Due to the inavailability of train tickets over the weekend, I ended up going to Agra alone on Monday. James will have to come back with some other tourist friend. Agra is an industrialized city, with little to offer other than the Taj, the former capitol at the Red Fort, and a few other tombs. As a result, the tourist trade is incredibly aggressive and pushy, vying for the foreigners that come in on the morning train. I tried to avoid some of this by getting a prepaid taxi for the day, but this only resulted in my being taken to several “art gallerys.” I ended up lugging home an inlaid marble chess set and some other goodies. Being an inexpert bargainer, I probably paid more than I should, but that always seems to be the case.
The Taj Mahal is probably the most well known piece of archicture in the world, but that doesn’t stop it from being breathtaking in person. What pictures don’t indicate is just how big the thing is. The standard shot with the reflection in the water is taken from quite a distance away. As you get closer, the 52 meter onion dome looms overhead. The place is crawling with tourists, but they seem to stay on the central axis of symmetry. Getting off to the side, I found a nice bench to take a nap in the shade. I tried to stay until sunset, but clouds loomed and the light faded around 5.
At the Taj
I spent a few hours in the train station pestered by mobs of small children, giving money to cripples. Call me a sucker, but 10 rupees means nothing to me, and is food for a day for someone else. James says it’s counterproductive, and he’s probably right, but I still can’t bring myself to just brush them off as well as some of the other tourists can.
After spending a whole day enjoying Amman’s lovely airport, I arrived in Delhi at 5am local time. James was good enough to meet me, and his larger than life presence in the arrival hall was a reassuring sign. He had stayed up all night working in preparation for my arrival (dressing the elephants, and so forth). So logically, we spent the early morning wandering around the Safdejang enclave where he lives. It’s a little outside the main urban center of Delhi, but still within the metropolitan area.
The city is as mad as it has been described, with autorickshaws, motorbikes, Ambassador cabs, cows and pedestrians all jostling for space on the road. James reminded me of the effective rules for right of way, with cows at the top and pedestrians firmly on the bottom rung. One has to remember to look left, as traffic nominally flows the opposite direction. But in reality one must be aware at all times, as there is the constant danger of being run down, or at the very least stepping in shit.
After a brief nap, we ventured out to do the touristy things that James had yet to do. We went to India Gate, a memorial to the 70,000 WWI dead, and a seeming replica of the Arc de Triomph. We walked along the national mall to the Presidential palace, where we were denied entry by the very friendly security guards. Then we took the ultramodern subway to the Red Fort, which was built by Shah Jahan, the same Mughal emperor who built the Taj Mahal. Looking at these monuments, it’s easy to see how he bankrupted the empire with his extravagance.
James at India Gate
Looking at a map, and discussing options with James’ tour guide roommate, we’ve tentatively decided to go to Agra to see the Taj this weekend, and then take next week to go up to the mountains to Dharamsala. Not a bad end to an extraordinary trip.