Wednesday 28 March 2012

Agra and the Taj Mahal

Hello all!

So, perhaps not 'tomorrow' in so many words. I've slowly become used to and adopted 'Indian time', as we've been told. Indian time is anywhere between 10 minutes to a day later than promised starting times. Trains, for example, run on Indian Time. In fact, pretty much everything does.

Agra was a whirlwind of surrealism. Even after staring at it for hours, the Taj Mahal became a sticking point for me, like the Sydney Opera House did. Wow, I'm actually sitting here, all the way out here, staring at the Taj Mahal. Despite everyone's continuous praise regarding it, I can confirm it still takes your breath away. The carving and the colours seem to get more impressive and it just continues to amaze until suddenly it's exploded in size in front of you and you're walking into the dark interior. Around the complex, the authorities have set up many 'Foreign Tourists this way, Indian Tourists that way' signs, allowing us to get some pictures of the building and some relative peace. At first, we found these a little weird, but after checking the fact we pact 37.5 times as much as the domestic tourists, we didn't feel so bad. Also, the Indians practically pushed us to the front of the queues and let us go first, despite our insistences that we were fine to wait.

It's sad though. I've now reached that stage where I no longer trust Indians. We've been cheated, betrayed and insulted too many times now. The frustrating thing is how insulted and angry the Indians get when we refuse to trust them now. I wish I could say it's just a few letting the majority down, but in our experiences everyone has tried to use us in order to get money out of us. It's, sadly, always about money. I bring this up due to a few boys who tried to help us get our tickets and give us shoe covers and what not. When I asked them to leave, they got quite angry, insisted it was free and they were being nice, and hen sure enough told us we had to look at their shop after we were done in the Taj. Typical.

We stayed in Taj Ganj, an area just south of the mausoleum itself. A small, busy and rather hectic place, we found the Shanti Lodge offering a decent enough room at a decent price. Nearby, the Taj Guest house wanted Rs 650 for a dirty cell, while Shanti was happy to take 350 for a large spacious room with TV and soft bed. Downsides were a distinct lack of promised hot water (and listening to the other guests complaining at reception, we weren't the only ones), enough mosquitos to invade Russia, and a power socket linked to the fan that if moved cut out the cold air and made the lights flicker. Could be worse though.

As far as restaurants go, the long serving, good standing restaurant Joney's Place, situated just outside the Taj Mahal South Gate, impressed us too. Walls covered in praise, my Malai Kofta (Potatos stuffed with cheese and then coated in a delicious sauce) was fantastic, and Aya insisted her Mutton Curry was pure divine. Om Rice was also well rated by her. How the guy (Joney's son, though Joney himself is usually sitting around keeping an eye on things) manages to cook up such delicious food is beyond me, seeing as how he has an outdoor 2 burner stove and a kitchen the size of a table.

Other than that, we didn't see too much of Agra. I'm actually fully burned out now, after repetitive days of sightseeing followed by night trains and buses, where we sleep fitfully and usually are awakened early. Sometimes I catch myself imagining us back in Goa, sipping a Mojito on the beach. We're hoping to find a nice place in Nepal to rest up for a few days and sip tea or something. Darjeeling sounds appealing, but I'd like to find something before then really.

In other news, we've booked our flights to Malaysia, once more using AirAsia for the journey and getting our Calcutta -> Kuala Lumpur flights for the 21st of April for Just over $150 per person. Hopefully the flight is as good as our last one with AirAsia!

And that's about it. Varanasi in the next post, likely later today or tomorrow. I'd like to wrap up India before we hit Nepal, which will be tomorrow! Very excited, we've actually booked First Class tickets for the journey (no lower class available), and we've been told it's lockable compartments like the Harry Potter train. Yippee!

Thanks for reading!

Andy (and Aya, who helped with this post)

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