All morning driving back from Ranthambore to Jaipur station, then the afternoon and evening on the express train to Agra. Finally checked into posh hotel after eleven hours travelling.

I had looked into the train service from the nearby station of Sawai Madhopur to Agra, but really didn’t fancy it. The express service was on standard second class coaches, of the kind you see on rail documentaries. No air conditioning, metal bars on the windows instead of glass, and the coaches rammed beyond any safe capacity with locals hanging on at the open doorways.

Platform 1, Jaipur Station
Platform 1, Jaipur Station

Instead, we returned by car to Jaipur station (again arranged with bhati tours). Then after a couple of hours uncomfortable wait at the station, where we appeared to be the only white people on the platform, we boarded the afternoon express from Jaipur to Agra Fort station. Our tickets from the International Tourist Bureau were for class ‘2AC’ this time – a long distance sleeper train, with air conditioned coaches and two-tier bunks. Our reservation was for an upper and lower bunk (the lower one converts into a bench seat for daytime travel), in a bay containing four bunks with a further two bunks parallel to the train on the opposite site of the main corridor. An unusual experience, sharing such an intimate space with four complete strangers!

Four hours later, and we were in a local taxi to transfer us the two or three miles across town to our next stop, the ITC Mughal Hotel in Taj Ganj. And what a beautiful hotel! A real touch of 5-star luxury after our long day travelling. The hotel has won awards, and I can understand why. A palatial building, with the most incredible level of customer service. Nothing was too much trouble for the staff. We hit the bar and restaurant as soon as we were unpacked!

Cocktails at the ITC Mughal
Cocktails at the ITC Mughal

Cash deficit: The hotel bill at Ranthambore came to a little bit more than I expected, once all the various luxury taxes had been applied. So we ended up having to borrow a small amount from the currency we had set aside to pay our driver for all our various trips (Jaipur day trip, travel to Ranthambore, and return to Jaipur station). It became absolutely imperative then that we found a working ATM machine as soon as we got back to Jaipur, so that we could settle our driver’s bill. First ATM we tried, no good – it went through all of the motions, before finally displaying a message that no cash could be dispensed. Worrying! We struck lucky with our second bank, and I quickly withdrew a further 20,000 rupees. Plan ‘B’ might have required a visit to a backstreet money changer, with some of our reserve sterling. But we should be ok now for our Agra visit.

Tomorrow, an organised trip out to the deserted city of Fatehpur Sikri, and then on to visit the Tomb of Akbar at Sikandra.

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