Agra, India
23° 55' N 77° 33' E
May 09, 2009 08:39
Distance 528km

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Text written in: English

Blog Entry 2

Blog entry 2 Our second day in Delhi we hired a car and driver (we had been offered self drive but thought it might be a good idea to stay alive for another couple of days at least) and toured the various historical sites of the city. Some amazing ancient monuments from the Mughal period although one thing that is instantly noticeable is that the incredibly cheap India we were told about in years gone by has disappeared. Whereas Indians can get entry to the sites for aroud 15Rupees, 'foreigners' have to pay 250 Rupees, which on a guided tour of the city ends up costing quite a bit. And when about 6 out of 7 ATMs that we visited, don't work, the money thing becomes a bit of a drag! Un fortunately, we were both still knackered from the flight, change in time zones and general lack of sleep due to heat and stress so we maybe didn't fully appreciate the sights but personall speaking, India Gate (a war memorial which is very reminiscent of the Champs Elyses) was probably the most stunning.Unfortunately, when compared to the poverty that you drive past in the street, or the slum areas with open sewers and children raking through piles of rubbish, it becomes very difficult to appreciate the finer sights. It's also quite strange being the object of attention yourself because of your skin colour and we have been asked more than once by Indian tousists if they could take our photos. On the way back to the hotel we passed a random couple of blokes driving camels along the main road so our driver stopped and (as seems to be the case for every single thing you do in India) for a small fee, I got a photo opportunity on a camel - not the best semlling of beasts! Anyway, next morning, having had about four hours of sleep, we got up at ridiculous o'clock, packed the stuff we remebered (left Vicki's phone and some clothes of mine which to be honest I've got no space for anyway), experienced some Indian night timedriving - probably more scary than the daytime driving but at least you can't see what's coming towards you since they either use full beam or no headlights at all. Got dropped off at the train station where another two locals tried to scam us by telling us that the WS printed on one of the tickets meant that teh seat hadn't been confirmed. However, very obligingly, and for a small fee, they could sort the problem for us. Having slightly more confidence now, we argued that the tickets were fine and bravely ventured into our air conditioned luxury carriage with three train staff and two armed guards - did they know something we didn't? About half an hour of worrying about having an unconfirmed ticket later, it suddenly dawned on me that I was sitting in a window seat - WS? WE enjoyed our free cups of tea and biscuits and at least tried the breakfast that was provided - seemed to be some form of potatoe / vegetable donut with some kind of bland curry type thing and a sauce. Vicki seemed to be quite happy with the bread and jam... Still off to Agra – that should be good.Friday 8th MayArrived in Agra and once again, were met by a seething crowd desperately wanting to extract money from us for taxi services. After Delhi, we were particularly sceptical and assumed anybody who spoke to us was trying to rip us of. We were approached by ‘Shabi’ and ‘Akil’ who promised they would drive us to the hotel for 200 Rupees or give us a guided tour for 650. We went for the guided tour but asked for the Taj Mahal experience on Saturday morning since the Taj is closed on Fridays. They initially took us to the wrong hotel and then when they checked the address told us that the Hotel Ajay that we had booked into was in a bad area and they could recommend somewhere better. Needless to say, we suspected yet another scam however when they showed us the Ajay, well, let’s just say, the heard of cows, traffic jam of tuk tuk’s and ox drawn cart of rubbish combined with the smell of open sewers and curry ingredients didn’t exactly make it very appealing. Ever the extravagants, we forfeited our one pound fifteen pence deposit and booked in elsewhere. After the Ajay, the ‘Hilltop Hotel’ they took us to seemed like a palace so after Vicki turned down the first room because it had a resident lizard, we checked in to our new accommodation. After about five minutes, it dawned on us just how much of a dump the place actually was. Not only was it a long while since anything had been painted, but there were a few suspicious indicators that cleanliness wasn’t exactly high on the priorities of the owners – sleeping bag liners, lots of Deet spray and inflatable pillows all round then…We later discovered the hotel owners were the local money lenders so slightly scared of being bumped off by the Agra Mafia, we poured out great compliments and booked a second night with our ‘Trainspotting’ toilet.Our first day in Agra, we had a quick trip to the red fort (outside only) but Shabi gave us a run down on the history of the place anyway and we got some photos. They then took us on a tour around the town which I’ve got to say is not particularly impressive – one guide book described it as ‘unlovely’ which is probably a bit generous. The poverty and slum areas we saw make you realize just how fortunate you are but at the same time, it’s frustrating for driven people like ourselves to see others living in such abject poverty and allowing themselves to be treated like dirt by the better off, without complaining or wanting more. There’s no doubt that being happy is the key but to see people being paid a pittance (in the case of the hotel attendant 1000 Rupees a month – approx 15 pounds) and being expected to wait hand and foot on guests and owners at any time of the day or night (he even sleeps on a bench in the garden) is very difficult to come to terms with. What makes it especially difficult  is knowing that the richest man in the world is Indian yet because the poor just accept their fate without complaining, their fate will never improve.One of the places Shabi and Akil took us was to their local version of a department store. You go to the tailor’s area, get measured up (in their small recess off a square with open sewers and rats running around the work area), get measured up and let them calculate how much cloth you need. Once you have this information, you go round the corner to the cloth shop, pick what you want then take it back to the tailor for a next day service, whether it be shirts, trousers or traditional Indian clothing. Needless to say, we were talked into having some traditional clothing made – now just got to find some use for it…Nice guys that they were, Shabi and Akil obviously didn’t have a lot to do, so they came back to the hotel with us and kept us talking until far later than we had planned.Day two in Agra, we visited the Taj Mahal – again another early start (6.30) with barely a couple of hours sleep. Apparently we did have air conditioning but thanks to endless power cuts, we just seemed to have a device which made the noise of a jet engine and occasionally gave the odd puff of lukewarm air so not really in the best of moods for an early start.All the guide books say you are never fully prepared for your first glimpse of the Taj Mahal and it’s very true. It really is an awesome sight and photographs alone will never do it justice. From a sad engineer’s point of view, the actual construction of it is also really amazing.Once we had collected our newly tailored clothes (wonderfully well made and very cheap but just not really desperately useful in Mauchline), we headed back to our wonderful hotel. It was at this point, the odds on who would be the first to cry would have dropped considerably. Complete lack of sleep combined with the culture shock of the country and the general condition of the hotel were really getting us down. So like any intrepid budget traveler would do, we bought ourselves some happiness by booking a decent (hopefully) hotel in Varanassi.We decided to stick with the hostel we had booked for Jaipur but without any great hopes. Having tried to get a decent last night’s sleep (knowing that we would at least be leaving the place) we failed miserably thanks to our friend the aircon but got up at half four to get our last lift from Shabi to the railway station. Sad to say, but I don’t think either of us has ever been so glad to leave a city. Agra just really isn’t a place I could recommend, other than for a day trip to the Taj.After nearly a three hour delay on our train (we were beginning to wonder if we would ever get away from the place), we discovered that we had been standing at the wrong end of the platform so a quick twenty five carriage dash to the front saw us once again back in AC luxury and happy. Getting off in Jaipur we were of course assaulted by the usual crowd of desperate taxi drivers but I think even they saw that trying to hassle Vicki when she was tired was not a very smart idea so instead they waited outside the café we had escaped to and reduced their price to 20 Rupees for a tuk tuk to the hotel.Finally, joy of joy’s we checked in to the hostel we had booked on line to discover a great little place which is clean with a toilet you might even want to use! Phew – now relaxing, happy aqnd looking forward to tomorrow.I’ll fill you in on Jaipur in the next installment but just wanted to get all this down just now since I don’t know the next time we’ll get Internet access (I’ve managed to get logged on through somebody else’s wifi from the room at the moment).    

Photos / videos of "Blog Entry 2":

Vicki looking happy in Delhi India Gate - Delhi Graeme on Camel (looking happy) Typical driver's eye view in Agra Rear of Taj Mahal - Agra Taj Mahal classic view! Graeme's new clothes - seemed like a good idea at the time...