Well I have arrived in India. A country of a thousand languages, endless noise and a multitude of people. Boy, I was not prepared for this, I don't think anyone can be, at least not the first time. I am typing this in the Baby Taj. The first place I have found some tranquility, I still can hear the horns of the traffic across the river but it's not in your face. I'm now off to see the Taj Mahal at sunset. Time to brave the chaos again.
I arrived in Delhi late on Friday and manage to get myself sorted with a hotel, near New Delhi train station, without any problem, a pleasant surprise after reading about the scams and tricks in India. The room was quite expensive but pretty good. The next morning I slept in and hid in my room. Eventually I plucked up the courage and ventured out to into Delhi. I decided to walk and discovered it was not as bad as I had imagined. However, with in a few hours I had been bullied/convinced to part with some cash and take a private tour by car to Agra, Jaipur and Pushka. I had had all these great ideas that I was going to travel by train a true independent traveler but I chickened out. My defence, weak though it is was I had little time and to go by train I would have to hang around in Delhi a couple of days.
So after buying my tour I walked a little more but being overwhelmed by Delhi scurried back to my hotel room.
Next morning I was up early ready for my tour to start at 7am. My driver was there ready. His name is SP and is friendly person and we started out journey in Delhi rush hour even though it was a Sunday. I thought the journey would take 2 hours to get to Agra but it took nearer 3. First we stopped in xxxx and there I was immediately met by an official guide with an ID that was out of date. To weaked will I agreed to hire him. The site was beautiful and hopefully I have a good photo or two. The guide did not tell me much more than what I could have read in the guide book. At least with him I found the points of interest easier. After dodging the vendors we went to check into the hotel. A place that was nothing special. It seems in India they do not provide top sheets just a blanket. Thank goodness for the silk sleeping bag. :-)
After checking in we headed to Agra Fort. Here I decided to get an audio guide. During the tour I felt underwhelmed and sad. I think it was because I have seen so many monuments they are starting to turn into a bunch of rocks!
When I finished we headed to the baby taj where as I rsaid I found some tranquility a great boost ready for the Taj.
At the taj I had an official government guide called Sumit. He was a great guide explained everything and took some great photos of me. The amazing craftsmanship that went into making the Taj is incredible, the semi-precious stones come from India, Afghanistan, Belgium and South Africa , these they use for the flower designs all shaped and carved by hand. The feeling I had here was completely different from the fort, this certainly was not a bunch of rocks.
Visiting the the Taj on Sunday had it's downside as a lot of Indians can visit so the site was crowded. The queue to see the tomb was very long it wrapped around the taj. Luckily being a VIP ticket holder we could skip the queue, I felt a bit guilty about this but not that much. Inside the tomb the craftsmanship was amazing, intricate lattice work carved out of single pieces of marble. One mistake and the craftsman had to begin again. They needed a lot of skill and patience. However, inside there was no tranquility or silence, it was a scrum all the Indians pushing, the guards shouting, loud voices, welcome to India.
We quickly escaped and then went to the mosque to see the sunset on the the taj. It was beautiful to see the colour of the building change as the sun went down. In the dawn the taj is a cream colour, at midday white and at sunset a light pink colour. It was very peaceful then which was a great way to finish off my visit.
Sumit was an interesting guy who before had worked as a pharmaceutical sales director but resigned as he was working way too much, the usual of finish in the office but then having to answer emails at home. The final straw was even though he had made his targets the one time he did not because he had been ill his boss did not give him any slack. Don't you love. It there are a****** bosses everywhere. Do he switched to being a government guide and enjoys meeting a diverse crowd. As ever ambitious guide he is learning Spanish so he can guide more people, after that it is Italian. Oh and he is an accountant. Makes me feel a bit inadequate.
After the tour I had the obligatory visit to the gem shop. These are the artisans who every friday maintain the Taj mahal on Fridays. There craftsmanship is exquisite and the table tops were precious and I would have liked to buy but we have no place in our house. Of course the owners were disappointed but they were not pushy. I did however have to see the rest of the store and various scarfs etc. I kindly declined and made my escape.
SP then took me to a restaurant the one recommended by the company and also where he got a commission. The food was good but expensive. No one else was there so this marked it out as a tourist restaurant.
This is when I asked SP that I would prefer to eat in more typical restaurants. He says in his Indian way, "if you want to eat in other restaurant no problem, you want to eat in big restaurant no problem, it your tour". I think it helped that after we left he did not get a good commission to convince him to take me to other restaurants.
That was the end of my visit to Agra.