|Another phenomenal breakfast from our lovely hosts at Jaipur Haveli to start the day! Wish we had more room to eat as the food just keeps on coming.
Today we are heading to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal.
First stop on our journey from Jaipur is a stepwell (which is even more amazing than the stepwell we had seen the prior day). Only sour note was the ridiculous cost for entrance (500 rupees for a site that can be seen in 5 - 15 minutes max). To put it into context - the Taj Mahal tickets (which I purchased online) only cost 1100 rupees per person, and Jantar Mantar tickets were only 300 or 400 rupees per person (and is a far more interesting site). The stepwell was off the beaten trail and we never would have seen it but for the suggestion of our driver. Despite the cost it was a worthwhile side trip. Coming out of the stepwell we are given a performance by a young boy of about 10 years of age, doing slight of hand and the old shell game. Very impressive. He had coins falling from Eleri's mouth and from Theo's ... (we will say shorts!). Kept us enthralled for fully 5 - 10 minutes. At the end of the performance I gave him 100 rupees and he seemed quite pleased.
For lunch our driver stopped at a restaurant which was another of his tourist specials. A bowl of rice was 250 rupees ($5.00 Cdn)...seriously. Thankfully our breakfast was holding up well and we just had a small lunch or we may have been obliged to take out a loan to pay for our meal. I've got to be pretty hungry before I am going to spring for $5.00 fora bowl of plain rice!
We arrived in Agra around 4:00, so we were in time to get to the Red Fort before it closed at 5:30 p.m. As the fort is so extensive we retained the services of a guide and were glad that we did. He pointed out so many interesting aspects of the fort that we would never have even noticed if we had just wandered about. One really cool optical illusion involved the Taj Mahal. You can see the Taj Mahal from the river side of the fort and although it is relatively close it still is a ways off and looks not very large, however, from the courtyards of the maharajah's daughters (two of them), when you walk away from the Taj Mahal and go further into the courtyard the Taj Mahal seems to grow in size. Really an interesting illusion based on focal points and framing of an object. In the elder daughter's rooms we also saw some hiding places where she could hide her money or valuables to keep them out of sight. They were so obscure that they would never have been noticed without the guide pointing them out.
So, we had a great tour of the Red Fort and headed to our hotel to check in...get our bags out of the car and Marlys notices that she doesn't have her hat! This is a hat that has seen a lot of trips and she really didn't want to give it up...so we left the kids to check into our hotel (fortunately this was the nicest hotel we were staying at for our trip and we weren't worried about their safety) and raced back to the fort. Arrived at the fort just at 5:30 and they are closing the gates, talked our way into the fort, then talked our way past the security guards, raced up the ramp to the suspected location of the hat, and SUCCESS! Against all odds the hat was still there and we then headed back to the car so we could go back to our hotel again.
The hotel had been booked as part of the package with our car and driver so it was nicer than most of the hotels we had been staying in to date. Nicer means, in this context, having greater amenities, better quality of room and lots more staff. Arriving back to the hotel we went to the front desk and discovered that Eleri and Theo have completely checked us in AND they got an upgrade for our rooms to two rooms which both have a view of the Taj Mahal...how sweet was that! Way to go kids!!
For dinner we elected to eat at the hotel and only after going down to the hotel dining room discovered that it is Italian dining only (the room service menu gave no hint of this little twist). Too tired to go out, we have some Italian inspired Indian food...meaning it was interesting but not really a replacement for Italian food. Pizza without pork products...how do you have pepperoni pizza without pork? The answer is that it is pepperoni in name only. So, the general consensus was they tried really hard but didn't quite pull it off. Not bad, but not really good either!
We headed to bed right after dinner as we are going to be up early to see the Taj Mahal at sunrise (the gates open at 6:00 a.m.).