We rise at 6 am to ready ourselves for a 12 hour bus trip with some stops. There are many forms of transportation as we head out of the Ranthambore National Park area en route to Agra. We pass scooters with 3 and 4 people astride, bullock carts which always remind me of bible stories, gaily decorated tractors hauling sand for road construction, a van filled with cauliflower, auto rickshaws, bicycle rickshaws, bicycles with three people aboard, donkey carts, wedding carts, huge trucks loaded with supplies for city folk, jeeps, tourist buses filled with rich whites foreigners, tourist buses "filled with arrogant rich Indians who are used to ordering their servants around" (according to our local guide who won't escort Indian tourists ever again), local buses crammed with local people like sardines in a can, cows, brahma bulls, loose pigs, goats, dogs, short utility vehicles with lots of decorative artistry along with the inevitable sign painted all across the back saying "Horn Please", and thousands of pedestrians, many carrying heavy loads on their heads.
We stopped during the day for several pit stops to relieve ourselves and pick up purchases. We also went for lunch at a lovely palace cum gift shop with a great buffet supplied by the tour. Our morning venture was a short stop at a colourful Hindu temple, and in the afternoon we stopped an eleven hundred year old "step well" that was mostly destroyed by Moghul invaders, and then at a "ghost city", filled with thousands of tourists. Known as Fatehpur Sikri, it was built by the Moghul ruler, Akbar the Great, in the 1540's after 15 years of construction, outs of red sandstone. It is famous also as the site of the Sepoy Mutiny when the British were ruling. I had read a number of books about the place, and the mutiny, but had always skipped over the name, not knowing what or where it was, so it was great to put some perspective onto my memories. We arrived at dusk, and enjoyed the cool air of about 29 degrees.
Akbar was a Moghol (Muslim) conqueror with a great heart. He wanted to show religious tolerance and so had his three wives, each from a different culture and religion. He built a special Hindu temple for his Hindu wife, the daughter of Man Singh, the creator of the Amber Fort in Jaipur; he built a separate palace for his Christian (Albanian) wife, and also had a Muslim wife from Persia (Iran).
Later, on the road, in the dark, we were stopped in a traffic jam for over an hour with vehicles piled up in four directions as far as the eye could see in the hazey darkness. It turned out to be at the ring road around Agra where all the transport trucks were gridlocked at a junction.
Our guide tells us Agra is an ugly city, one of India's ugliest, just a large overgrown village known for four things: shoes made of cow and water buffalo leather, white pumpkin candy, the Taj, and an asylum. Personally I always think of white marble with inlays of semiprecious stones when Agra is mentioned, as there are many small villages leading into the city where most of the residents appear to be working in stone, and also that is what the Taj is composed of. I notice the foul smell through the bus ventilation system and see open sewers in places.
We finally wend our way through the narrow, bustling, noisy streets filled with venders spilling into the path of the traffic, and shoppers out to get the late bargains of half-priced day old vegetables and fruits, to arrive at our hotel, only 45 minutes behind schedule, after 13 hours on the bus. The Courtyard Marriot looks very inviting.