We got to Agra, India 3 hours later than expected on Wednesday evening. Somehow the train lost time. Our seats were in the pleasant enough second class AC car. Ours, on the left, had a bed on top and the lower bed was convertible to seats. For the day trip, we left them in seat mode, locked our bags to the top, and enjoyed the ride. The scenery was nothing special, just a lot of dry countryside, farms, livestock, small and poor looking towns, and air pollution. Our windows were scratched and yellow tinted, so they made for bad photos along the way. Snack vendors came down the aisle frequently offering fresh spicy somosas with ketchup (2 for 10Rs/25¢), drinks, chips, rice dishes. More frequently, a man with a metal dispenser of hot sweetened milk would call out “chai, coffee, chai, coffee”. For 5Rs(10¢), you could get a small cup of chai made with a tea bag or Nescafe instant coffee. Both were good taste for the price. On our day trip, J. and I consumed: water, 3 chais, 3 coffees, vegetable rice pilaf, 6 samosas, 2 dal, 2 mango drinks, masala peanuts, and cookies.
Agra was just as much of a hassle as Varanasi. The touts weren’t as bad, but still annoying. The driver who took us to the hotel was insistent we take his card and call him if we needed anything. Our hotel was in the Taj Ganj area, in spitting distance of the Taj Mahal. Shanti Lodge was a shanty alright. Our first night was spent in a room with paint falling from the ceiling, a sink that wouldn’t shut off, and a large red butt monkey on our porch that was throwing things at the door. We made a fuss and switched to a bigger and slightly better room in the back building for our second night. Each room was 400Rs($10). The night manager was like a movie character: old with thick glasses that magnified his eyes and a generally hilarious appearance.
On our first day, we walked to the Taj Mahal. Due to a muslim holiday, we got in for free. Otherwise, we would have been gouged 750Rs($17) each. The place was swarming with people, though luckily most weren’t tourists.
The view of the Taj from the rooftop restaurant of the guesthouse.
Walking along the gardens.
The Taj Mahal. If the fountains had been off, the water would have been reflective.
Scalloped fountain edge.
One of many groups of annoying boys who wanted their picture taken.
Marble inlays and Sanskrit writing.
Muslims washing in the fountain at the Taj Mahal mosque.
The mosque was packed. I’ve never seen so many people of the same religion together.
People looking over the Yamuna River.
The air pollution and morning fog was gross. The sky directly above was blue though.
Boy and his brothers.
Another view of the Taj Mahal from the shade.
For lunch, J. and I took a pedicab ride from two humorous and toothless drivers. Their fare was reasonable, and they helped us to the post office and suggested a restaurant that was okay. They obviously got some kind of kickback. Unfortunately, by accepting their food offer, they seemed emboldened to show us other commission driven destinations. At least they were honest about it. My driver would turn to me and through his toothless smile say: “Tourist shop? Ten minutes, ten minutes. They pay us 40 Rupees.”
We were as adamant about not going as they were about taking us there. Despite us being firm, we still ended up heading in the direction of the store. Then we became very firm, basically about to get out of the pedicabs. Okay, okay. They gave up and took us back to the guesthouse. No tip for them. I wanted to explain that they would have made more had they just gone where we wanted to go, but I was too annoyed and tired to bother. As we walked away, they asked if we would need a ride to dinner. They had no concept of how annoying they were. It was funny, and annoying.
For dinner, we went back to the rooftop restaurant. The colorful sun set over the bustle of the neighborhood below. Around us, a hundred monkeys climbed around the rooftops. There were a few at our restaurant that had to keep getting chased away with a stick and a slingshot. When the sun was gone, hundreds of large bats took to the sky. Most headed in clumps towards the river, others lingered in the trees. Around us, kids launched small fireworks into the air. A carnival with man-powered rides was in full motion down the street. The Taj Mahal looked beautiful. Very wonder of the worldly.
Taj Ganj at sunset.
Taj Mahal at sunset.
One of the monkeys watching us eat dinner.
That night something went haywire in my stomach. I was inflated and my appendix area felt sore. Additionally, I had a stuffy nose and cough. It was not the best of states to go wandering through the hassles and filth of India, but we met a nice couple at breakfast the next day and planned on going to see Agra Fort.
We piled into an auto rickshaw, me sitting in front with the driver. Fare: 60Rs.
Agra Fort was built sometime ago by some guy for a certain purpose. Its design and architecture is typical of the “Agra Fort Style”, due to numerous features that make it that way. It’s also vast, beautiful and scorching. Almost immediately, I was dripping with sweat. The place was swarming with people, particularly teenage Indian boys. All of which wanted to take a picture with the ladies in our group. There was something both innocent and perverted about it. I figured they didn’t get to be close to women in normal life, and tourist women photo taking was a perfect excuse to do so. There wasn’t really anything inappropriate in their behavior, but there were just too many of them. I doubted some of their cameras even had film. It made Agra Fort less relaxing than it could have been. It seems like India is in a constant balance between beauty and annoyance.
The stupid Indian power outlet, a hybrid between two different sizes of 2 and three prong outlets. The two prong adapter won’t stay in, and even the three prong wants to fall out. It’s a stupid and needless space-wasting design.
The ramp leading from the south gate.
A lot of the decorative patterns formed the Star of David.
One of the few areas that wasn’t full of teenage boys.
View of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort.
Texture and portrait. Unlike peacocks, the women are more decorative in India.
Chipping plaster in one of the corner towers.
The newer section of the fort built by the marble-loving maker of the Taj Mahal, Shah Jahan.
Man and doorway.
Tree and ramparts.
View looking north along the river.
Colorful family portrait.
Decorate marble inlays.
Us and the friendly them.
We and the traveling buddies split ways after the fort. I went back to the room to rest before the evening train. On our way back we learned a lesson we should have already known, don’t go on a ride if you don’t agree to the price in advice. This time, our moronic pedicab driver took us to an area where he wanted to go and asked for a laughable amount of money when money was finally discussed. We argued and gave him 30Rs(70¢). Annoyed, we walked the 5 minutes from the drop-off to the guesthouse. My stomach was still acting up, so I rested and tried to eat a bit of Indian dinner.
Around 6PM, we left for the train station. The driver charged a fair price and didn’t bother us. It was a pleasant surprise. At the station, we found the crowded upper class waiting room off the even more crowded platform. We sat amongst two large families and a few men who took great care in charging their cell phones. People seemed to be enjoying chips. Unfortunately, our train was three hours late. Instead of departing at 7:50, it left at 10:50. It was a long, hungry wait. Our final minutes were spent watching a monkey fighting with a dog next to a bum sleeping on an abandoned platform. Business as usual.
Train. I lied down on the top bunk, laid out the crisp clean sheets, and drew the curtain. I slept pretty well with laptop and camera by my side. The train was smooth and the air conditioned. We were bound for the blue city of Jodhpur and hopefully more wonderful and less frazzling times.
Me thinking about our time in Agra.