India: Oct 10: Travel from Delhi to Agra and Agra Itself

Our main activity of the day was catching the train to Agra, the town adjacent to the Taj Mahal.

These pictures add color and detail to the day's narrative.

We had to rush to catch the train because I took my time in the morning because no one told me we were in a hurry. (I didn't know we changed the plan of which train we would take.) We made it to the train station in time, a credit due to our host's crazy driving. For this reason, I didn't have time to take any pictures on the way to or of the station.

Once in Agra, we took a rickshaw to our hotel, dropped off our stuff, and then departed to stroll around Agra. Agra's a small town, and intensely smelly. We walked by open sewers to get from our hotel to a market. During the walk, N remarked, "Mombasa was dirty; this is filthy." She also said a statement which I'll paraphrase: "If this is character, I don't need character."

On the way, we passed cows, water buffalo, and a tame elephant being ridden.

After exploring the rustic section of Agra, we returned to our hotel to change for our evening adventures.

First, we negotiated a rickshaw to take us to Amarvilas, one of the most famous, fancy, luxury hotels in the world (and one of the top two in India). We wanted to see it and decided to have drinks there and see its view of the Taj.

We negotiated a price of 20 rupees for the rickshaw ride for the three of us. Our rickshaw driver picked up some locals on the way going in the same direction; they hung off the sides of the rickshaw. As he charged them 5 rupees each, it seems N's negotiation skills must've been fairly good.

As Amarvilas is where high-rolling tourists stay and it's near the Taj, as we got to the area, we were surrounded by touts selling all sorts of a stuff, as well as a few malformed beggars.

Amarvilas is a very fancy, luxurious hotel, located on its own lands well secluded from the dirt and poverty that make up the rest of Agra. There were probably more help/staff, nicely uniformed with turbans, than guests. They can do that because they charge so much; it's extraordinarily expensive even by US standards: $1100 US per night, with most bottles of wine costing $100 US each.

While drinking in Amarvilas, we heard sundown prayers from a mosque a sizable distance away. As we heard the same in Old Delhi the previous night, this was becoming a common experience.

After drinks, we headed to Shankara Vegis for dinner, partially because diners eat outside on a fourth story rooftop. It turned out to be an especially great time to eat above the street: while we ate, the streets filled with a parade in honor of the wedding of Rama (a Hindu deity). Although his wedding was in nine days, for every night approaching the date there was a procession that lasted all night, until 5am. Our rooftop seats allowed us to see a ton and take many pictures and videos.

Not everyone in the restaurant enjoyed its location. Indeed, one woman nearby looked unhappy, stressed, and over-stimulated by the lights, sounds, and scene. (Given my experiences thus far in the bazaars, I can certainly understand the sentiment.) Perhaps it was further exacerbated by the amount of pollution rising from all floats, each with its own generator.

As for dinner itself, all the dishes were soupy, not restaurant quality--more like home cooking. We didn't mind much because we were there for the atmosphere. The most remarkable feature of the experience was that our dinner, at a bit over 100 rupees total, was as expensive as each drink we had at Amarvilas.

After dinner, we went to another nice hotel (though nowhere near as extravagant as Amarvilas), the Taj View Hotel, for dessert in one of its attached restaurants, Aashiyaana.

When we finally returned to our hotel, it was locked. Scary! Yelling got the door opened.

And that's the day.

No comments: