Big, white and symmetrical
The dining room was already occupied when we came down at 5.30am - by three fast asleep occupants. Our bewildered looks from the door were spotted by the morning waiter, who promptly woke them up and herded them into the kitchen in a rather clipped fashion. Feeling hideously guilty, we munched our toast in the dark (electrics out again) hoping that the kitchen staff wouldn't get their own back on us later.
When Mark returned from his morning bike ride round the bird sanctuary (still no nightjars for those interested), we packed up, tipped well and started the drive to Agra. The Taj Mahal is on the town's outskirts so we stopped on the way to pick up our very dapper guide, Mani. Resplendent in jade coloured shirt and pointy leather shoes, he could certainly walk the walk and also talk the talk as well.
He immediately started the tour schpeal, gauging our prior knowledge on the great building and it's history. I admit I kinda stopped listening once he started telling us the name of the umpteenth offspring of king whatshisface. Little did I realise, however, how much he would be testing us on out Taj Mahal fact recall throughout the tour. I didn't do too well in the final exam.
I was expecting a real bun fight with the tourist tat hawkers at the entrance but, as with Delhi airport, the rumours were worse than the actuality. The real hard sell came later.
The Taj Mahal was everything I expected - big, white and symmetrical. Oh and damn hot too. To be honest, I was never all that fussed about going, I mean it's just one of those tourist tick-boxes isn't it? I was therefore, pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Mani played quite a large part in this, keeping us informed of the facts as well as shouting at people to move so we could get nice photos. This included the monument guards who looked aghast initially and then duly stepped aside. Mani had provided some nifty red paper shoe covers which saved us checking our boots in. Half of me wanted to walk bare foot and feel the ancient marble under foot but we spotted one local chap whose shoes had been pinched. Looking like an idiot in red wasn't so bad perhaps?
After the tour was finished, we were unexpectedly taken to 'British House' to receive some hard sell on marble handicrafts. Not too chuffed with this detour, we left as soon as we were able despite the salesmen following us to the door with everything from trinket boxes to garden furniture. We appreciated the skill and workmanship involved but it wasn't our cup of tea and the prices were extortionate even by UK standards. Once clear of this tourist trap, we dropped off Mani and started the drive to Chambal river.
For once, this was a fairly uneventful journey other than the usual near-misses and potholes. We did pass a very small boy, say about 7, leading a very large camel along by a bit of string. Not particularly interesting I know but I did rather like the fetching blanket the camel had on - it had a hole cut out for the hump.
Chambal Safari Lodge turned out to be a pretty swanky place - shame we were only staying for one night really. We had a quick walk round the rather extensive grounds to see what birds were about and this gave me the opportunity to walk into a spider's web - something I haven't done in years. I don't have a fear of spiders but for once, I was happy the owner was out at the time. The web wasn't exactly small and proved pretty resistant to being broken with my face.
The Lodge has it's own wildlife guide so at dusk, he took us out to find the Small Palm Civets that live on site. After a bit of work with a hefty torch, we tracked down two of them in a tree having their dinner. Talking of dinner, ours was due at 7pm so we went for a needed wash & brush up and found we had a couple of squatters in our room - a frog in the shower and a gecko in the air con unit.
After an assortment of mostly unidentifiable yet yummy things for dinner, we adjourned with our cups of tea to sit round the fire pit outside until our heads started nodding.