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January 28, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Delhi to Agra, India

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Namaste from India! We left off last week from New Delhi. This week, we travel by train to fulfill a lifelong dream. From the moment I learned about the Taj Mahal, I've always wanted to visit it. And this week, that dream finally came true. Can you believe I went to the Taj Mahal? Sometimes I still can't believe it! If you want to see this masterpiece with me and discover what it's like to travel by train in India, then come on this journey. As an added bonus, we check-in to a hotel that's not only one of India's finest, but one of the finest in the world!

If you're just joining us for the first time, I'm currently writing about an around-the-world trip I'm doing with Jet Airways. My first international stop was Brussels, two weeks ago we explored New Delhi and this week, we're off to Agra. When I was planning this trip, all I knew is that I wanted to see the Taj Mahal. I didn't know exactly where the city of Agra was located, but I knew I was going there no matter what.

Fortunately, Agra is only 203 km (126 miles) from Delhi. I learned that the best and fastest way to get there (besides flying in a private jet) is by jumping aboard the Shatabadi Express, India's "high-speed" train. The trip takes two hours and 10 minutes. The commuter train (the slow one) takes five hours and driving takes about four hours ... but as I quickly learned, driving in India is insane and probably not your safest option for getting around.

I could have saved some money and arranged for everything myself but I was prepared to throw down some cash for this side trip because it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I had been working with India Safaris on the following week's trip, so I had them arrange everything. They took care of the transportation to and from the train station in Delhi and Agra, arranged the train tickets and booked a guide. All Natalie and I had to do was show up on time, bright and early at 5:15am.

Of course, we wanted to leave later but the Shatabadi Express, which is considered the "high-speed" tourist train, only leaves once a day from Delhi and it's at 6:15am. We checked out of the Taj Palace hotel by 5:10am and patiently waited by the door for our pickup. They were 10 minutes late but we made it to the station in plenty of time even with Delhi's crazy traffic. Natalie and I were both skeptical about taking an Indian train, especially after seeing a YouTube video while researching this trip. But the tourist train to Agra is nothing like the crowded commuter trains we'd seen online, where it's so packed, people are pushing each other in and out and hanging on the outside. Take a look for yourself!

We also wanted to travel first class to make sure we had some space but that carriage gets sold out weeks in advance. The good news is our guide assured us it would not be anything like the commuter train and coach class would be fine. He was right.

We arrived at the Delhi train station around 5:45am. It was still dark and crowded as can be, with passengers rushing around and locals sleeping on the floor. Our escort took us to the platform we were supposed to be on and waited with us until the German-made train arrived. We found our assigned seats with no problems. We really didn't need that kind of handholding but I must say, it's nice not to have to think once in a while, especially before the sun comes up.

There didn't seem to be much difference between first and coach class. I would assume that it's similar to Europe, where up front, there's a bit more space, a cleaner carriage and better service. The whole train is air-conditioned, which is important, but didn't matter this time of year because it was a bit chilly out. It was a relief to see how civilized the boarding process was and inside the carriage was, too. Probably half the passengers were Indians and the other half foreign tourists. In coach were mostly backpackers.

I paid just 1,800INR ($37USD) for two roundtrip tickets and the price includes a large bottle of water, a pot of tea, a newspaper and a hot meal. Everything was served during the first 30 minutes of the ride and breakfast arrived on my tray at 7:45am. It consisted of a potato cutlet with peas, white bread, jelly and mango juice. To be honest, I was a bit worried about eating it but I figured it had to be safe since everyone else was eating it ... and I was so hungry I didn't even matter. I don't think I will ever forget looking out the window as we rode backwards, and seeing the sun rise over the fantastic scenery. What a treat!

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Copyright 2009 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Delhi Train Station


Inside Station


Shatabadi Express


Serving Bottled Water


Pot of Tea


Look At That Sunrise


Train Is Full


Train Bathroom


Breakfast is Served!




Agra Cantt



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