January 5 and 6, 2019
After a morning of racing around Mumbai, a lovely lunch, a very brief shopping interlude, a long traffic-choked drive to the airport and several more hours of waiting for our (delayed) flight to Delhi, we lifted off.
Darkness had already settled over Delhi, a city of 25 million, when we hauled our weary selves onto the waiting coach for the hour-long trek to our hotel. Through the bus window I caught a glimpse of a city much like Mumbai multiplied by ten: the garbage along the road sides, the noise level, the number of construction projects elbowing shanty settlements, stunning remnants of the old city, and the thickness of the smog that hangs over the city like a translucent curtain.
Between collecting our baggage, getting to our coach, and driving from the airport to our hotel, the Lalit, almost three hours went by. We dumped our bags and headed straight to the hotel restaurant, which offered an excellent buffet, everything catering to the Western palate as well as local fare.
My room was spacious and the bed comfortable as you’d expect in a five-star property. The bathroom, too, was huge, all marble with a deep tub and separate shower stall. So it took me by surprise to see rust along the edges of the big mirror over the double sink. The light switches turned on the lights on either side of the mirror but not the ceiling so I showered in the dark. (The next day a fellow passenger told me to press the small blue light on the main switch for the ceiling lights. That did the trick. But pressing the blue light didn’t turn them off. As far as I know they may still be burning.)
I fell gratefully into bed as we had to gather n the lobby by 6:45 a.m. the next morning to catch the train to Agra, where we were to spend the day.
We drove to the train station in the pouring rain. Coaches cannot park anywhere near the station entrance, which meant a 15-minute walk to get to the platform. All of us on this trip are seniors (except the hard-working crew), some with creaky joints or more serious mobility issues. As a consequence our local guide immediately set about hiring a team of tuk-tuks, shepherded us into the tiny cars, which got us to the station relatively dry.
We boarded the Gatimaan express to Agra. The express train is the first luxury high-speed train in India. At 160 km/h we reached Agra in 100 minutes, and on time. (Another group went to Agra via coach; it took them nine hours.) Although it was a comfortable ride, luxury is in the eye of the beholder: I detected the smell of urine upon boarding, the window where I sat was cracked and when I pulled down the tray when coffee came along, it was thick with grime. But the coach was pleasantly air-conditioned, the staff friendly, and soon the motion of the train rocked me to sleep.
Next stop provided visual delight: Agra.