Trip Start Dec 27, 2008
Trip End Feb 08, 2009

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Where I stayed

Flag of India  , Uttar Pradesh,
Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!!!

Yesterday I took the train from Delhi to Agra, which was a terrific adventure. Again, no sweat - it's just the Port Authority Bus Terminal in NYC circa 1986.  Dirty, hecklers, bag grabbers, constant "your train is delayed, but I can help you, and now you should tip me...", and general chaos. It was great. ;)

I booked my tickets a month ago, and I can't tell you how satisfying it was to have booked something online halfway around the world 30 days ago and then show up in a totally crazy environment and see your name on a sheet taped to the side of a rail car. Its like, YEA! The system somehow works!

So in the end, my train arrived on time but departed 1 1/2 hrs late. I was in the 2nd class sleeper car for the 2 1/2 hr ride and was befriended by an Indian woman whose son was studying at Exeter. She wanted to know if I was married...  I arrived at 7pm to pitch darkness and was met by my pre-scheduled rickshaw driver.

As I mentioned in my last post, the weather has been remarkably cold at night and in the am (before 9). Last night there was a cute New Years dinner on the roof of my hotel where I met some nice Aussies. It was so cold that they not only had little coal "heat lamps" but I actually put on my wool jacket and hat to stay warm! The Aussie kindly had a wool blanket to share and I put one of the coal pots between my legs (UNDER THE BLANKET) to stay warm. Not the super hot India I expected...     We chatted until midnight where there were a few local fireworks set off. It was delightfully low key.

The real treat for bringing in the New Year was going to the Taj Mahal just as it opened at 7am this morning. What was brilliant is everyone was so pooped from partying last night that we had the unbelievable fortunate luck of being at the site with hardly anyone else around. The hotel is a 5 min walk away from the East Gate, but again, with the heavy (and eerie) morning fog (and poor lighting on the streets) it was helpful to have the Aussie guy with me. It was like you suddenly walked on to a film noir film set...

The Taj is spectacular and such a gorgeous tribute to a lost and enduring love. It took 20,000 workers 22 years on the mid 17th cent. to complete.  It truly is a wonder of the world. The pictures just speak for themselves.

Later in the day, I hired a rickshaw for the day and got a few more Muslim cultural sites under my belt. 

Agra is fantastic and I'm absolutely loving this country! Its by far the most, energetic, colorful, frenzied, anthropologically terrific place I've ever visited. As they say, with India you either love it or you hate it. I'm sure which camp I fall into.

Agra is a small city where there isn't much to do other than go to the Taj Mahal. The streets are much narrower and there are more people from the countryside (goat and cow herders) passing through. The traffic and how the rickshaw drivers drive in this country is an absolute hoot - I can see how those skills can come in handy as a cab driver in NYC when you need to get around Times Square. ;)  Its pretty much like the Night Bus in the Harry Potter movie - you do amazingly fast, and then suddenly A COW, A CART, A DOG, AN OLD LADY, A MOTORCYCLE, A BICYCLE walks in the way and you're like OH SHIT! But somehow, the laws of physics cease to exist and you magically squeeze through, scoot around, or stop in time with not a scratch to be had. Disney needs to import this as a ride in Epcot India section. ;)

Finally, I finished the day with a fantastic walk through the local Indian's market where my Utili-Nun outfit REALLY came in handy. I had lunch at a completely native (not remotely touristed) eatery where the food was fantastic. Walking the streets, I was sufficiently weird looking as a single white woman to cause interest, but sufficiently conservative to pass muster. Again, no significant harassment to speak of so far - only some 'hey lady' comments to get my attention when passing a shop and some lingering stares from passing men. The dark black glasses really came in handy to hide my eyes. Interestingly, the only person who was bold enough to grab my arm was a woman who was either begging or trying to sell me something. As white women who walk alone are culturally perceived as prostitutes (even if their wearing a pseudo-nun-Muslim-shmata-tubey thing to cover their hair), I guess it makes them feel entitled...

So far, no poo concerns to speak of but I have gotten a bit concerned about the temperature - particularly as Bhutan will def be way colder. The weather has been so surprisingly cold that wearing my three wool tshirts, long sleeve shirt, wool sweater, wool thermals, wool hat and down jacket still left me cold this morning when visiting the Taj. I think Bodhgaya will be the better place  to buy a sweater (its where the Buddha attained enlightenment, hence there's a lot of Nepalese cross trading), so I may just wait til then to buy and on just not wake up so early so I freeze.

Tomorrow night on to Varanasi via the overnight train. I'm traveling 2nd class sleeper. Its a 12 hr trip and from my observations the other day (random people sometimes just hop on the train when it slows down through an open door and just walk through the car - and easy way for someone to knick your stuff). With that in mind,  I'm very happy I have a wire chain web with me to fully cover my bag so I can lock it to a pole while I sleep...    
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jseyfried on

You are my favorite Utili-Nun
The time difference is funny -- it seems like you get to write two posts while I'm asleep. It's still the morning of New Years Day here in San Francisco. Just so we're clear on that...

Anyway, this is the first I've heard of the wire-mesh security system. Very clever!

I am so happy that you were able to see the Taj Mahal without crowds. How are you liking The God of Small Things?


travelingamanda on

Jon - love the ears! ;)
Yes, the wire mesh lock will def come in handy as the train to Varanasi is known in particular for bag theft. I was going to buy one at REI, but my rock climbing buddy Lisi let me borrow her's. It will def give me peace of mind as I sleep per my digital SLR camera... ;)

(remember how my Canon camera was stolen out of my University College London dorm room while I was sleeping?)

ediedeniro on

Dear Amanda,

Your blogs are wonderful. You have endless enthusiasm -- I admire your knack for finding humor in the chaos of traveling - haggeling, people trying to get tips, the need to wear dark glasses in the market, old women grabbing your arm in the street or asking if you are married. I think I would start to get testy.

Two questions: What's an 'auto rigshaw?' And how do you reserve them in advance? (can you do that on the internet?)

And why was the Taj Majil built? You allude to something romantic? After seeing all that Gandi had when he died, I have a new awe for India's spirituality and asceticism.


travelingamanda on

Re: hello
Hi Edie! BTW, I love the pic!

Those are some excellent questions. A rickshaw is a cheap mode of transport which can be used to save money, go where cars can't, and should be used for shorter distances. The rickshaw consists of a guy (no women do this) on a bicycle with a two wheeled cart in the back (that's where you sit). An auto-rickshaw (in Thailand its called a Tuk-Tuk), is a motorized three wheeled transport that can get you around town faster, but costs a bit more. There's def a food chain about who drives each, where the poor man (tattered clothes, wears a shawl with holes) bicycles a rickshaw, whereas the slightly more well off man (speaks better English, cleaner clothes, more western style dress) drives the auto-rickshaw. I'll include a pic in today's blog entry to give you a visual...

Both modes of transport are easily available when you're (accosted) at the train station, but you can reserve a driver (typically an auto-rickshaw or a taxi) through your guest house online and they stand there with a sign (just like arriving at the airport).

The Taj Mahal has a really interesting history (too much for me to write), so I'll direct you to the Wikipedia entry on it. But feel free to ask if there's anything that you're wondering about that's not there!


travelingamanda on

Re: Re: hello
Actually, the Wiki article is a bit technical. This is a better site which captures his feeling of love...


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