It was a dark and stormy night. No but really.
I've been planning my escape from Varanasi for a few weeks now and a huge piece of why I wanted to leave was the heat (108-10), but on the day I left it rained for 8 hours and I was basically swimming to the train station.
I arrived a few hours early because I was worried that figuring out where my train left from and when would be a nightmare, but fortunately my train number and name was blinking in large English letters on the directory screen and I was able to find my way quite comfortably.
As I was looking for a bathroom I ran into a pair of American social workers who were going to be on my same train, we hit it off and I had someone to watch my bag as I went pee, always important :) We all got on the train with only a minor incident: in the last 15 minutes before our train left it switched from platform 8 to platform 9! Luckily for us I was listening to the nice lady on the loud speaker. I got into my seat and settled down for the next 12 hours of jostling sleeper train fun!
There was a family below me who spent the entire trip playing the stare unabashedly at the foreigner game. Normally I'm very understanding and I do a lot of smiling and head bobbing to try and look less out of place, but as I write this I am running off of 4 hours of broken sleep and I find my patience is thin.
They had a very cute baby who was blessed with an impressive set of lungs and an overactive voice box, but the worst part was they refused to turn the lights off! So my night was spent with a loud crying baby under florescent lights while being stared at by all seven members of the family below me. It was like the worlds worst reality TV show. Augh, rant off. I'm not so fussy about this normally. Sometimes it just gets to you.
Anyway! I arrived in Agra around 7:30 am and took a shared rickshaw to the South Gate of Taj Mahal with some very nice British lasses from London. I checked my massive bag (for free! Don't listen to the rickshaw drivers who try to get you to store your bag at their hotel!) and received free water and soft cotton booties to put over my shoes. Its 750 rupees to get in to Taj Mahal for foreigners, but only 20 for locals! I paid, checked my bag and stepped in to paradise.
A few weeks ago I met a very stoned hippie from Southern California in a rooftop restaurant, he said he had been to see Taj Mahal the weekend before and when I asked him how it was he paused, looked pensively into the distance for a moment and then said, "Its a really nice building."
I would have to agree, it is indeed a really nice building.
The whole time I was there I kept looking up at it and thinking, "No now this is the most beautiful place to take a picture." From every angle Taj Mahal just got more and more beautiful. I could have stayed in there for days just walking around and looking at it, but hunger and sleep deprivation finally drove me out. I'm waiting around in a cafe to catch my train at 5:10 tonight, Dharmasala tomorrow! Hopefully I will get some sleep tonight and then tomorrow I can finally take a shower.