After our day of sighseeing, Paul and I awoke the next day with grand plans for the morning, as we would be leaving for Agra in the afternoon. He planned to relax in the Diggi's courtyard, and I planned to explore Jaipur's glorious textiles on a shopping trip. We did not, however, understand how long it would take a book a train ticket from Agra to Delhi on India Railways' baffling website on excruciatingly slow internet. Two hours, if you are wondering. And after toiling away we realized that we had somehow bought two waitlist spots on the train. We didn't even know what that meant, but were so sick of the whole undertaking at that point that we didn't even care.
After scouting out the public transportation options from Jaipur to Agra, we decided that hiring a driver was our best bet, unless we were in the mood to take a bus with no air conditioning. So Ajay sent his "brother" over to drive us.
We piled into the clean, air conditioned Toyota minivan and were soon on our way.
We waved goodbye to Jaipur...
...and in no time were on the open road.
I have heard horror stories about Indian drivers, but I have to say I found them to be overblown. Drivers there are skilled, it's just that the traffic rules and conventions are somewhat more...flexible, shall we say, than they are in the US. For instance, it was not unusual to be driving down the highway and suddenly be faced with oncoming traffic, a phenomenon that our driver always handled calmly and with great aplomb. The trick is just that as an American you should never try to drive in India, as your expectations of road conditions can never come close to conforming to the reality, and as a result you will be the bad motorist on the road.
After a longer drive than we had anticipated, we arrived in Agra as dusk was falling. We had been warned that the city was a cesspool (hugely corrupt state apparently, and as a consequence no money is ever spent on infrastructure) and that was as apt a description as there could be. The traffic in town was epic, more people were barefoot than shod and the air quality was stunningly bad. We were staying in a hotel that no one seemed to have heard of (everything else was booked, and this was low season!) so it took ages to find our destination. By the time we arrived we were bone tired and ready for a quick dinner and bed.
The hotel staff met us with the foulest smelling drink I've ever encountered, quite literally the aroma of a stinkbomb with a taste to match. We sat on a couch in the lobby, just thrilled to be out of the car, and waited for the staff to check us in. One hitch, they couldn't find our reservation and the hotel was booked. Paul roared, I cried, and miraculously they found a suite to put us in. The room, about twice the size of our New York City apartment, was quite nice in the end.
After dinner (although Paul had a curry, I opted for corn soup and a springroll...after the day we'd had I just wanted something bland and easy) we headed down to the cafe in the lobby to watch some soccer and share a banana split. Then bedtime.
We arose at 5:15 the next morning, eager to see the great Taj Mahal at dawn.
There were few people when we arrived, but we were greeted by a monkey eating an actual banana.
The wonderful thing about the Taj Mahal is that you can't actually see much of it until you are right upon it. It is obscured first by a great wall around the complex and then by this gate.
But once through the gate it greets you with breathtaking grace and dignity. It is perhaps odd to call a building ethereal, but it truly was. It almost seemed like it was floating in mid-air. I've never seen anything like it.
As the sun began to rise, the hue of the Taj's white marble skewed pink.
It truly was a marvel to behold.
Facing the Yamuna River, the Taj Mahal (the tomb of a king's wife) was supposed to have been facing its onyx twin across the river, which would have been the tomb of the king, so the two might lay together in eternity.
But the king's son, alarmed by the bill the original tomb had racked up, ousted his father to prevent him from sinking yet more of the kingdom's money into his own tomb. Paul was despondent about the lack of the onyx Taj Mahal once he heard the story.
But not so despondent that he could ignore the human beauty on the site. I was so taken with this family that I begged him to snap a photo.
Our tour, given by yet another fantastic tour guide, was now complete, and we were escorted out.
We headed back to the hotel for breakfast,
and a stroll. At 9:00 the heat was already stifling,
so we headed upstairs for a snooze before our train back to Delhi.
Our tour of the Golden Triangle was nearly complete.