My 5am alarm going off signalled that it was time to leave Delhi and head on to Agra, although I needn’t have bothered crawling out of bed at this ungodly hour – predictably, the bus was late.
Almost everyone I met in Delhi warned me off getting the bus to Agra, which was a bit unnerving, but I’d heard similarly bad things about the train and I didn’t fancy getting my first train during my solo trip in India from the black hole that is New Delhi Station. It looked crazy enough from the outside. So instead, the cheaper and ‘to your door’ bus service appealed to me much more. 6 hours wasn’t too bad a journey and was definitely nothing a handy iPhone playlist couldn’t sort out.
And, on the whole, the bus was a good call.
The ‘to your door’ service was, in reality, a man coming to the hotel to pick me up. I’d booked the bus through Smyle Inn so I had a fallback if anything went wrong. It had cost 500 rupees so I wasn’t expecting much. We wound through the back alleys of Delhi and ended up on a busy road where a fee other people (mainly Indians but one other tourist) were hovering. We waited for a good 10 minutes with no sign of any bus. The bus was supposedly a 6am one but it was now almost 25 past and there was no indication it was nearby.
Then I realised I’d completely lost the guy who had brought me here. To make matters worse, he had also taken my ticket. This was the point where I considered this was all an elaborate scam until I finally saw him again, though he looked as confused as I was. Eventually, at around 6.40, the bus arrived and I was ushered on. Pretty much everyone else was just taking a day trip to Agra so I was the only one with significant luggage which was stored in the boot.
The other foreign tourist and I were given seats at the back of the bus (once the epitome of coolness in my high school days) and it then filled up, all with Indians. There was a huge debacle about who got what seat, especially when someone decided to change seats midway through the journey which apparently is about as horrific as kicking a puppy.
After various pointless stops around Delhi, we finally seemed to get going, heading up the Yanuma Expressway. The bus itself was fine. It was full but not bursting and everyone had a seat. I slipped my headphones in and watched the world go by. About halfway into the journey we stopped at a service station for what seemed like an age and I’m fairly certain we left there with less people than we started with, but then finally we reached Agra just after midday.
It was at this point that pretty much everything started to go awry. Because the rest of the bus was just visiting for the day, they were heading for Agra Fort. However I wasn’t planning on doing that until tomorrow. As a result, the bus conductor (or guide, I’m not too sure who he was) led me off the bus and told me his ‘friend’ was here to take me to my hotel. His ‘friend’ was a very jolly tuk tuk driver who already had hold of my luggage from the boot of the bus and had set an inflated price to get to my hotel near the Taj Mahal’s East Gate. Not wanting to jeopardise the safety of my rucksack full of Primark clothes, I reluctantly agreed.
After repeatedly fighting off his offers of a sightseeing tour round Agra, I paid the tuk tuk driver and headed into the Sheela Inn hotel which was completely deserted. Literally, I was the only guest. The hotel staff spent every waking moment watching TV in the lobby and, as I was on the ground floor, watching my every movement round the hotel.
The Wi-Fi only covered the top two floors and the rooftop restaurant and, as I was peckish and wanted to catch up on t’interweb, I decided to lunch here. What followed was probably the worst meal I’ve ever had whilst travelling. Even the meal I ate in Thailand which resulted in me throwing up repeatedly for hours was tastier than this, albeit with a nastier side effect.
Not the best start to my arrival in Agra, but the bus journey was actually the least stressful bit, so don’t stress if the trains are all booked/too expensive. The expressway is fast, safe and an experience in itself. With relatively little hassle, I was finally in the home of the world’s greatest building…