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Agra and the Taj Mahal: Photos

Too much to carry in so many ways
December 21: Delhi: A leper at my window.

I have traveled all my life and consider myself a pretty sophisticated traveler. However, as we left Delhi we stopped in traffic at a major intersection. I was talking with my friend Louise when I heard a tapping at my window (I had not learned to ignore window taps yet.) I turned and literally three inches from my face was a woman without fingers and missing some of her nose. I recoiled and made some sort of noise I couldn't duplicate today if you had a gun to my head. I had never seen anyone with leprosy. It is astounding that leprosy still exists. Goodbye Delhi...

The road to Agra was our first introduction to "highways" in India. As they say, "in India you need a good driver, good brakes and a good horn." Well horns in India are used very differently than in the US where a horn is usually used in anger. In India the horn is simply a tool--a constantly, incessantly used tool. All the trucks and carts have signs on the back that say "horn please" You get used to it and pretty soon, don't even notice the never-ending horn blowing. However, you never really get used to the trucks coming at you in the wrong lane, pushing you onto the shoulder or worse. Then there are the camel carts, the bullock carts, the goats, the cows, the autorickshaws traveling the wrong way on the shoulder. Our driver told us that a tourist was killed the day before on the road from Agra to Jaipur--so the roads are not without serious risk. We had the BEST driver in all of India. His name is Kewal Kumar. He speaks great English, is funny as can be and knows more about local sites than most of the tour guides. We are driving a couple legs and flying the rest. Kewal drives and meets us at the next destination when we fly. It is so great having the same driver.

You need to stop at the border to Uttar Pradesh. "The border" is just pulling over to the side of the road with various other vehicles. At the border are dancing bears, monkeys and vendors selling peacock feather fans (does anyone buy those things?) and various unrecognizable trinkets. The police try to shake down drivers at every turn. Our driver was stopped so many times and had to pull out all his tax forms---there are many, many tax forms in bureaucratic India.

Agra is a dirty, congested town. It took us forever to get to the hotel due to "rush hour" on the two lane road. However, the activity outside the windows is so fascinating. Ten camels with great decorations on the heads and backs are making far better time than we are while carrying immense amounts of straw on their backs. We have a very good guide who is a Muslim and who proudly told me, immediately upon introduction, that he had made his pilgrimage to the Hajj (Mecca).He just as proudly told me he had one wife who he had married when he was 18 and she 16 and that they had eight children. He also pointed to a condo he had just purchased that was still under construction where he would be moving his family. He paid $40,000 cash that his sons helped him raise. At present he lives with his parents three brothers and all their families. He is trying to get his two oldest daughters married off as well as his sons. He explained the entire selection ritual. A very interesting, intelligent man--and we haven't even caught up with the camels yet ;-)

Ok, we have now arrived at our hotel, the gorgeous Oberoi Amarvilas. What a change from the city of Agra--and what a relief. The hotel is beautiful and restful. We went back out into the city with our driver to photograph the Taj Mahal from the other side of the Yamuna river where I took some of the best pictures of my entire trip. Children playing cricket with the Taj in the background, camels walking with the setting sun in the background, girls gathering sticks for fuel. It was mesmerizing. Our hotel room has a beautiful view of the Taj as do all rooms at the Amarvilas.

December 22nd: We left our terrace door open and around 6:00 in the morning, you begin to hear the chanting of morning call to the mosques. It is a nice sound that you hear every morning throughout India. This morning, we visited the Red Fort (there was too much early morning fog to visit the Taj), which is a gorgeous fort. Later we visited Itmad-ud-daulah tomb (also known as "the baby Taj" and a precursor to the Taj Mahal.). At sunset we visited the Taj Mahal, which is incredibly beautiful. Great photos, but I like the ones on the riverbed yesterday better.

Permalink | Posted by Patricia Pomerleau on Sunday, January 22, 2006