Day 12: Jaipur - Agra
Our long bus ride to Agra was actually quite fun. I enjoyed watching the parade of farm land with its rows of cabbage and other green crops being tended by mostly women. Restaurants with clever names like “Eating and Meeting,” fruit and grocery vendor stands, and the omnipresent cow broke up the monotony. Small shops popped up on the highway in front of modest villages tucked just behind. Still lots of motorcycles and scooters honking and beeping with abandon but at a much reduced volume than in the major cities. Our bus took a planned washroom break at a roadside park facility, and imagine our surprise when we came upon an undeniably penis shaped cannon demurely parked next to a tree. No sign, no marker, no nothing, but it does make one wonder what kind of weapon the other side had.
If I had to get bad karma, I think I lucked out. Fresh on the heels of our luxurious stay in Jaipur, our next hotel in Agra made no pretense that it ain’t no palace. The ITC Mughal certainly looked nice enough on the outside, but I think they assigned us the rooms that they are planning to refurbish—someday. We walked into our ground floor room and the first thing I see in the distance is a raised platform in the left corner facing a large window. I thought it might be a stage for performance art, but I was afraid to ask the front desk what kind of shows get booked in a bedroom. Once I got closer, I could see that it was a triangular cushion installed on the floor, just in case the maharaja dropped by I guess. I could deal with the faded temple glory decor, but the dangling shower handle, toxic level air freshener, and HVAC set to “Sauna,” was more punishment than I thought I deserved for enjoying my palace life so much. It was only for one night, so I got over myself and vowed to be a better person from that day forward.
Of all the headlines the BBC could produce while I was on vacation, the one I least needed to see was “Monkey Kills Baby Boy in India.” And just before you tell me that India is a big country, the story made it clear that it occurred recently in the town of Agra. The town to which we were headed.
We had seen several monkeys lining the roof tops of buildings in the cities as well as in small villages, but they left me alone, and I did the same. The scariest sighting was a pack of about ten or so raiding a dumpster on a city street. Thank God I was in a bus at the time or I wouldn’t be around today writing this little tome.
Our first tourist stop in Agra today was to visit Agra Fort, one of the finest examples of early Muslim forts in the whole country. I walked in to the entry arch with our tour group minding my own business when John, thinking only of my welfare I’m sure, told me to look up. Fool that I am, I listened to him, and that’s when I spotted a lone monkey, just waiting on the rafters for his next victim. You’ll be pleased to know that I made it to the other side unscathed, and my increased heart rate and profuse sweating may or may not be related.
The fort itself is huge and amazing. Its original design was as a military structure but later Shah Jahan (of Taj Mahal fame) expanded it into a palace. The maze of buildings in red sandstone seem to go on forever and the white marble royal quarters were surrounded by courtyard after courtyard. Inlaid marble and mirrored halls foreshadowed the even more incredible artistry of the Taj Mahal we are to see tomorrow.
Our guide, Ravi, was able to arrange a trip later in the day to see the back side of the Taj Mahal as a teaser to our full tour the next day. We walked through the beautiful Mehtab Bagh Park and got our first oohs and aah’s out of the way as the orange sun started to set in the pink sky. We took every combination of picture we could think of to prove that we were actually there and finally made our way back for our last group dinner of the trip.
We start our day tomorrow with an on site visit to the Taj Mahal and then we travel by bus to New Delhi where the trip will end. John and I will stay in Delhi for a couple more days, and Eileen and Cindy will head back on an early am flight on Sunday morning. It’s been an incredible journey so far, and I’m thinking I’m earning big Karma points for being so brave in the face of danger, i.e. the monkey thing. Given that my only bad Karma has been one night in a less than wonderful hotel room, I’m feeling pretty hopeful that I’ll be able to leave Agra without being the next news story on the BBC.