Before we even reached the Taj Mahal our eyes were assaulted….and not in a good way…
Good morning everyone,
It has been a whole week that we have been gone, and for me it feels like months. Sonja was absoutely right when she said to only plan on doing two things per day here as it takes forever to get something done. That was an understatement. However, knowing that in advance has made a huge difference to my sanity level. Being able to anticipate that reduces the frustration, but not a lot.
Moving right along, we now enter the Taj Mahal phase of the trip. Before we even get there though, there was much to experience. The total distance from Delhi to Agra is only about 197km I am told. It took us four hours to drive that distance. The combination of bumpy roads, border check stops with armed guards, massive traffic congestion and crazy drivers all added to the length of the drive.
Some of the sights along the way were absolutely mind blowing. I honestly thought I had been desensitized to a lot of the poverty, but I was totally gob stopped. Remember seeing the Spiderman cartoons, or Flinstones where the background is looped to run over and over with the same scenery? Well, it was just like that. Just when you thought it couldn’t keep going, it did. All 197kms were packed with poverty and pollution. Both on the ground and in the air. People living in stick houses, or grass houses, or tents, or out in the open on a mat with their few things beside them. All diseased looking, rotting teeth, no bath for months, skinny and barely dressed. Barefoot, uncombed hair, huddled around fires of burning garbage surrounded by piles of human excrement to look up at the people on the bus with souless eyes and with no hope of ever having anything different, or if they even cared to.
The people who were of the “middle class” had their own “shops” that they both worked out of and lived in. I say shop, because the number of barbers who were only able to hang a mirror of a piece of brick or off a fence, set up a box for their clients to sit on and hope for customers were one of the “shops” out there. The others were stacked sometimes two or three high on pieces of scaffolding, or in buildings that were burnt out shells of a former complex.
Wild dogs, cows, goats, and pigs were to share the spaces with the people as well. Amber and I have only seen 3 cats the entire time we have been here, and one was deceased. There was a woman with no hands begging at the window of the bus as we were at a light stop. Children holding up siblings to gain some sympathy for some money were there. People urinating along whatever they could find to give them some privacy, leaving salty water marks behind all along fences. Dropping their trousers where ever they stood to relieve their bowels, and then walking away, leaving the putrid stench behind them for everyone else to enjoy.
It was totally humbling. Totally. In fact we asked our new friend Mokul and his cousin to draw us the Indian words for appreciation in our book to have. We are certainly already more appreciative of our own lives now, having seen what we did.
The smog was sooooooooooo thick, I was soooooooooooo happy to have brought some respirator masks. I went through three of them in the course of 18 hours. They started out white as the driven snow, to end up black as coal dust by the end of the day. The people on the bus I am sure thought I was weird, but I didn’t care. At the end of the day my lungs were still screaming from the onslaught of poisons they were coping with. In that regard, I will be very happy to leave Delhi. That and the continued fear of being mugged for my $10 Walmart watch.
The tour bus driver was a young man named Mokul Sidola. He was nearly 25 years old and following his passion of creating a better India. He studied travel and tourism in College and recently moved to Delhi to be employed as a tour guide to promote the area that he lives in. To help educate people about how India really is, and really can be.
We spent nearly the whole 8 hours round trip quizzing him about his culture, questioning how animals that are regarded as gods can be living in such poverty with only garbage to eat. How people don’t seem to want to leave what they are dealing with to make a different life for themselves. The bottom line was education. For those people who are not educated, they know no different. They don’t know what it is like elsewhere, or how it could be made better. One of his dreams is to help change that.
Mokul was certainly a precious soul with passion of his convictions that will indeed make a difference in his world.
Another sight we witnessed were cow patty stacks. The manure is collected, put it ~2 foot cookie cutters of sorts to be pressed out flat and then dried. It could be used for kindling to start fires or for fertilizer pucks for farming. The stacks were about 4-5 feet tall and it was almost like a business for people to work at. You wouldn’t see that in Canada I don’t think.
Along the way to the Taj, we stopped for tea and breakfast included in the tour. The tea here is lovely and different than ours is. The Chai is also tasty! As we exited the bus, lo and behold there was a camel there! I had almost lost faith that I could secure a camel ride as we were not able to budget time to go to Rajisthan where the camels mostly are. However, I clambered ontop of the camel, had many pictures taken for our contest again, and then videoed myself on the camel as we went for a stroll. It was extremely comfortable and would have also been very comfy for two passengers as the hump made two very nice dips in his back for bums.
Inside we went to get our “breakfast”. The tea was lovely…..let’s put it that way. The eggs were hardboiled with the chicken poo still on the outside…and the rest we have blocked out for our only mental preservation. THANK GOODNESS FOR THE FRUIT BARS WE BROUGHT!!!!!
Kelly, this point is for you. Men and women alike are FREAKING out about our nails! They have never seen anything like it here and they are asking to take pictures of them so they can show their women friends another way to beautify themselves. If French manicures take off here, it will be solely your doing! It is hilarious!
On our way again after a scary breakfast and even scarier smellier bathroom stop where we both refused to drop our drawers and decided to hold it until we found something else to satisfy our needs. A girl has to have her standards!
The first stop on our tour then was the seventh castle of something or other…..we can’t remember the name of it, but it was certainly pretty. We were able to see wild monkeys, gazelles and silly silly people forgetting that wild monkeys are just that…..wild! The inside of the shrine part was 74 feet tall with amazing acoustics. There was a “guide” that tried to get us to pay him for blathering on about this and that when I couldn’t understand him half of the time, and another rotten toothed man was trying to force us into paying him for more jibber jabber on stuff, while the guy telling us where to put our shoes also wanted a handout. Our trusty tour bus guide told us of this in advance so we didn’t fall prey to their tricks.
The next stop was Fort Agra. Our pictures will be best to describe this one. We had more people want to take our picture, I guess whities make good photo album additions!
Lunch came next. It was hands down the best meal we have had on the trip. Rice with veggies and black pepper. Maybe it was because we could recognize everything that was in it, maybe because it was piping hot, maybe because we were starved from the lack of breakfast….who knows, but we gobbled it up followed by a bowl of rice, tapicoca, pistachio saffron pudding. Another good dish. Not like the bowl of “rice pudding” we had in Goa with Sonja that seemed to be simply a bowl of hot pablum! Not that it wasn’t tasty, but not what we had expected. This one was delicious!
While Amber was in the washroom, I was looking at the store next to the restaurant, and it was a shame we had to leave as soon as she returned as I found Dannick a sitar that would have made him freak out! Maybe we will find another one on the way….if not, you and Amber will have to make beautiful music together! 🙂
Now the Taj….omg! It was amazing, breathtaking, peaceful, beautiful, serene, holy, awe inspiring and massive all in the same breath. We now know and understand why it is considered one of the great wonders of the world. Sitting on the steps of a tower that even Rapunzel would not have wanted to lower her hair down from it for it was so tall, we marveled at the fact we were really there. They say you can’t even imagine what it is like until you are there, and it is true.
We snapped as many pictures as we could to try and do it justice, but we believe even that was not enough. It was certainly worth the whole journey so far, stinky smells and yucky toilets included. We are now excited to move to our next breath taking adventure in Ellora where the caves are.
Crashing hard into bed was a welcome event. We were out even before our heads hit the pillows!
The next morning we were trying to decide about changing our tickets to leave Delhi early, but were not able to get a hold of the airlines, so we decided to take the day and go have a Auyvedic massage and as well go to Dilli Haat.
First we had to check out of our hotel, get our tickets to Ellora changed and pick up some jewelry purchases I had made.
When we checked out, we were stunned to see our bill. If there were a stronger word here, we would have used it. All the long distance calls we have made prior to this were at long distance telephone booths that charge 6 ruppees per minute. Imagine our shock and dismay when we got our bill charging us 348 ruppes per minute. All of a sudden our phone charges were more than the cost of the room….$800 in phone calls later, we were on our way. Amber however took charge of the situation and demanded the manager make things better, and was able to get him to reduce the costs of the calls by 25%, but it was still a staggering bill. Good thing we are both rich I guess ! lol…live and learn…no point sweating it. Money is only money and will always be there when you need it…
Now, onto better and happier things…onto our massages!
The massage was one where you were stripped down to even less than your skivvies, and then sat on the side of a wooden bed where you then had a woman massaging your head after she poured warm medicinal oil over all your hair and started scrubbing your scalp. Then you are laid down on this wooden massage table with 3 inch sides with your head in a separate pool behind your neck. Simultaneously one woman pours hot oil over your head, starts a drip of continuous oil to run across your forehead over your third eye, two other women start by pouring warm oil over your body and bilaterally massage you from head to toe. There is a fourth woman there who constantly is warming oil and collecting oil to rewarm as they massage you. After about 45 minutes, you are flipped over and the back side of your body is done. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…….imagine hot oil massage by 6 hands for over and hour and a half…..then they wipe you off with towels, and you leave all the oil that wasn’t rubbed off your head in your hair for a conditioning treatment of sorts. You basically leave with your head all greasy for as many hours as you can stand it.
Hopping into another auto rickshaw, we headed over to Dilli Haat. Imagine, in a city of 15 million people to run into someone we knew as soon as we alit from the taxi! Mokul, our trusty tour bus guide was there! He was saying goodbye to his friend and then came with us to tour around the outdoor air market. It was a nice change as you weren’t harassed by street vendors as you walked along, but the same souvenirs were there to buy. I purchased a few things, but can’t say what here and ruin the surprise, but Amber made friends with an Indian woman who did Mendi. The next 20 minutes were spent decorating her right hand and arm with a Henna design of a dancing peacock. It took about an hour to dry, which probably is what saved her budget at the market, cause she couldn’t open her purse to get out money to buy things cause her hand had to be inoperational while it dried. You owe me one Dannick!
We said good bye to Mokul when we left and hopped another rickshaw. On the way there, our driver pulled over, admitted to someone else that he had been drinking, and had his friend drive us the rest of the way home. That was comforting…eek! Freaky.
We were looking to find another internet cafe to use for our blogging purposes at 30 ruppees per hour, instead of the hotel one at 300 ruppees, but the nice man at the front door told us if we wanted to do it then, ~830pm, we would have to hire a cab to drive us there, and then sit and wait for us. We questioned why we couldn’t just take a cab there, do our thing, and then hail another cab back. He explained that it wasn’t safe for us to do that because the cabs that go to the hotels are numbered, registered and they know them. The unwashed masses in the rickshaws could just take us for a ride, and then kill us. Seeings how we had breakfast paid for, we thought it would be better to not miss it by being dead, so we spent the extra bucks to use our hotel computer instead.
When we came home to our other hotel the night before in an auto rickshaw, it apparently was the worst thing in the world according to the reaction of the door staff. It was like a prison break! The flood lights came on, dogs were unleashed, guards came – guns in hand…all because it potentially could have compromised the security of the hotel. What was funny was only moments before Amber had asked if such a fancy place would let in an auto rickshaw…. can you tell we aren’t used to the 5 star treatment ?!?
We spent last evening in the Connaught Hotel just down the street. Our previous hotel was booked for last night, so we made alternate arrangements. Now we are all caught up on our blogging, which is nice, and in a few hours we board another plane to Aurangabad to go to Ellora. Not sure what we will find there, but whatever it holds, you will be told!
My hands are cramping, so I will say goodbye for now.
Annie and Amber