It is 4:30 am once again, and I have finished sleeping. My body has attuned itself to this time it appears, despite any desires to be able to sleep longer.
We had a tiring day yesterday, getting up early to meditate, eat some breakfast, pack up, settle with the hotel, get the porters to help carry all our luggage through the maze of lanes, avoiding poop bombs, and stuff everything into a car by 8 am to the airport - a time advised by the hotel staff, so we wouldn't get caught in the traffic snarls of Varanasi, and miss our noon flight to Agra. Leaving so early, the traffic was light, and it only took an hour and 15 minutes, so when we arrived at the terminal, our Air India counter didn't open for two more hours, then the flight was late, and we had another hour to wait in the gate area. Sometimes it's more tiring to wait than it is to actually travel. But these are first world problems.
I had arranged to have a car waiting when we arrived, and have found the price to be similar to getting a taxi, but with a driver who actually knows where the hotel is. It takes a lot of stress away, at the destination end of flying. The mixture of smog and cloud matched the cooler temperature of about 18 degrees, and felt quite different from our last weeks further south in the heat.
We're staying at the Pyrenees Homestay, run by a guy named Kamal that I have been WhatsApping for months, as he has also made arrangements for a car to take us on the rest of our journey for the next 5 days. By the time we arrived at the hotel we realized we would need a larger (more expensive) vehicle to hold all our luggage and Jud's 6'5" frame. Sorting all that, getting our rooms, and having Kamal hire a tuk tuk driver for transportation to get to the Taj Mahal, meant a late start around 3:30 pm.
The Taj Mahal as you might know is one of the seven wonders of the world, and is a tribute to love. The Shah Jahan, of the Moghul period, built this spectacular tribute out of marble and semi precious stones for his beloved wife and princess Moti Mahal. Some have written about magical attributes associated with the structure. Jud tells me that all the roofs were covered in gold at one time, and the British pillaged it. I had not heard that before.
Every time I have been to the Taj something wonderful has taken place, and this time, despite the hordes of people, it was cool (not oppressively hot like previously), and I had my family with me, which is a blessing and a miracle, compared to 40 years ago. Jud had a unique experience when a couple of workers doing restoration work, took him down below one of the minaret style turrets, at the back left hand corner of the complex. He said there are tunnels all over down there, with huge rooms, and he saw a hundred-person ancient toilet area. Monkeys were climbing all around the turrets, and the roof top near the main dome, and I hadn't seen them there before.
It began to rain as dusk was settling and the crowds thinned out so that I was the only person in the mosque to the left of the main Taj, while Jud went below ground, and Brian got separated from us while needing to use the facilities. Of coarse Jud's phone died then, and I hadn't brought mine, so it took about an hour to eventually regroup near the main entrance. Fortunately, with both men having unique personas, they stand out in a crowd, and we found each other.
Our tuk tuk driver took us to a Muslim restaurant when the men asked him for a place that sold chicken dishes. It was our most expensive meal of the holiday, but the food was outstanding. With Jud starting to feel feverish, and me starting to get achey bones and a sore throat, we were not impressed with the tuk tuk driver taking us to two marble factory shops trying to get a commission on anything we might buy. When he insisted on taking us to a leather shop, we insisted that he not!
He was also very indignant at the tip I handed him, and I had to get Kamal to explain that the hotel had hired him on our behalf, and that they were paying him for his services. (I think this is because Kamal has charged us a lot for the rental car for the next five days, and Jud is protective of us, and wanted to go elsewhere.). As for me, at this stage, I am just happy to have obtained a vehicle which will be large enough and a driver who will be safe enough, and who won't take us half way there and dump us.
Because these men of mine refuse to take the trains and buses in India, we are having to fly to each place, and when that is not possible, we have to hire a car and driver. It was outstanding to have had Babu's help in arranging for a car and driver while we were in Kerala. Someone safe, reliable, with a decent vehicle, who could understand and speak enough English to get us where we needed to go.
Early to bed, in our funny rooms with a leaking toilet, and a tiny sheet spread sideways over the king sized bed. Not a five star, but with the included breakfast, it can meet our needs for the night. And it has wifi!
And now the early morning Muslim call to prayer is ringing through the air, so it's time to meditate and begin some more adventures. I can't seem to upload any photos so it might be the wifi, or I might be out of journal space. Hoping it's the first.