Thirteen may be considered unlucky by the superstitious but it proved to be the best day in India to date!
Rousing at a spunky 5:30 and having a shower in a bucket of icy water (that's one thing I'll take back with me to Wales, I'm an absolute wizard at washing in a bucket) we strode out onto the dark streets of Agra towards the Taj Mahal, I practically skipped there, I was so excited!
In the queues that divided men and women on the cold flagstone floor, outside the imposing gates of the mausoleum we eventually got our tickets and 2000 rupees lighter we were in yet another queue, again segregated. After a brief discussion with an Australian man about his experiences in Delhi, which were far better than ours as he had had the foresight to book a guide, I learnt that his name was Brent and hastily terminated my conversation with him - anyone with a name as ridiculous as 'Brent' is clearly mentally unstable.
After another security rub down we were in. Although the site had only been open a few minutes bodies were already swarming about the dew soaked gardens and gasping at the splendour in front of them.
It was a strangely surreal moment, walking through the final archway and seeing the Taj Mahal in the flesh, sitting amongst a gentle bank of mist with the sun just starting to kiss its white marble walls; other buildings paled into insignificance next to this truly beautiful building. "It's strange that we are here, isn't it?" murmured Chelsea, and she was right. Being at the Taj Mahal was a definitive point in our trip where I felt mildly dizzy with the realisation that we were actually here. Amongst its array of beautiful gardens and waterways it was easy to see why this world heritage site is as considered 'the jewel of Muslim art in India'.
The taking of the usual barrage of pictures quickly ensued as we jostled for position at the foot of the first waterway with a Chinese brigade of tourists, all thirty of which had offensively orange flowerpot hats on which were comical in their stereotypical absurdity.
The sun rose very quickly as we made our way to the heart of the mausoleum and the sun accentuated the grace of the building even more.
Slipping into the hairnets that were provide for our feet we scaled the surprisingly steep stairway to the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the favourite wife of Shah Jahan. If I'm honest this was an anti climax, the room was dingy and small with a strong smell of pigeon with nothing really to see but for a dusty light hanging over the plinth representing Mumtaz's final resting place. Nonplused, we headed back outside.
The sun was right up by this point and people were thronging around the Taj's grounds. We did a lap of the white building taking in the scenery and gigantic towers that marked each corner of the structure, I was keen to test the symmetry of the building as it is said the building looks the same from every side, I can report back that it does.
Leaving Agra with the beaut that is our driver, we headed to Pushkar.
After a seven hour drive we geared ourselves up to drop our things quickly at the hotel and jet straight out again for a camel safari. It would seem that we have had some luck at last as the annual two week camel fair is on in Pushkar - the enormous scene was chaotic but fascinating, plonked literally in the middle of the desert.
Beckoning us over to a camel was a wizened old man that had skin like tree bark, "Lean back," was all he croaked as I swung my leg over my furry companion (the camel, not Chelsea). I was very surprised how easily the camel stood up with me on its back, after a series of clicks and high pitched whistles the beast was up - a lot higher than I had surmised too!
Watching Chelsea get on to her camel was a real treat and potentially the least graceful thing I have seen her do. Following a shrill shriek from both herself and her camel we trudged off in the desert; the camel's long eyelashes and expanding feet making it completely at home on the soft sand.
After about two minutes my testicles were chaffed beyond chaff-a-bility and had turned into something resembling two sorry looking radishes, a camel is not a comfortable mode of transport!
Thankfully, we stopped after about half an hour and as my camel quickly dropped down to its stomach I dismounted - quickly adjusting my knickers which had practically been in my mouth for the past twenty minutes. Here, out in the desert, men were thrashing jeeps around the sand dunes and taking their vehicles over impossible obstacles and even getting stuck on occasions. The whole scene was undoubtably 'cool' and with the sunrise dipping down behind the dunes we got back onto our steeds and headed back to the fair.
The two boys that accompanied us were extremely mischievous and persisted in steering our camels into people and laughed loudly as people blundered out of the way. As well as this they very kindly took us around the fare, still on our camels. This was a superb way to see everything: up out of the chaos of the packed streets. The whole area was completely dark except for stall and restaurant lights while a host of families were trying to sell their wares. Stalls ranged from selling spirited horses, fruits and veg and a whole host of colourful harnesses and camel accessories! There was even a fairground with several ferris wheels and swinging ships all lit up with flashing neon lights. The whole place was incredibly diverse with so much to take in and see!
When we finally returned to the camels' owner, some three hours after leaving him, we gratefully tipped the boys that took us and the man that had lent us his camels - what a fantastic experience they had provided!
Hopping into the back of an open top jeep, which one of the boys held my hand and led me to, we were whisked back home to our lovely hotel and fell asleep the happiest we have been in India so far.