11.11.2011 - 11.19.2011
Another volunteer who had been staying at a different house (named Isabel from Spain) joined me last Friday to teach school in the morning. After school, we were picked up by a auto rickshaw with yet one other volunteer (Mercedes from Colombia, but lives in D.C. area too) and we were dropped off in the middle of some crowded market area and our driver flagged down a local bus heading to Agra for us. The next few hours were spent on the dirtiest bus I've ever encountered. The man next to me who had a little rat tail coming out of the crown of his head chose to crouch on the seat rather than sit. One of the seats was missing the cushion part in a row in front of me, and the man decided to sit on the headrest part and hold onto the overhead luggage storage. Then shortly after stopping at a little rest stop where men peed behind a waist-high wall and people downed fly-covered food, we were on our way to Agra again...until the bus stopped in the middle of nowhere and everyone got off the bus. We were perplexed, thinking, "This can't be Agra. There's nothing around?" Finally after a couple minutes outside the bus with the crowd we realized the bus had broken down and they were trying to fix it. So our entire bus stood on the side of the road waiting for more buses to go by to flag down. The first bus came, but was practically exploding by the time half our bus loaded onto it, so we waited about 15 minutes for another bus. This one was also crowded, and some people had to stand in the aisle, namely us. But some friendly men gave up their seats for us and/or crammed us in a row with 3 other people (only 3 seats in the row). I was impressed with their niceness
Agra seemed a veritable hell hole upon arrival, even in the dark. It took what seemed like an hour just to crawl through the heinously chaotic traffic. Our conductor told us to get off at one point and to get on a rickshaw to our hotel. Turns out they dropped us about 6 km from where we probably should have been dropped off and they charged us 300 rupees (for all 3 of us) to go to our hotel. I read later in the guidebook that this is a common scam and we probably should have stayed on the bus. But how does one really know? Our hotel was a couple minutes from the East Gate of the Taj Mahal, and tucked away in a little garden-y alcove. It was actually very quiet because they have designated a no pollution zone within 500m (I think) of the Taj, in order to keep it from the white getting all nastified.
When we awoke at 5:30 am, we headed to the gate, but soon realized the ticket booth was a lovely 1.5 km away. Though many bicycle rickshaw and even horse cart driver offered, or harassed, us rides, we decided to hoof it. The fee for foreigners: 750 rupees. The fee for Indians: 10 rupees. Can't imagine anyone getting away with that in the U.S. without being lawyered instantly.
The Taj Mahal was more impressive than I was anticipating. It's amazing that he built it all for his favorite wife, awww. After exploring it in and out, we also visited the Agra Fort, which also had some really pretty parts to it. After lunch at our hotel, we hired a taxi to drop Isabel at the bus station (she wasn't feeling well) and to take Mercedes and I to the ghost town of Fatehpur Sikri about 1 hour's drive away. We had a little frustrations with the tour guide when we got there, cause she charged us more than we probably should have paid, and she rushed us through. Inside, she kept taking us to different people who expected us to buy more things, which we didn't want to do. But otherwise, the buildings there are also pretty impressive. All the street kids selling stuff in Agra, when I told them I was from America, they would say, "OH! Michael Jackson!" or "Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, and Barack Obama!" I guess that's accurate enough.
We stayed one more night in Agra, and woke up to see the sunrise from the rooftop of a hotel/restaurant. It was pretty spectacular actually, and worth staying the night for it.