July 15th, Agra
Well every tourist has to do it when they are in India, it was our turn to go and check out the marvel that is the Taj Mahal! The Taj is in the the city of Agra, an old city that used to be rather wealthy but was unfortunately overrun with industry and is now a bit of a lack luster city – which is a shame. We arrive, of course, by train – another 20 odd hour journey from Jaisalmer, and met a British couple on the train, Matt and April. We all checked into the same hotel and enjoyed a meal in their air-con restaurant, the Kingfisher tasted extra good after a long long journey! Jono and I made plans to get up early (5:30) and hit the Taj before the masses of touists arrived and before it got stinking hot!
Remarkably, we woke up to our alarm at 5:30 and surfaced straight away – although we were not feeling on top of our game! This was quickly proven when we went to the ticket office to purchase our 750 rupee ticket to the Taj; both of us handing over 1,000 rupee and not waiting or asking for the change when the operater took our money!! We both laughed pretty hard about it an hour and a half later when somehow I recalled that we had not got our 250 rupee change – shocker!
Thankfully the get up early tactic worked, there weren’t too many people about and it was a bearable temperature. The river behind tha Taj had a mist hanging over it which looked pretty cool too. We walked through the grounds of the Taj and then took a couple of the typical photo’s – photo of the Taj and it’s reflection in the pond in front and of course an asian squat pose; mainly only typical for Jono and I not really anyone else! We went up onto the marble floors of the Taj and walked around inside it – it contains some amazing inlays (designs cut into the marble using colored stone) and the carving in the marble is also very impressive, especially the carving right up in the ceiling. After visitng the inside we wandered about the back of the Taj looking out over the river and sat about on the steps chatting about life – in all fairness the early morning was hurting and we needed a sit down!
Both Jono and I agreed that the Taj was definitely the most impressive building we had seen to date on the trip, although Angkor Wat came a very close second! It is very different to Angkor Wat temples, the temples at Hampi etc – best way to describe it would be to say that it’s more beautiful and peaceful (apart from tourists). The strange thing is, both Jono and I thought this, the Taj from a distance looked smaller than we expected, but up close it was much larger than we expected.
We spent the rest of the day chilling in Agra – at this stage we are starting to feel pretty knackered from all the travelling and were feeling the heat in Agra! Coffee Day looked after us with a couple of good latte’s and then at 5:30 we took the train from Agra station up to Dehli – arriving there around 9pm. This was the last train we would take in India, the trains had given us a true Indian experience and had been part of the adventure – although we were certainly glad to see the back of them, 24 hour train journeys are fun but a 4 hour flight was a lot more appealing. We did next to nothing in Dehli, lapped up a bit of luxury in our hotel, enjoyed some air-con, watched the British Open (golf) and had one last meal to send of India. This meal was definitely a good one, we started with a meat platter (meats that had been cooked in the tandoor or fried in spices) followed up with a chicken Khadai for me and a Mutton curry for Jono; washed down with three very cold and very rewarding Kingfishers.
Farewell India – a country that I cannot explain in one sentence. Incredible India (the Indian Tourism catch phrase) is pretty well accurate. We’ve met some of the loveliest people on the trip, some of the most honest people on the trip and then of course a bunch of people who weren’t always honest with us in trying to get a bit of business. But you do understand why they do it, they have nothing to lose and the next guy is going to do the same thing so they follow suit. Walking around the streets of the small towns and the big cities, we were constantly reminded of the poverty that exists in India – it makes you appreciate what we have in NZ. We wonder what it will take in India to start to remove elements of poverty, it seems as though the government are focussed on developing big business (IT, Banking, Film)…so why not basic infrastructure like roading, sewerage and water. Especially in a country with 1 billion people, why not setup working gangs to clean up the streets, the cost of labour is low and the money paid to those involved would improve their qualiy of living. Obviously easier said than done and I’m unaware of the complexities involved, but I struggle to see how the Indian econonmy will truly meet it’s potential when some of the basic infrastructure is crippled.
But of course – I’ll be back to India to expereince different parts of the country, meet some more lovely people and without a doubt get stuck into all sorts of different curries and try to beat my chipati record of 11!
Good-bye India – it’s been magic!