So we got to Agra on Saturday morning and stayed in the Sandiya Palace Hotel. We managed to bargain a room for 3 people to 400 rupees which was great, especially seeing as the tuk tuk on the way had kept insisting we shouldn't go there because it was "so expensive" (it worked out to less than $2 each). I say we, I had been happy when we'd got it down from 650 to 450, but Jade was not budging on that last 50. I thought we were going to have to leave and trudge around for ages for the sake of 50 rupees and apparently looked ready to commit murder but then as usual Jade's bargaining power won through. Felt like such a victory. Especially because from the rooftop restaurant of the hotel was one of the best views of the Taj Mahal in Agra (as confirmed by the Lonely Planet). It was really truly amazing and such a great thing to see when we first arrived. I couldn't get my head around seeing it at first, especially because it wasn't really what I had expected it to look like, I'm not sure why but I thought it had a gold roof. But it was really beautiful, and especially incredible to see such a massive and magnificent thing that hasn't been built to be a castle or palace. I hadn't realised that it was actually built as a mausoleum after the Shah's third wife had died, but it was such a lovely thought that it was built as a dedication and devotion to what I'd assume was a deep love. I really love these great sights in India because not only are they really incredible in their own right but they seem to represent such a lot of love and devotion to the buildings themselves or the people they have been built for. Having said that, as Jade and I both said, feel a bit sorry for the 2 other wives who obviously hadn't held quite such high status. Unless they had something else which we don't know about!
Later on Krista arrived, who it was really lovely to see again and after a lovely lunch on the rooftop we went to find the Taj, which actually turned out to be right around the corner. It's a definite awe-struck moment walking through the gate and seeing it right in front of you. Up close it's less white than it looked from the hotel because of all the engraving on the marble, but so delicate and intricate and amazing. Lav lav lav the Taj. We wondered around the museum there which had all these lovely calligraphy inscriptions in, and some more history about the Taj which I have mainly forgotten. We then stopped at the Mosque and got a great side view. We were just sitting down to get some back shots of us staring meaninfully at the Taj when I heard a rip. Looked down to find that there was a big hole in my 100 rupee trousers I had bought the day before. Definitely get what you paid for. Luckily because they were baggy I was still able to walk around all day without flashing everyone and you actually couldn't see anything at all which was a big relief. Jade's also 100 rupee trousers had suffered a similar fate so both of us avoided to much cross legged sitting for the rest of the day. We had such a nice day wondering around and taking photos and just staring at it. We went inside, although actually I didn't think the inside was quite so impressive and we got hurried around. Then there was a really incredible sunset which was so beautiful to see setting behind the Taj and we all tried to get some great pictures (I have about 100 pictures of it now, I'm going to have to do some culling). Eventually after sunset we got kicked out and ended up straight in a nearby souvenir shop because the "shop owner" was the cutest little 12 year old boy ever. He was obviously versed on his sales patter and it was so cute seeing him trying to "work the customers". I'm not sure he appreciated us all patronisingly smiling at him while he was doing his patter but we all bought some little Taj Mahal keyrings anyway. He then gave us all an extra free one as we were leaving, which made us love him even more. Somehow we managed to almost get lost walking straight past our hotel and had just found it again when we bumped into a man walking along with a camel. I had just got used to the cows lounging around in the road, but seeing camels hanging around on the street and pulling carts I still have not managed to absorb! It's so weird!
At half 5 on Sunday Krista and I got up to go and watch the sunrise on the rooftop. Jade wasn't feeling 100% so we said we'd come and get her when it started rising. Sadly it was too cloudy so we didn't see it but it was still a nice morning glow. Later we went to see the "Baby Taj". On the journey there were roadworks so the decision had obviously been made to just clear a makeshift road through the dirt track on the hill on the side. It was traffic jam central and then our tuk tuk struggled and stalled getting up it but we eventually made it. We got there fine apart from that and paid the driver, who then tried to kiss my hand in what I think was meant to be some kind of romantic gesture but ended up in an awkward hand battle which I won and hurried off.The Baby Taj was really lovely, much quieter than the real deal and very intricate with such a pretty engraving. We had a lovely time there and you could see out over the lake from one side which was really nice. We then went on to the Mehtab Bagh which is this absolutely stunning garden with incredible views of the Taj Mahal over the lake. So clean and smelt so fresh, which was such a contrast from the streets we'd driven through which are almost all dirty, filled with rubbish and smelt like fart. We then went back to get our stuff and said goodbye to Krista to head off for Jaipur on a bus we'd booked through the hotel.
So the bus to Jaipur in itself was the weirdest journey I think I've ever been on. We arrived at this bus stop with not very nice looking buses, and lots of locals sitting around under a canopy. We went to see the man at the "desk" and told him we were here and then sat and waited. All the people there were very stary. You get people staring quite a lot in India but usually you are walking somewhere or they then look away and for whatever reason I haven't been all that conscious of being really stared at until this bus. I was reading my book and kept taking surreptitious glances at people taking surreptitious/not surreptitious looks at me reading my book. Half an hour after the bus was due to leave I went to ask the man at the desk when it was leaving to which he responded any minute. He then shouted something to a man who'd been sat there the whole time and everyone started moving. We were annoyed to find we had to pay an extra charge to store our bags in the luggage compartment, only 10 rupees but still. The bus itself had these big quite comfy seats which could recline, and in fact most of which could no longer not recline and then also these bunk areas up above and down below where you could sleep/whole families could squeeze in. I fell asleep for the first hour and woke up to find the bus packed (which I only realised after looking to my side and thinking a crowd had formed around me), in pouring rain and very hot. I started to feel a little claustrophobic, especially because I felt quite stared at but then, I guess you could say luckily, the rain provided a distraction. It leaked through the top bunk and started dripping on Jade, who had to shift to the front of her seat to avoid getting wet. It then worked it's way along to my seat and I got a little impromptu shower. We were awkwardly trying to avoid the rain for a while and then the bus conductor came and moved us to one of the bunks at the back. Which was so fun (although I think I accidentally kicked him in the head climbing up, he seemed not to notice at least!) The rain had stopped and I had a lovely time listening to some nice calm music and watching a really beautiful sunset while Jade finished writing up her blogs. We were also then too high for too much staring which was nice, it isn't really threatening but it's a bit uncomfortable feeling really watched. We finally arrived in Jaipur 2 hours late and discovered our bags had got wet in the luggage compartment we had had to pay for. Bless Jade who then had to get half her stuff washed. Anyway we got a tuk tuk to Jwala Niketan. The room was quite nice but quite anty which wasn't so fab. I don't like the ants here, they are quite big and I think they have bitten me a few times.
After a good night's sleep woke up feekung fresh and walked around to try and find breakfast and wifi so Jade could upload her blog. Having not been a problem to find either anywhere else it was actually surprisingly tricky, especially to find wifi. We gave up and had an alright sandwich with stale crps befor heading off to visit the Amber Fort. We had been expecting a pretty palace but instead were confronted by this massive incredible fortress built all the way up the hill/mountain. It was like going back in time because it was all still so intact and it was a kind of yellow empire. We walked past this massive courtyard full of pigeons (which I managed to keep my cool around) and up the stairs to the actual palace. A great view of these kind of floating gardens which were so well kept. Hard to explain but I'll upload photos later. The palace itself was so ornate with this lovely detailed decoration. We spent most of the afternoon walking around and exploring the palace, and had a little wander in the tunnels. We didn't spend all that long down there because there were quite a lot of bats. After that we stopped at a cafe and had some of the best brownies ever. They weren't just brownies they were yummy brownies topped with ice cream in a sea of bubbling chocolate sauce. Delishy.
On the return from the Amber Fort we met Sheikh "some people call me Shrek, or shake, like chocolate shake" who was our tuk tuk driver. I think he was trying to do Alan Partridge impressions because he kept making odd faces and saying odd phrases which were obviously meant to be funny which I didn't really understand. I think Alan Partridge because his little guestbook he showed us mentioned some Alan Partridge impressions. All a bit curious but he seemed nice. He dropped us at the Observatory which had all these massive sundials and stuff to measure the position of the planets and stuff. Sadly we couldn't see how they worked because it was pretty cloudy and we then had to shelter under the "Observation building" when it started pouring. But luckily the monsoon hasn't been so awful so far other than that. hasn't really affected our plans. Later he took us to see these clothesmakers who were "wholesalers" to places like Monsoon. They showed us how they dye the clothes using indigo flower for blue and saffron and chilli and stuff for red. They weren't as cheap as he had made out, or as ungrumpy as they said they would be when we didn't end up buying anything but oh well still an interesting visit. Luckily I decided last minute not to buy what I know realise was a hideous blanket which I nearly got convinced in to. We then went to a jewellers and they told us about how they grade and polish the stones. The guy there was lovely, told us all about meditation and how unhappiness comes from wanting more all the time, and about the time Sting had come to his shop in a tuk tuk and he hadn't realised he was famous. We both ended up buying rings. I bought a little turqouise ring for about 3 quid, he said they weren't pure silver so we should have known better but still sadly both have started turning our fingers green. Sheikh then dropped us "just down the road" from the hotel. This turned out to be 15 km away, which we found out while trudging around in the rain asking people. I like to think he just got confused, because he seemed so nice, but probably not. Oh Sheikh.
So after getting back to the hotel and changing we set off to try to find "Reds" which was this really cool restaurant/bar we'd read about in the Lonely Planet. We made the mistake of getting a cycle rickshaw to Mall 21 where it is. At one point we had to get off because he was trying to pull us through potholed traffic and it just wasn't working so we walked a little bit. He then drove around for about 40 minutes, stopping several times to ask people. At one of these stops a man came up to me and said "Good Indian heroine", I thought he was talking about me because my top was a new Indian style one I'd bought in Delhi so I was like "aww, thanks". As we were driving off we realised he was probably trying to sell us drugs. Either way, we were off heroin free. Eventually the rickshaw cyclist realised he'd been going in the wrong direction and 45 minutes later cycled back past the spot he'd dropped us off at. By this point we were hungry and our earlier sympathy for him had pretty much gone. After one more stop for directions we eventually found the mall Reds was in and paid him, at which point he started demanding more money because he had got lost and so had taken longer, at which point we gave him a disapproving look and went in to the mall. He obviously realised that was not going to work and slunk off. So Reds is meant to be on the 5th floor of Mall 21. We got to the fourth floor which looked suspiciously like it had all been shut down for building work. So was the fifth floor. At this point the security guard shouted to us that the mall was closing. We asked what about Reds, to which he said "Reds has shut down, permanently". So we decided to go an get veggie burgers at the McDonalds opposite. Sitting there Jade noticed a sign saying "free wifi" she'd been looking out for all day. We couldn't believe it. Ended up having a funny dinner, especially because of these hilarious little sketches on the McDonalds TV with a man going into a doctors office and asking about the cure for cracked feet, and little jokes like "Who suceeded the first president of the US?" "The second one".
Tuesday morning Jade went to McDonalds for breakfast to upload her blog and I went for a little wander. I had meant to find all the bazaars and have a walk around but got lost and ended up on the street to McDs. Thought I'd go in to meet Jade, although she wasn't there. Got back to the hotel to find that the wifi was apparently no longer working. Jaipur seems to hate wifi, which is especially a pain for Jade because she has just started up this travel website and so wants to get her blogs up a bit more promptly than mine. After breakfast we went to the Tiger Fort. We had haggled for a tuk tuk to take us to all of the 3 remaining places that were on this combined ticket the day before. The tuk tuk driver we got turned out to be the most annoying person ever. We got to the bottom of the Tiger Fort (which is at the top of a massive hill/mountain) at which point he stopped and got some other tuk tuk drivers to explain to us that the tuk tuk could not go up. We asked why he had said he'd take us as we'd shown him the pictures on the ticket and he'd then said his first price. They didn't know. He then said we had to pay him 100 rupees and take another tuk tuk up. We said we weren't going to pay him for taking us nowhere and eventually he grudgingly took us up to the Fort, muttering all the way which was probably all complaining about us. The Tiger Fort was brilliant, and had amazing panoramic views of Jaipuer "The Pink City" (Although it's now more teracotta as the pink seems to have gone). We walked around, and had a lovely little time, although at one point getting a bit scared of some of the monkeys on the roof.
We left and went back to our tuk tuk driver, who'd clearly been b****ing about us the whole time because we then had another group of people come up to us and explain that he was confused about his job and needed more money. I said he was not confused and knew exactly what he was doing, which Jade found hilarious but was also true because (as I then explained to him) we had shown him exactly the places to go and he had agreed. We had also had other people agree to take us for 50 rupees more already so we clearly weren't ripping him off. One of his friends suggested that instead we do it from the meter, and seeing as the meter said only 50 rupees I said OK we'll pay him that at which point his friends, obviously realising this guy was spinning lies, laughed and walked off. The driver then refused to stop at the next sight at all saying no parking and finally dropped us at the Albert Hall. Here he started demanding more money again and a couple of other people came over to see what was going on. One of whom just said "OK give me 100 rupees more" and then asked why not when we said no. We ended up just shoving the money in his hand and walking in to the Albert Hall and leaving us behind. Initially it had been quite funny but by the end seriously annoying, and a bit of an unpleasant trend with tuk tuk drivers (one more that I have had and another that friends have) that they try to demand more money on arrival in the hope I guess that you'll be too embarassed to say no. Annnnnnyway, all fine in the end. The Albert Hall was pretty cool and lots of little bits and bobs we spent a while looking at. After this we went back to the monument we'd sped by with the previous driver (no parking my ***) which was the Hawamahal. People kept trying to tell us it was shut (a curious lie as we knew we had another half an hour) and we finally found it and had a wonder round, a little palace place). Interesting but not that in comparison to the other palaces, the main cool thing is the front which is a massive facade of what looks like terracotta windows.
In the evening we went to the Raj Mandir cinema which apparently looks like a cream cake and really does. The times on the outside of the cinema Jade had already copied down were wrong (Welcome to India) but luckily a showing of "Baagh, Milka, Baagh" was just starting. We went and got pizza and popcorn inside and sat and watched this hilarious Hindi film about Milka who was a famous runner from India. We thought there would be maybe some English subtitles but no so we sat through quite a long film half following what was going on but not really understanding why people were laughing at certain points. At one point he's in Australia and some of that was English which was fab, and all the dancing in that part was so funny. Such a fun evening, we even got cake in the intermission, and think we both felt a bit recovered from a crazy couple of days by the time we left.
On Wednesday we hit Pushkar which is where I am now but leaving tomorrow so going to go enjoy a final dinner and will write about here later. Basically it's much more chilled out and lovely and has been so nice and relaxing. Having such a good time. Love you lots, again not going to read through this now so sorry for any mistakes! xxxxxxxxxxxxx