After we left the peacefulness of a post camel fair Pushkar, I knew that the calmness would end. As expected it was only a train journey away. To be fair it was a 30 minute public bus ride away in Ajmer where we would catch our train to the Taj Mahal in Agra. We arrived early because we knew we would be hungry before the long journey. It’s a bit of a strange thing in India, unlike home the food and beverages are cheaper at the railway stations. I like to think this is because it’s a cheap way to travel and the only way an average family in India can really afford to travel. We had a Thali for 22 rupee (about 40 cents) that included a fairly decent Dal, a nice curd, three pieces of chapatti and a small salad of cucumber red onion and tomato. It looked like prison food, but we left well nourished before our 4 o’clock boarding call.
The train was a little late arriving in Agra at 11:30. Couple this with the fact we got off a station early by accident and it wasn’t until after midnight that we arrived. I knew it
would be late so I called ahead and secured our bed for 500 rupee. On arrival the expected happened and since everything was closed for the night and we had no alternatives all the 500 rooms were full but of course we could have that 1000 rupee room over there for a wonderful discounted price of 800. Oh the games we play… I was pretty tired and some of you know I can be stubborn at times, so long story short when we checked out the next day we were only 500 lighter in the wallet after all. You do almost get used to the hassle after a while, I promise.
Back to this Agra business, I awoke at 6:30 and let Amber rest. I knew from my previous visit that the ticket booth was a km in the opposite direction from the Taj to help the rickshaws extort your money. It was a nice brisk morning for a walk so I made my way there, picked up the tickets and met Amber back at the breakfast table for a quick omlete and tea. It was about 7:15 by the time we walked to the east gate and we
were still well ahead of the tour groups. What a stark contrast visiting when it’s empty, I’m glad Amber got to visit this way. The first glance of the Taj Mahal is the best, it’s the most beautiful building in the world. I’ve never seen a piece of architecture make my wife cry, but the tears flew when she entered those grounds. Despite everything I had described to her previously she still couldn’t believe it’s sheer beauty and greatness, I still don’t think she can believe it. We had no problems walking around, exploring, and staring for 3 hours before we left with good memories before the insane crowds of a Saturday afternoon could taint them.
I purposely booked us out of there on a night train to Amritsar though. While the Taj Mahal is the most breathtaking building in the world, it just happens to be located in maybe the most disgusting cesspool of a city I’ve ever been to. After just 16 hrs with our feet on the ground in Agra we boarded the 16 hour train to Amritsar and the Golden Temple.
We arrived a little ahead of schedule for once at around 9 am
and the Sikh Nation kindly gave us a free bus ride on their yellow shuttle to the back gate of the Golden Temple, the most holy of Sikh Temples, their Vatican as it were. You can stay in free dorms at the temple but since those are reserved for pilgrims from all over the world I don’t feel right taking advantage of that when we can afford the cheap rooms on the roads outside. We looked at a few pretty awful places before settling on one that had a great hot shower and HBO, again with the small pleasures. This is our only stop in Punjab on our journey but it was a good example of each state in India almost being a different country. The people are bigger, the food is oily, and the language is different. As Amritsar is predominantly Sikh it was common to see people carry their knives around openly. I even saw one cycle rickshaw driver with a full on sword dangling and getting in the way of traffic. There are so many funny sights in India. We made many trips at different times of day to the temple grounds as it was always a
little different, we ate one of the meals that’s provided to anyone who wants in a huge dining hall and even say the local Liberal Minister of Finance Mike DeJong peddling his political influence before he loses his job in the upcoming election. On our final night we also made sure to attend the border closing with Pakistan which is a humorous chest pumping exercise between the countries that resembles Monty Pythons Ministry of silly walks. We left Amritsar after 3 days happy to have been but ready to move on. Rishikesh was next on the agenda.
On the train to Rishikesh, another overnight journey, we had the whole train car to ourselves. I suppose it’s not a common route. I realised after that it was probably due to the fact that no blankets are provided in that class of train and its bloody freezing. I wore the clothes that I could and went into the fetal position for 10 hours before we finally arrived and a litre of hot tea was consumed. I hadn’t seen my breath for a quite a few months and it scared me a little. Rishikesh itself is a beautiful place set in the
hills right on the Ganges right near its source. Its famous for its notoriety of the Yoga capital of the world and was in the news in the 70’s when the Beatles were here in Maharashi Mahesh Yogi’s Ashram where they penned at least some if not all of the White Album. What started as a 2 day exploratory mission lasted 5 days. We were in no rush to leave. I even washed whatever sins I could possibly have off with my swims in the cold Ganges River (way upstream of course).The pace slowed to a crawl, the air was fresh and believe or not, there was very little traffic of any kind. Amber discovered a nice bakery with great Apple pie that also made fantastic Yak Cheese sandwiches so really why move at all? We planned to go to Varanasi from here but the trains were booked for weeks so we thought it was a great place to leave India, with good memories in our hearts.
We will go back to Delhi for one day from here, just long enough to arrive, eat and head to the airport for our next adventure in Myanmar (Burma). Uncharted territory for
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