Day Trip to Agra

19 Apr

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April 13, 2012

The alarm started going off at 5:02am, enough time to hit snooze a couple of times before getting up to take a quick cold shower (hot water wasn’t available) and slipping into my India uniform (a maxi skirt, cotton tank and scarf). The plan was to leave early to skip the worst of the New Delhi traffic with enough time to stop at Mathura (believed to be the birthplace of the god Krishna), Fort Agra (where the Empror that commissioned the build of the Taj Mahal was imprisoned for the rest of his days after he was overthrown by his son) and the Taj Mahal (a mausoleum built by Emperor Shah Jahan in honour of his wife that died after giving birth to their 14th child in 1631).

Our first stop was Mathura, about 60km from Agra. Our driver, H.S. (his name sounded like ‘Has Ginger’ so with his permission we resorted to calling him H.S.), dropped us off on the side of a dusty road full of waste (human, animal and garbage), people wearing anything from clean brightly coloured saris to dirty well-worn strips of cloth, stands selling everything from jewelry to Ali Baba pants to Dollar Store-like toys and cows both walking along and laying down in the middle of the road.

When we arrived at the entrance we learned that no cellphone, cameras or weapons were permitted inside so we would have to leave everything but our clothes at the cloakroom. We decided to split up and J.J., Pete and I were to go first while Shelagh, Tal and Jonny watched the bags. There was a ladies entrance and a gents entrance so we split up to go in. I walked into a room of about 10 female security guards, one of which frisked me and completed her search with what I can only describe as a honk-honk of my boobs. For such a conservative country I was definitely taken by surprise! (I later learned that Shelagh and Tal both experienced this when they went through as well.)

Inside we passed a number of small stands selling much of the same things we saw on the street before walking through several different prayer rooms and were able to watch and listen to the musical chants and prayer rituals. To be able to be an observer of people engaging with their faith was such a personal and intimate thing. Truly amazing.

When it was our turn to watch the bags we were approached by a number of locals that wanted to shake our hands, ask us all about Canada (everything from the living conditions to the unemployment rate) and have photos taken with us. This must be what celebrities feel like when they’re photographed without make-up and coming from the gym (though we hadn’t come from a workout we were sweating as though we had – and it hasn’t even been that hot by India standards for this time of year).

We walked back to the van where H.S. was waiting for us and drove to the Agra Fort. After working our way away from the street vendors we made our way to the ticket booth and pushed through the crowds to the first opening. The first thing Tal, She and I experienced was what I will call the Agra Fart – some guy nonchalantly ripped the loudest toot I’ve ever heard in real life. Beautifully manicured green grass and gardens, benches placed sporadically throughout the grounds, amazing architecture of the covered open-air areas, a beautiful view of the Taj Mahal in the distance from the second level and even an echo room where you could speak into a corner of the room and have it be heard from the opposite corner.

We all took a number of photos, the highlights including one of Jonny wearing is full-face ski mask from Bolivia, one of the girls talking with the Indian boys in the background staring open-mouthed, and a number of shots with various local people as they requested. (I’m genuinely curious about what people do with these photos of foreigners.)

Next it was back to the van, fighting off street vendors again, and we asked H.S. to take us someplace for lunch. He took us to the Taj Mahal restaurant, not to be confused with the mausoleum. We enjoyed a delicious lunch, Tal and I eating Chinese to the amusement of the others (it’s not like we won’t have ample time to eat Indian food) and purifying our tap water with our steripens (which essentially looks like we were swirling lazer beams in our Nalgene bottles) to the amazement of the restaurant staff.

Then it was off to the main event: the Taj Mahal. Again we had to pass through security, an intense process as there’s a long list of things you can’t bring in, including camera or phone chargers, tobacco, cigarettes, matches, a lighter, any other smoking paraphernalia, etc. The 60+ year-old Indian woman going through ahead of me had her loose tobacco confiscated and threw an absolute fit.

Once in, I was stunned into silence at the beauty of the Taj Mahal itself as thoughts of the romance of the reason for its construction swirled through my mind. Like many of the truly amazing sights we’ve seen on this trip I’ll let the photos speak to the experience.

We stayed at the Taj until sunset as we’d all read that it changes colour as the sun moves over the course of the day. We saw the brilliant white of mid-day, the golden hue of late afternoon and the warm pink shade of sunset.

We made our way back to H.S. and the van, yet again fending off the vendor and began our 6-hour/100km drive back to New Delhi (traffic and constant honking is a problem at all times of the day and night between Agra and New Delhi apparently). As soon as we reached our destination it was straight to bed with big plans not to set any alarms for the following morning.


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