the lack of power. I'd gotten email from Amy and she's gotten to India and is settling in down south. Back at the hotel I realized how loud the generators were and was just wonder if they were going to run all night when the lights flickered and went off and the came back on - and all the generators stopped. Perfect timing.