Published: October 28th 2007October 27th 2007
Entertainment at tax-collection stop in route to Agra
My original plan was to start driving from Delhi to Agra at 3:00 AM so that I could cover the 200+ Km distance and be at the Taj Mahal to see and photograph the sunrise from the monument. But my colleagues Manish Kapoor and Ashok Aggarwal strongly discouraged me to follow this plan citing safety concerns with this particular route at this early time of day.
Manish arranged with a transportation company that he knew to have an English-speaking driver pick me up at the hotel at 6:00 AM. The time got changed to 7:30 AM when I realized that leaving at 6:00 AM would force me to stop on the road to have breakfast because my hotel’s restaurant would likely not be open before 6:00 AM. The actual time of the pickup slipped to almost 8:00 AM because I needed to wait for the driver’s call in my hotel room before I could go to have breakfast.
When the driver arrived and we finally got going, I discovered that his English language skills were so basic that he could not understand my planned itinerary. I was forced to call Manish so that he could serve as interpreter between
the driver and me. The agreed plan was to go to Fatehpur Sikri first, then to Agra Fort and lastly to the Taj Mahal. The reasoning was that this sequence would allow me to have the better light (sunset) for the Taj Mahal.
As we were leaving Delhi, the traffic was much worse that I had anticipated, but even after we left the city behind, the road to Agra was stop and go in several segments and in one occasion, we were de-toured into a small town where Rajesh (my driver) got lost. He appeared to stop to ask for directions every other block, leading me to believe that perhaps in India you don’t get accurate directions often and it is better to ask several people to gain consensus. We also had to park for several minutes at a road block while Rajesh left the car to go pay some form of taxes.
We finally arrived in Agra at 12:45 PM but had another 35 Km to reach Fatehpur Sikri. This final segment took us another 45 minutes to cover and by the time that we had found parking and arrived at the actual site's gate via rickshaw,
it was already 2:00 PM.
The capital city of Mughal Emperor Akbar (who was a son of Emperor Humayun, whose tomb I visited yesterday) was indeed impressive and the period temples within are still in use. The only disappointment for me (especially after so much trouble getting there) was the unrelenting attacks that street vendors and would-be tour guides wage on foreign visitors.
My visit to Fatehpur Sikri lasted only 45 minutes, because I wanted to be sure of having enough time to visit the two monuments in Agra but when we were still sitting in traffic at 3:30 PM, it became clear that I only had time to visit one of the sites, so I asked Rajesh to head for the Taj Mahal, instead of Agra Fort. Being forced to make this decision was another major disappointment of the day.
As we parked and arrived at the monument's main gate, my heart missed several beats when I saw the length of the queue of people waiting to get in. It appeared that it would take us at least a couple of hours to get in. I was already thinking that Agra Fort might be the better
Tour de Force
Been there, done that!
choice when a fellow appeared from nowhere and offered a faster way into the site, (provided that I was willing to pay a premium of course). Though I normally never go for this sort of things, this entire trip was about to become a disaster, so I agreed to the terms and by 4:10 PM Rajesh and I were passing through the south gate. A setback occurred when the Indian Army security guard that checked my back pack found my monopod and informed me that I could not go in with it. I was forced to go out again and leave the item at an Army-provided locker just outside the gate. Aside from my concern about leaving my photo equipment at this very informal facility, the locker was to close for the day at 5:30 PM, creating another time constraint for me.
It was probably 4:30 PM when Rajesh and I finally started our visit, Being almost swept by hordes of camera-wielding tourists contending for the classical spots for picture-taking (snapshots of themselves with the Taj Mahal in the backgrond, of course). Somebody offered to take my own photo with my camera; offer that I politely declined and thus
Mosque next to the Taj Mahal
generated his upmost amazement (he probably wondered why anyone would want to waste pictures in such manner). I quickly took the road less traveled searching for more original perches for my camera. As I reached the north face of the monument, I saw with some degree of professional envy that several photographers had installed themselves on the other side of the river, and were already capturing the developing sunset. I could had been there with them if I did not have as many constraints with my business schedule.
After completing the tour around the monument's platform, Rajesh led me to the place where you deposit your shoes to go inside the tomb, but seeing that there was a wrapping-around queue of people waiting to do the same thing, it became clear that I couldn't do that either. This visit was a bit of an anti-climax to an otherwise one-in-a-life-time experience.
I captured a few more images and Rajesh and I exited by the same gate we had used to enter the site... And just in time, since the Army guards were already closing the gate doors. After reclaiming my monopod and leaving behind a 50-Rupee "donation" for the
free service, Rajesh and I hired another rickshaw to take us to the parking lot to start our long drive back to Delhi.
When I arrived at my hotel it was already 11:00 PM and I was thoroughly exhausted. On hindsight, I should have used my precious Saturday much more effectively by staying in Delhi and visiting the local sites instead of being on the road for about eleven hours and visiting the sites during less than two. The moral of the story is that 200 Km in India should be considered the equivalent of about 500 Km in other places, at least from a road travel perspective.