|We started the morning with a 2-dollar breakfast, which included French toast, omelettes, buttered toast, chai tea, and many flies. As Mark lifted a bite of his scrumptious coconut encrusted toast into his mouth, a commotion exploded on the tin roof above. After a bout of fierce shrieking, a monkey launched himself from the roof and deftly caught himself on the electrical wires threaded over the streets. After another fierce discussion between the now dangling monkey and his pursuer, our little friend dropped to the street 10 feet below and scampered away. Our host, Bobby, didn't bat an eyelid, and neither did the various cows resting in the middle of all the traffic below. This was just another day in India. Why should they get excited? Bobby did go on to explain that the monkeys are thieves. They rob the restaurant of its food if no one stands guard, and if they can manage to steal a person's personal belongings, they tear them to shreds, unless given something to eat. Incidentally, a monkey did launch himself in front of Mika at the train station trying to get at a bag of food she was carrying...yes, this is only one of the mad capped ways to start the day in a country where anything goes!
We arrived here in Agra, after a 2-hour confusion of how to go about buying train tickets. We ventured from the safety of Karl and Siobhan's abode and set of for Agra from Delhi bright and early in the morning. Little did we know that the train ride to Agra would be the smoother and easier than the ones to come.
Mika, having just vomited the day before (still sick two weeks after the Giardia we caught back in Africa), began to feel quite irritated with everything. Both of our senses were on overdrive. Every whiff brought on a bout of nautiousness. Mika felt a headache coming on, perhaps from the air pollution. By the way, not even the people here can stand the air quality. Many Indian people walked around with a scarf or handkerchief over their nose and mouth. We were also suffering from purposely starving and dehydrating ourselves because we didn't want to have to use the bathroom while we were out in public. Often there were no public toilets, and we've witnessed many who squat in plain view on the streets to relieve themselves. Toilet paper apparently is unnecessary when one has his left hand. Public toilets, if we happened to find one, were usually of the squat kind, with a strategically placed cup under the tap for us to use and wash ourselves in lieu of using toilet paper. Better for the environment? Sure! Bad for the hygiene!
Having only 1 day to explore Agra, we decided to hire a tuk-tuk driver to take us around on a city tour. It turned out to be a sour deal for us since our driver overpriced us as well as spent most of his energy taking us from one high priced shop to another (where he undoubtedly received a commission if we bought anything.) So, we spent most of our afternoon politely listening to one sales pitch after another, trying to escape the stores without having to be forced to buy something. Mika did end up buying a silver ring with an opal stone at a price three times lower than what the sales person originally wanted, and we did manage to witness some interesting scenes along the way. So it wasn't a total loss. One such scene was seeing the people here, including hotel workers, doing their laundry along the river. We've seen washings such as this in South America, but what made this one particularly memorable was the fact that the people hung their clothes on lines situated in the middle of a trash landfill where cows and pigs sifted through the rubble and people squatted to relieve themselves. It left us to wonder if they realized that their clothes and hotel lines were dirtier after the wash than before. Plus, the stench was unbearable!
The real reason, however, for coming to Agra was to see the legendary Taj Mahal. One of the Mughal emperors had it built in memory of his 2nd wife who died at childbirth. At sunset, we saw this amazing marble creation with its beautiful gemstone inlay work, clean and well cared for, a stark contrast to the rest of the environment around it. It's still mind blowing to think that the Taj is a mere tomb. A grand one at that!
As we retired to our hostel in the evening, Mika washed herself clean of the day's dirt and grime using a bucket of hot water a hotel worker brought us. No, there were no hot showers! Surprise, surprise.