well, we did it. we survived quite a trip from new delhi to agra, a
distance of some 120 miles.
first of all, we tried to take the train - a 2.5 hour ride. so we woke
up at 3:30 AM, took a taxi to the railroad station, and tried to get
ticket. they were all sold out. so the booking agent suggested renting
a car. after haggling for the type of car (we wanted air conditioning;
they said we didn't need it), we were told to wait for the driver ("no
problem, any minute").
so latif and i took a walk around delhi railroad station. what a horrible
pigsty! there were people sleeping all over the parking lot and in front
of the station. i guess people wait for their train, and they may wait
all night. so they bring blankets to thrown down, and more to cover themselves
with, and sleep there, baggage, kids, and all. since there were no plumbing
facilities, people just "went". we had to pick our way across the parking
lot, dodging these disgusting piles of crap.
after taking a ride in a rickshaw (bicycle attached to carriage pulling
me and latif - we gave our driver a real workout), our car and driver
were ready, and off we went.
anyone who has travelled with either latif or myself knows that we are
suckers for monuments and other attractions. so even before we got out
of delhi, we had the driver stop at india gate. by now it was sunrise
(about 6:15 AM), and i've included a picture of this place, taken from
the india gate, and overlooking some monument that was built for King
George IV, but now being prepared for Gandhi.
Back in the car. The air conditioning worked like a deep freezer. but
it made the car go slower. so we crawled along the roads, looking at the
poverty all around. we saw all sorts of stuff: people taking baths in
muddy puddles, washing clothes, tending the cows, carrying food and liquids
on their heads, pumping water, and (of course) plying their wares at us.
and all sorts of wares they had! oranges, bananas, grapes, jewelry. there
were dancing himalayan bears and trained monkeys, too. 76 trombones led
the big parade.... not that we bought anything. if you buy from one vendor,
the rest of them have "sucker meters" that register immediately, and they
all come flocking. kind of like feeding seagulls at the beach. so i learned
to say "no" in Hindi - it's pronounced "NIE". Vendors typically
listened after they heard it a few times. Here's a sample conversation
with a thwarted vendor:
VENDOR: Sir, would you like to buy? Aren't these beautiful? Bring them
home to your wife or girlfriend.
VENDOR: Sir, these are very nice. 20 rupees only. I give you--
VENDOR: Okay, 10 rupees. Just----
VENDOR: What to you mean NIE?
(Vendor leaves cursing)
Wasn't that nice? I probably had that same converstation or a simple
variant of it 150 times today. By the end of the day, I was able to reduce
my "NIEs" to 1 or 2 - down from 4. Not bad, huh? To do that, you have
to look these guys right in the eye with a really stern expression, and
NIE as loud as you can. The smart ones give up after 1 try. The real
persistent ones go for two.
Right before reaching the city of Agra, we stopped at Akbar's Tomb. Akbar
was the grandson of the first Mogul King (Babar), and a great
architect. He built his own tomb, plus the Agra Fort, which we saw after
the Taj Mahal.
So 6 hours after we left, we come up to the Taj Mahal. Which we then stared
at in awe for the next 90 minutes. I'm going to talk about it in a separate
email - this is long enough.
The pictures are as follows::
1) Sunrise through India Gate monument
2) Monkeys at Akbar's Tomb. They
come from Sri Lanka. There are 100 of them in the tomb compound - 99 females
with a single male. A true
3) Camel. We rode in a camel wagon for the
remaining 1 kilometer of the trip to the Taj Mahal. This is one of the
4) Our taxi. This is diesel. only
3 years old. falling apart. only 180,000 km. no problem!
That's it for this email - i'll send you the taj mahal one next.