Travel day: Jodhpur to Agra. We took a 12 HR train ride today so we could get to Agra at night, stay over, and be up to see the Taj at sunrise the next day. We literally sat there for the entire day, so not much to write about. When we got out of the train station, many drivers came up asking if we needed a ride (as usual) and one guy was particularly friendly, so James agreed to go with him. I try to stay out of these decisions since I think it'd compromise james' ability to bargain down the price. We asked how much, and the driver said "no problem. I take you first, then you pay as you like." Big mistake. He was super friendly, and told us about all these hotels he knew for a good price, but we knew they do this and have commission deals with the places they mention, so we told him had a reservation at the first place on our list and went there to check out a room. India 101: never book ahead until you've seen a room. There are no assumptions here, including standards of cleanliness.
Turns out the place we wanted was full, and we didn't really know many other places, so we agreed to go look at this place the driver suggested. James went inside to look, and I stayed in the car with the luggage and driver. It was fine for a while, but James was gone for a long time and the driver started getting creepy, telling me about his workout plan and flexing his muscles. Thankfully, James came back shortly after to say the room was fine-we were only here for one night- and I took my bags inside. The driver had been trying to convince us to hire him for the day tomorrow to take us to all the major sights, but we knew his price was obscenely expensive so I let James decline for the both of us. I headed inside at a good moment apparently, because the driver got extremely upset. It didn't help that James paid him 100 rupees for the ride from the station. Sorry buddy, but if you didn't quote a price ahead of time and say "as you like", sometimes you're gonna get tourists who actually know what things cost. Can't scam us, we've been in India too long!
James came inside and relayed this development to me, just as the driver walked in behind him, past the check in counter, and into the hotel restaurant, where he also works. SHIT. we spent half the night terrified our food was poisoned, and the other half waiting to hear the lock on the door turn. I definitely checked to make sure my limbs were still intact the next morning. Lesson learned: be very wary of drivers that seem too nice, because they probably are.
We woke up at 5:30 am to make it to the Taj Mahal for 6 am, when it opens for the day. 750 rupees for entrance is highway robbery, but I guess that's what a Wonder of the World costs nowadays. After dodging the annoyingly persistent guides trying to get our business, we headed to the entrance. Since this was the main attraction and the whole reason we came to Agra, we had packed snacks so we could stay for most of the day. Of course food isn't allowed, and there's no signs to indicate this. Thatd be too efficient. There were storage lockers a 5 minute walk away, and I was not about to waste perfectly good granola bars. I peeled a banana on the way over, only to come face to face with a particularly aggressive looking monkey who was staring me down. I attempted to deak him out, but he bared his teeth and growled, so i hurled said banana in the opposite direction and booked it. I arrived at the storage room only to find out it costs money. Of course. Out of principle, I refused to pay, and ate my granola bars sullenly as I made my way back to the entrance. Bureaucracy...
We finally got into the grounds and began walking when I caught my first glimpse of the domed roof sparkling in the distance. I'm rarely awestruck, but the Taj has to be up there with one of the most incredible things I've ever seen. It's so perfect, it doesn't look real. It looks cartoon-I felt like I had stepped into the world of Aladdin or something.
For those of you that don't know, the story goes something like this: after the Shah Jahan's wife Mehmtez Mahal died giving birth to their 14th child, he was heartbroken. He built the Taj Mahal as a memorial to her. It took twenty thousand workers over 33 years to build the structure. When his son grew up he overthrew the father and imprisoned him in Agra Fort across the river, where the Shah was forced to look at his creation every day until he died there.
After we exhausted our photographic options at the Taj, we got tired of the touristy atmosphere (if it was this crowded at sunrise, I shudder to think of what it must be like during peak hours), so we decided to check out the Agra Fort. My dashing good looks awarded me free admission for being 14 and under, so we wandered around there for a bit, but it wasn't very impressive, especially having seen the fort in Jodhpur and the Taj itself.
We saw signs for a golf course so we decided to check it out. How cool would it be to play 9 with the Taj in the background? Unfortunately, Indian logic proved too much for us to handle, and we decided a thousand rupees plus a mandatory caddie, and no left-handed clubs (I'm difficult, I know) was not worth it.
We pretty much exhausted our options for activities in Agra at that point--it really hasn't got much to offer other than the Taj, so I'm really glad we only spent one day there. I got some postcards and we hung out at a coffee shop, writing while it rained outside. We had dinner at Pizza Hut before catching our first overnight train to Varanasi, where we're spending the last three days before flying to Nepal.