The train ride to Agra lasted 5 hours, and we alternated turns sleeping to keep a watch for our stop, lest we miss it. The train ran through the night. Only the headlights of cars hauling cattle on parallel highway and the father’s snores punctuated the dark cabin. The night passed quickly and without consequence.
We departed the train at the Raji-Ki-Mandi station at approximately 5:00 am. The train had stopped near rough-looking platforms, but multiple people told us this was Agra, so we grabbed our belongings and rushed off the train with the same bustle in which we had boarded. A ways down we found the small station, and we passed the haggard men sleeping on bench to sit in the waiting area. Multiple rickshaw drivers had come to solicit to us, but we knew the place we were staying in Agra would sent a driver to us.
When we called, however, the hotel employee said they had sent their only driver to the Agra Cantt station to meet us, which we were actually supposed to get off on after this station. We had thought this was the Agra Cantt station, and related our mistake and frustration and mostly abandonment of the last 24 hours to him as best as we could. After two pushy, angry calls, we got him to send the driver, so we went outside to wait. In the half-hour since we had arrive, the misty, rough station had transformed into a hub of activity and the sun shone brightly already.
We waited on the steps until our half-closed eyes saw, like an enchanting dream, a rickshaw driver distinguished himself from the pack of those circling the exit. A tall, handsome, well-dressed, but very thin man, he was holding up a paper with ANNETTE written in big sharpie letters. I cannot describe how comforting it was to see one of our names affirmed in English, correctly written and pronounced, among the current and very recent madness. For once, our fate had a direction, a little steering wheel, and a bright yellow top.
We nearly hugged the man as he shoved our backpacks in the rickshaw.
“Your train was grand late,” he observed.
“I know it,” we exclaimed nearly in unison.
The last twenty-four hours obliterated, and our sense of time seemed to reset as we sped through Agra. People and animals roamed the town already before 6. As if from a fairy tale, camels tugged carts through the streets and monkeys stared back at us with their stout grey faces as they played along the tops of the walls.
Soon we reached our hotel. Having fallen head over heels with dizzying frustration after an entire day of little to no help, when the man at the front desk offered to show us the room first before paying and told us that we had free internet, running water, a generator to back up during power outages, we feel head over heels in love right then and there with Agra.
He led us through a gardened, quiet courtyard, cloistered from the street noise, and up a white tiled staircase to our room. When we were stranded in Delhi, I thought I would never see a mattress again. Although the hotel is about as standard as a Motel 6 in America, we felt like we had uncovered a treasure chest of comfort and we nearly etherized ourselves onto the beds right then and there. I have never been so happy to see cracked, white-wash walls, and a toilet seat with a seal reading, “This toilet has been disinfected for your protection.” For our sanity, really.