Day 2 Tuesday
6:30am meet the driver downstairs to go to Agra. We have been told the drive to Agra can be anywhere from 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours long depending on the traffic. This was our first experience with “India Time”. People will schedule things at any given time, but there is usually a 60-90 minute standard deviation when people actually arrive. Traffic is insane. No one follows the traffic lights or stays within the lines drawn on the road. Horns are constantly honking and you have to stop for livestock and beggars who may just be passing through and are ubiquitous.
Cliff has gone to the Taj before by train, but felt like going by car would enable us to experience more of India. He was right.
Stop #1: ATM because we had NO Rupees.
You know how they tell you not to go to crowded ATMs or ATMs in bad neighborhoods? Not possible in India. I took this picture after telling Cliff not to get raped or killed. The driver volunteered to go in with him and act as bodyguard. All I kept thinking about were all these poor Indians (I mean this literally) standing around listening while the ATM is doling out the paper money “ch-ch-ch-ch-…” and this wealthy-looking white man waiting for the handout. I figured at the very least, he was going to get his hand chopped off. Luckily, Cliff had the good sense not to withdraw what he had intended and settled for 10,000 Rupees = $200 USD = about 2 weeks salary for average Indian. Afterwards, he and the driver ran back to the car and we resumed our journey.
Stop #2: Bathroom Break
Ever watched the movie Hostel? Well picture a sequel called “Hostel 4: Trip to India”. The place where we stopped for our pit stop turned out to be where all the drivers take their customers for a potty break. Cliff and I went in and out pronto. While we are on the subject, I would like to show you a picture of our bathroom at the hotel just so you see the basic components of an Indian bathroom.
Half the time I went to a bathroom, I couldn’t figure out where the flush button/lever was and I kept seeing the hand spray next to the toilet wondering what that was for? Every bathroom has these parts. I later found out that the hand spray is in case you want to bidet. I don’t get it. How the hell are you supposed to do your business, spray yourself down there, and not get your clothes all wet and nasty? Country full of engineers. Whatever.
Stop #3 Paying the Toll
At some point on the highway, we had to stop in a long line of cars.The driver explained he was going out to “pay the taxes” but not to worry, he would lock us in the car and we were not to open the windows. I barely had time to ask why when a man with 2 monkeys stationed himself next to my window. He was begging for money and making his monkeys do a little show. The car in front of us had someone selling jewelry from a stick. After what seemed like a VERY long time, the driver returned and we were able to get moving again. Now, whenever we get the chance, Cliff and I like to say to whoever, “Dance for your Rupees you jumping monkey!”
Stop #4 Taj Mahal
You have to park a little ways away from the Taj and then be transported to the gate.
You can take a camel:
You can take a rickshaw:
And you can walk.
I don’t want to bore you with a bunch of silly photos of the Taj, because it is pretty well documented. Being at the Taj Mahal on Valentine’s Day was really lovely.
- Me: Now that man knew how to love his woman. Where’s my Taj Mahal?
- Cliff: “I got your Taj My Haul right here…”
- Me: silence.
It’s a really incredible place and it goes without saying that if you are ever in the neighborhood (within a 5 hour drive) it’s worth it.
Stop #5 Lunch at Sheraton
The key to enjoying vacations in “poor-ass countries” (phrase I took from Nghi who is from Poor-Ass Vietnam) is to give yourself breaks where cleaner, wealthier people are hanging out. In Agra, this meant having lunch at the Sheraton. This place was really gorgeous and probably one of the nicest Sheratons I’ve ever seen. Having just looked at the official website, I will say that the pictures from the website are probably 100 times nicer than what I saw in person, but still, a very nice place and nothing like the ATM or the Hostel. After we had a lovely Indian lunch, we had the opportunity to meet some men from Rajasthan:
I think in my next life as an Indian, I would hope to be Rajasthani. No offence to the Punjabis, but Punjabis party harder than Alexandra and I’m barely able to hang with her. The Rajasthanis are lovely, warm-hearted people with the added plus of being awesome dressers. After lunch, Cliff and I decided we would try to hit 1 more place before we started back.
Stop #6 The Red Fort
The Red Fort is actually older than the Taj Mahal. Only 30% of the compound is open to the public. The other 70% is an active military compound. It was really someting walking the same paths as so many other people and wild beasts of history had traveled so many years ago. It has an amazing history and architecture.
After the Red Fort, we were definitely ready to head back. Before we could get on our way, the driver ended up taking us to a place where Indians are still creating marble works of art like tabletops and trays and other items in the old ways of the Taj.
There was a moment where I totally expected to see Chris Rock pop out clutching a long hair weave in his hands ala “Good Hair“. Felt very sweat shop to me, but despite all that, Cliff and I ended up purchasing a beautiful platter with all the Taj Mahal stones embedded in the Indian Marble. Navnit (Father of the Bride) gave us some advice in Indian haggling. He said find out what the price is and then discount by 100%.
All told it was 9 hours of driving through terrible, jerkie, honking traffic. Be prepared if you ever go to India. It is LOUD. Like I mentioned before, everyone is very free with the horn and in fact you will see written on the backs of trucks “Horn Please” because this is how they let other cars know where they are. By the time we got back, it was around 8pm. Believe it or not, Navnit called Cliff and said we should come over and have dinner and watch the girls practicing their dance routines. I told Cliff to go without me. I was done.
Until next time…