Delhi and Agra

Trip Start Jun 03, 2009
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Where I stayed
Hotel Pratap

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Monday, July 13, 2009

    Last Wednesday, all six of the volunteers living at Dr. Bandhu's decided that we wanted to take an overnight trip into Delhi, so we ended our work week on Wednesday and took a car into the city on Thursday morning.  The trip took from Faridabad about an hour, and when we arrived, we started walking around the traveler's area of Delhi called Paharganj to find a room.  We checked out a few places, did some bargaining, and finally settled on a guest house where the six of us could stay in one room for $9.. TOTAL!  The room didn't have AC, had a squat toilet, and we saw a mouse running around on the floor the next morning, but for one night, we were all willing to stay there for less than the price of lunch.  We walked around the local area, had lunch, and went around a market for the rest of the day.  While walking around. a few ear cleaners kept coming over to us and trying to give us a "professional cleaning."  One of the volunteers had studied in India years ago and could speak Hindi fluently, so she was very helpful to travel with.  She also recommended buying fresh coconut milk from a street vendor, which was delicious, and after the liquid was gone, the man would open up the fruit and you could eat the mushy meat inside.  On the walk over to the metro station, I stepped on a manhole on the sidewalk that was not put on securely and almost fell to my death under the Delhi streets, but luckily, I was able to climb out with only scratches on one leg.  We went to Chandni Chowk market and then into Sikh and Jain temples along the way.  Both were cool and quite different experiences, as the Sikh temple was loud with music playing but the Jain temple was much quieter with silent prayers.
    Tonight was the first time I had walked the streets of Delhi at night, and it very dark, noisy, and crowded.  The side streets that have many people on them do not have any streetlights, and there are people sleeping on anything flat.  We went out to a bar/lounge in Delhi that I did not think was very fun.  It reminded me of a typical American club with the house music blasting and expensive drinks and was not something I expected to find myself in while in India. 
    The next morning, we checked out of our classy hotel and got some delicious tandoori chicken before walking around to more markets and then heading back to Faridabad.  We got stuck in afternoon traffic and the drive took almost two hours.  That night, most of us just rested up for our trip to Agra the next morning.
    Saturday, we chose to get an early start on the weekend and arranged the driver to come get us around 7 am.  The group going to Agra would be the two people from Hong Kong, the two German girls from Rajan's, Jose, and me.  The driver dropped us off at the nearby bus station, and we got on a bus that was just getting ready to leave for Agra.  The bus was hot and crowded and took us by very rural India on the drive through open land.  Whenever the bus would slow near a busy area, kids would climb on selling snacks, water, or newspapers and then jump off before the bus left.  The bus drivers drive fast, and the trip took around 3 hours and cost only $2. 
    We got picked up from the bus station by Saleem, the man from the hotel that Rajan had arranged, and went into the Taj Ganj area of Agra where we would be staying.  On the drive in, I could see the Taj Mahal as we got close and it looked fake seeing it in person. I think I am starting to get too accustomed to being tricked or hustled here because I even thought that maybe it was fake and the Indians were just playing a trick on all the foreigners who come.  But then I realized that I was just being crazy.  The hotel here was nicer than the one in Delhi and had AC but cost a little more being in such a touristy area.  It was also right near one of the gates to the Taj Mahal.  We grabbed lunch then all split up to do what we wanted for the day
    Jose and I went to see the Agra Fort, which is supposed to be the nicest of all India's Red Forts.  It was only about a fifteen minute walk from our hotel, so we headed over there on foot.  When we got there, there were many people trying to sell us all kinds of cheap touristy items and we had to fight them all off to make it inside.  The sellers at this touristy place are much more aggressive than they are in Delhi.  They also try to sell you things for what I would consider now to be totally ridiculous prices.  I bought something outside the Red Fort for 12 rupees after doing some bargaining when the guy started by trying to sell it to me for 150.  I enjoyed the Fort, and it had a lot of very nice designs insider and even a great view of the Taj Mahal.  It was definitely bigger than the one in Delhi that I had gone to during my orientation, but I don't know which one I liked better.  I think the Delhi one had better designs and architecture on the inside, but both were definitely enjoyable visits.  While I was there, an Indian man come over to me and asked for a photo with his arm around me, so I agreed and smiled with an exaggerated, goofy American pose.  I'm sure his friends will love it. We had dinner in the hotel that night and then Jose and I hung around on the rooftop  drinking a few beers with Saleem, who bought them for us at cheaper prices than they would sell to tourists, while everyone else was asleep.    
    The next morning, we went to the Taj Mahal at around 6am, which is the time it opens for the day.  I have no idea what time the sun actually rises around here, because when we were outside at that hour, the sun was surprisingly high in the sky.  This was a good time to get there because it was still not too hot yet and it was not overly crowded either.  There was not much lighting on the masoleum when we first arrived because the sunlight hadn't hit the front yet, but by the time we left around 8, it had gotten some and looked nice.  The Taj Mahal was really beautiful and the architecture was amazing.  Even from so close, it still looked fake.  The rest of the grounds include a lot of shade and many benches, and when I was done looking around, I wished I had brought a book just to sit there for longer and enjoy the scene. 
    We checked out of the hotel at 10, got some food, and headed back to the bus station.  The bus back took even longer because of a few more stops and a rest stop that lasted for about a half hour, but we still got back to Dr. Bandhu's early in the afternoon and then just layed around for the rest of the day.  Agra was a great place to visit, and I am glad I decided to make it my first weekend trip during my time here.

photos are posted here
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difox on

Bware of the manholes
I love your blog but think I need to add to my B's advice for the trip:
B Safe, B Brave, Behave and Beware of the manholes in India!
Diane Fox

mimwal on

Hi - from St Michael, MN
Hi Jon - Beautiful pictures - The Taj Mahal is the one - I believe it is one of the 7 wonders of the world - not sure - anyway, I think it is the only 'wonder' in India that I would like!!!! I'll join Diane in telling you - B-ware of Manholes - especially in India!!!! that had to be a bit scary!
Enjoy and B-careful!
Grammy and Wally

roseski on

Hi... I just stumbled across your blog when researching my trip to India. The place you stayed in in Agra sounds pretty good; I've been trying to find somewhere to stay and there are so many dodgy reviews of other places! I'd rather stay somewhere after hearing about it from personal experience. Would you recommend it? If so, please can you let me know where it was that you stayed?
Rosie x

kickthrough on

ear cleaners
I think you should have taken up the guys on the ear cleaning....

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