Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Back in India we raced against the clock. Because our flight had been delayed 4 hours catching our train was going to be cutting it close. When we finally landed we literally ran through the terminals to customs, ran to the money changer and ran out the door to the taxi stand. We had about one hour to get across town in rush hour traffic. Keep in mind this was New Delhi we had to cross, not Sturgeon Bay. A few times I have been in these situations and each time I have kept a positive attitude. Like much of life, there is no use fretting, set aside the fretting and get moving to make things better, right?
About half way across town I started to fret as we hit the Delhi wall of traffic. Our driver was quite aggressive; we had explained to him our situation so perhaps he was trying to help us. Then again he could just be another crazy Delhi driver. He was cutting in and out of traffic and making not a few enemies along the way. Our train left the station at 4pm and as we pulled up to the station at 3:56 it was almost certain we would make it as long as we could find what platform our train was on. We jumped out of the taxi, swept through security, and ran to our train, jogging alongside it to find our carriage. Mere moments after we boarded the train began to pull away. We just made it.
Arriving in Agra after dark was not pleasant and we were not happy to have to trust a rickshaw driver to get us there, rightly so. We paid for a pre-paid taxi which as it turned out was two guys who were trying to run a tourist operation doing tours around the area. We listened to 20 minutes of touting and finally got dropped off at the Hotel Clark, this was not our hotel. Our homestay family had told us that they were just behind the Hotel Clark, but left no further instructions. Unfortunately the Hotel Clark was really big, it was dark, and we weren’t sure what direction “behind” referred to. We marched off into the darkness, a rickshaw driver following us asking if we needed a ride. After a few minutes we saw what we thought might be the place and stopped to check. Another rickshaw driver pulled up and asked if we needed a ride. We figured out that it was the wrong building and started off in another direction and were approached by another driver. By this point I was furious with drivers and I yelled at him to get away from us. This upset him, he pointed to a wall nearby with some writing on it, then drove away. Turns out this guy was pointing to our home stay. We felt frustrated.
Arriving at the home stay was a little awkward at first. There was another couple seated at the dinner table when we arrived. We were led to our room then sat down for dinner. We made some quick introductions and then chatted about our India experiences. Nice to know that we weren’t the only ones. We registered with the master of the house, a very nice older Indian man (with a beautiful beard!), and arranged for a driver to come pick us up the next morning early to take us to the Taj Mahal. We woke up early and took the rickshaw that was waiting for us. We arrived at the Taj around 645, which as it turns out was a bit later than we wanted because the sun was already breaking the horizon. As we stood in line the couple from the previous night showed up, a bit upset, apparently we had taken their cab and so they were not able to get to the Taj as early as they wished. We bought tickets for them, so in the grand scheme they did not actually lose any time, but I don’t think they forgave us because they were a bit less than friendly the rest of the time we saw them.
The Taj, even early in the morning, was pretty crowded with people, or so I thought. Later that day we would see the Taj from the other bank of the river and the amount of people there was like ants swarming over a dropped popsicle in the summertime. The Taj itself was beautiful and although it cost 700 rupees each to get in I believe it was worth it. Despite how many times I had seen the structure in photographs seeing the real thing was not diminished in its capacity to awe. As the morning sun began its climb the white marble shone softly at the end of a long pool. There were many people milling about and taking photographs and even a few people who had already made their way to the structure itself, but because of the sheer splendor of the site none of those things could take away from the beauty and power the building exuded.
In order to walk around the Taj itself we had to either removed our shoes or wear protective booties. We opted for the booties, which were free and a lovely bright red. We spent about an hour at the sight and then decided there were only so many times we could look around. Before leaving we went to the bathroom which had a suggested donation to enter. I donated 10 rupees for the both of us and the guy gave me a dirty look. Why suggest a donation when you actually want a payment of more than 10 rupees? I hate it when people pretend to be philanthropists, but are really gold diggers.
We went back to our home stay for some breakfast and then were out again to the red fort. The red fort was nice, but this was getting towards the end of our trip and we had gotten up around 530 to make it to the Taj early so we were dragging our way through the fort. I don’t know how many times we sat down to rest. We decided it would be best to take a rest and went back to the home stay for a nap.Our driver seemed to be hurt that we preferred sleeping to seeing the city he lived in, but willing to take us back all the same. A few hours later we were back up again, this time to get some eats and then to go to the baby taj. The baby taj was beautiful and it was especially nice because we got there right at closing time so not many people were there. However, there was a man handing out "shoe baggies" to wear over your shoes as you walked around the building. We gave him 10 rupees and he scoffed. I hate when people do nothing and expect something.
We snapped a few pictures and then were taken to a place to view the “big” Taj for sunset. It was then that we saw how many people could crowd around it. After we went back to the homestay for a great dinner and conversation with the house master and an early night to bed. The next day we were off at 6 in the morning, heading back for our last night in Delhi and our flight out. We didn’t do much in Delhi besides going to the National Museum, which was pretty good. We were really exhausted and decided to get to the airport early for our flight. We took the subway for as far as we could and then a rickshaw to a bus stand. At the subway station we ran into a German man who shared the rickshaw and bus with us. As we started to get off the free bus the ticket boy demanded 25 rupees each. When I said no he said, ok, 20 each. I still refused. The German guy paid and left and we did not pay and left a minute later. I hate it when people try to cheat you because they assume you won't confront them.
A few hours waiting and we were streaming back to Shanghai, glad to be going "home".