All That Taj
Trip Start Jan 03, 2012
163Trip End May 02, 2013
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While waiting for the train, crowds of people were sleeping and eating on the concrete platform. It was a shaky but reasonably comfortable three hour ride on fold-down beds.
In India, trains are the primary people movers. A number approximating the entire population of Canada rides the rails every day. The government trains and stations are not flashy, overly clean or well-signed, but they get people from point A to point B rather smoothly and efficiently when compared to most of the country's roads
On arrival in Agra, a helpful hint from an Indian traveller confirmed what we already knew so after checking in at the tourist office, we proceeded to the prepaid auto-rickshaw booth and hired a ride to our hotel. After listening to his stories and reading through his book of testimonials we decided to hire KK to be our rickshaw driver for the entire day. He waited while we settled into our slightly disappointing hotel and then we hit the road.
Our first stop was Itimad Ud Daulah, nicknamed the 'Baby Taj' due to its similar design. It was beautiful. As the first Mughal structure built completely of marble and decorated with pietra dura, it, like the Taj Mahal, also lies on a bank of the Yamuna River.
Next he drove us to Chini-ka-Rauza, a Persian-style tomb also on the river. The crumbling exterior tile work and interior painting had their own separate, but equally appealing, beauty.
KK then took us to a working farm growing aubergine (eggplant), cauliflower, chilies and herbs. The farmers lived in simple huts made of straw and mud. It had a view of the Taj Mahal over the fields, but it was a bit too hazy to fully appreciate.
For a closer view he dropped us off and we walked down toward the Yamuna. From there we could see thousands of people swarming the main reason most people end up in Agra. A little further along, we paid 100 rupees (~$2) to enter the gardens of Mehtab Bagh
KK's tour also included a walk to the riverbank where people were washing clothing and linens for businesses in the city. They placed everything in large vats of river water loaded with chemical solvents instead of soap, because the latter was too expensive. The whole mix was boiled over an open fire, then rinsed in the dirty river water and laid on the dirt to dry. How clean could anything be after all that?
The walk passed by one of many random garbage dumps, and that one contained a swollen and rigid dead dog. Cataclysmic cultural clashes were everywhere. It was so loud and so dirty, the people so desperately poor.
Sylvia lost her appetite over lunch while KK couldn't possibly order enough food after we offered to treat him to a meal. Jason asked him what he thought about the future of India and he, a father of five, pointed to family planning and birth control as key elements to its progress.
After lunch, daytime was quickly fading so we headed straight for the main attraction
Through another massive red gate, we had arrived. The Taj Mahal looked absolutely stunning. From the raised platform on which it stands, it seemed to glow and reel our eyes in. We wandered all around and through it, captivated by every angle and curve. We stayed to watch the sun go down, casting ever-changing light over the memorial, the adjacent mosque and its empty twin added for symmetry.
Afterward, KK tried to garner some commission by taking us to handicraft shops, but we called it a day and asked him to take us back to our hotel. We struggled to find a restaurant for dinner and Sylvia still couldn't eat much. Namaste India served up a delicious chana masala though.
It was a restless night for both of us. There were mosquitoes in the room and we must have killed some during the night because there were more blood stains on our silk sleep sleeves by morning. Jason tossed and turned with chills and body aches and got up to use the bathroom several times
Sylvia organized a trip to a recommended private hospital. On the way there a motorcycle slammed into Jason's side of the taxi. Luckily it happened at a low enough velocity that no further action was required beyond a few choice words between drivers.
Jason was admitted for fever, chills, aches, diarrhea and severe dehydration. Luckily, the doctor was very good and ruled out malaria and dengue fever quickly. It was all attributed to a stomach bug. Treatment consisted of IV followed by oral fluids and antibiotics and replacement of normal gut flora.
While Jason was receiving treatment, Sylvia moved all of our things to a better hotel. Instead of spending the night in hospital, Jason came back to the hotel too and was greeted by a small cockroach on the floor.
To be extra cautious, we decided to switch from treated tap water to carefully selected bottled water. There was still some risk involved because discarded bottles get refilled with tap water by dishonest local people trying to make extra profit so we inspected them well before buying
Jason had to go back to the hospital the following morning for more monitoring, IV antibiotics and fluids. It took most of the day to finally see the doctor, get all the reports and of course pay the bill. For 24 hours of care, it came to 17,300 rupees or about $320. Hopefully our medical insurance would cover it.
Any time of day or night auto- or cycle-rickshaws would pull up to us and offer to take us anywhere. If we'd had any interest in going somewhere, we could have flagged any one of them down within seconds. Around sunset one driver offered to take us to the Taj Mahal, but, as he undoubtedly knew, it was closing at that time.
We were learning fast that India was not a place where we could expect to be left alone. Since our hotel rooms (and some quieter sights) were our only retreats from the chaotic streets and our budget allowed for it, we decided to spend a little more on comfortable accommodations. We spent the rest of the night in, booking rooms and having dinner in the hotel restaurant.