Trip Start Oct 18, 2009
132Trip End Ongoing
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Where I stayed
I managed to see 1:20 am and got a fantastic 40 minutes sleep before the alarm went off at two! Of course the train was running late again and both of us sat in our seats trying to stay awake waiting on Agra to arrive.
We had been told that a government tourist office would be open 24 hours and we could go there to find about tours. Unbelievably this turned out to be true. We felt a bit guilty about waking the guy up at 3:30 but he was actually very pleasant and helpful. We sat in the office drinking chai for an hour with the Polish guys and a San Franciscan couple. At 5 am we all shared a couple of auto-rickshaws through the dark streets of Agra to a small café called 'Joney's’ near the Taj Mahal where we all had his speciality banana lassi’s and cheese and tomato toasties
We headed to the nearest gate of the Taj to buy our ridiculously expensive tourist tickets. 750 Rupees for tourists, 20 Rupees for Indians! Then Patrick and I had to walk 10 mins back to the bag drop before returning to the queue, so much for sunrise at the Taj.
Okay time for being upbeat. We were at the Taj! Woohoo. What is regarded by most to be the world’s most beautiful building. And did it live up to expectations? Yeah, pretty much I would have to say. It certainly is an impressive building. We spent a good deal of time walking around it before heading in to escape the sun at around 9 am. Unfortunately it’s a bit like an anti-tardus. Huge on the outside and tiny on the inside, but we found a place in the shade around the back to sit and rest fro 30 mins.
We met Patrick and Ashley on the way out again and headed for an early lunch. Again it is obvious that the tourist prey is thin on the ground and the local sellers would walk with you down the street explaining why you should buy tourist tack off them when you didn’t off their mates previously. I did end up buying another ‘Man from Del Monte’ hat again for 30 rupees
After lunch we sought out the ‘Taj Nature Walk’. We finally found it and by this time it really was hot at around 40 degrees. Even the 50 rupee charge (for foreigners obviously) didn’t make me get my hopes up for anything special. This was just as well as the walk consisted of grasses and trees clinging to life by a thread and lots of waterless water features. The park did however give a really good view out over trees to the Taj, half a kilometer in the distance. And as the park was virtually empty, it was a very welcome piece of space and tranquility.
We came across a concrete tree house type contraption with stairs leading up to it. We headed up and met a young Indian couple who were both students. It turned out that they were 21 and had met on an online dating forum. After 4 months of talking to each other they had decided to meet and shortly after got engaged. A ‘love marriage’ as they call it in India. Of course neither set of parents had been told but they hoped that once the guy had a job their parents would understand as they came from the same caste and religion. I found it really refreshing to be talking to two young Indians, both of whom were really nice, and both of whom were obviously hopelessly in love with each other
We decided against going to the other Agra attractions, due to the heat and also our new company and stayed in our concrete tree house for a good while. After a quick bite to eat at Joney’s again it was back to the station we arrived at this morning to get the Taj express bound for Dehli. As we sat on the baking hot platform at around 6pm I spotted a couple we had talked to this morning and headed over to say hello. As I was talking to them I realized that the train tracks had a good number of rats running about here and there
Worse than the rat though was the fact that we would be boarding the train for a three hour ride in non A/C seat, which meant we’d be well and truly in with the ‘proles’. As Rach has confessed in previous blogs she is a snob, or at least likes the finer things in life. And this would not be one of them. I would have been looking forward to it a little bit more if it wasn’t still the best part of 30 something degrees and we’d pretty much been going since the previous morning.
We boarded and it was pretty much as hot, sweaty and cramped as feared. The first hour was a bit of a nightmare but then we both got talking to around 30 Indians all around us. From the IT Phd students to the two young kids who wanted to be in Bollywood, it was a great laugh and helped to pass the next two hours.
We arrived in Delhi around 11pm and we were both exhausted. We had a hotel booked and it was just a matter of getting a taxi or rickshaw and we’d be home and hosed in no time. Of course, this is India and it wasn’t going to be as easy as all that.
We walked out to a sea of taxis, but not many drivers. The only information we were being told was that there was some kind of strike. Who, why, and until when was unknown. We walked up and down the line occasionally being given unbelievable quotes from drivers. Time was passing and we were losing the plot. Eventually we got a taxi, and in typical Indian fashion the guy drove a few taxi lengths forward, turned the engine off and wandered off. He didn’t speak to us obviously but I assume he had also decided to strike, or just couldn’t be bothered. We got out and stood for a while not really knowing what to do in a fairly dangerous town at Midnight and 17 kilometres from safety. After 5 minutes we got talking to some Nepalese looking folk. They were friendly and when someone came to pick them up he managed to convince a taxi driver to actually take us. We got in the taxi and after a few false starts we were heading through the still mental streets of Delhi. We had to walk down ‘Main Bazaar’ to reach our hotel and it was a bit of a shithole, but thankfully felt a little safer than we had been led to believe.
Our friendly, in a completely false way, hotel manager greeted us and promised a stay of luxury and great views none of which were true. But after climbing the three flights of stairs we had made it to a place where we could collapse and rest. We even had A/C!
It was nearly 1am. Tomorrow was Friday and we had decided to try and get our Mongolian visa in Delhi. We set the alarm for 6 hours later and passed out.