The Bharatpur Bus Station
Everyone is waiting for a bus.
We endured another bone breaking trip down that awful road back to the bus station this morning. Bishon warned us to keep a sharp eye on our belongings as we are now in one of the highest crime rate areas in India. I'm a little mistrusting of hotel staff, particularly in the standard of accommodation we've been staying in, so always put valuables, such as my iPad, in my suitcase and lock it before going anywhere. I never leave anything of value within sight.
With this in mind, we all drop our luggage in a pile and stand around it, which we've done at every bus or train station we've passed through. All small backpacks are worn on the front where we can keep an eye on them as well. We have a 2.5 hour trip to Agra this morning, and are the only westerners in the station. We always get curious stares from the locals, I often wonder what they're thinking....
Our bus would have to be the most decrepit we have travelled on yet. The surfaces are so dirty you don't want to touch them, and all the windows have greasy hair oil marks ringed with dirt,
from people sleeping against them. I try not to notice and push the glass back as far as I can, and get a blast of hot air in my face. It's gonna be another fun trip!
The trip passed quickly and we arrived in Agra in good time. We were dropped on the edge of a local market, after the driver eased his way between the stands. It never ceases to amaze me how they manage to manoeuvre their buses through the tightest of places, and pass other buses, rickshaws and motorbikes without hitting anything. Many a time I've held my breath as we've passed within six inches of a shop awning, waiting to hear a crash, but it hasn't happened yet.
We piled out of the bus, grabbed our luggage and, in single file, followed Bishal down the street and around the corner where a mini van was waiting to take us to our accommodation, Hotel Sheela Inn. The hotel was in a great location, within walking distance to the East Gate of the Taj Mahal. They had free wifi on the roof, but they wanted 400 rupees a night ($7.20) for air conditioning, which is basically
Inside Agra Fort
Indian lady sitting on the floor inside Agra Fort.
what a night's stay in this establishment is worth, if the rates on display at the front desk are correct. Nobody took them up on the offer, as there are evaporative coolers in the rooms, and we will make do with them.
Bishal had organized with the mini van driver to take us to and from Agra Fort this afternoon, at our own expense. He says it would be cheaper and certainly more convenient for us to do the trip together, than for everyone to pay for separate tuk tuks. Made sense to me and everyone else agreed, and it only cost us 100 rupees each ($1.80).
The fort is a huge red sandstone complex standing on the banks of the Yamuna River. Started in 1565, it took eight years to complete. The Red Fort, and the Taj Mahal, bear an exceptional and complementary testimony to a civilization which has disappeared, that of the Mogul Emperors. Agra's history dates back more than 2,500 years. Entry to the fort cost 250 rupees ($4.50). We had a guided tour, then returned to our rooms to escape the heat.
Later in the afternoon, about 4.30pm, we headed to the Taj
Mahal, after buying tickets, and getting shoe covers and a free bottle of water from the ticket centre just around the corner from the hotel. Ticket cost was 750 rupees ($13.50) for foreigners compared to 20 rupees (.35c) for Indians. We used their battery powered shuttle to get to the East Gate, which was free.
The Taj Mahal is regarded as one of the eight wonders of the world, and some historians have noted that its architectural beauty has never been surpassed. It's built entirely of white marble and it's stunning, serene beauty is beyond adequate description, particularly at dawn and sunset. It was constructed over a period of twenty-two years, employing twenty thousand workers, and was completed in 1648.
I have always wanted to see the Taj Mahal, ever since learning about it in school, more years ago than I care to remember. I felt goosebumps on my skin as I stood there and feasted my eyes on this beautiful monument. It was a special moment for me, and one I've waited a long time for.
After leaving the Taj Mahal, pausing at the exit gate for one last look, I decided to walk back to
the hotel via The Oberoi Villas, a huge resort complex I had to walk past to return to my hotel. This place was beautiful, hidden behind it's high walls and manicured gardens. I walked through the enormous foyer, feeling very out of place in my crumbled clothes and floppy hat, and into the bar where I asked for a drink's menu. I ordered a coke and a tall glass of ice which I enjoyed, with free nibbles, sitting in their outdoor area with a fabulous view of the domes of the Taj Mahal and the setting sun. The coke wasn't expensive at 180 rupees ($3.25) but was six times what I would pay on the street. Thanks Lin, for suggesting I go there for a drink....it was very, very nice!
I decided to skip dinner with the rest of the group that night. I was tired, the heat saps any energy I have and going out for a late meal didn't appeal. I had bought fruit from a street stand earlier in the day and decided that I would eat that instead.
Even something as simple as buying fruit here is a hit and miss affair. There is
Inside Agra Fort
Looking across the Agra skyline from inside the fort.
no refrigeration on street stands, so I have no idea how long it has been sitting in the sun. Some has been okay and some hasn't. All I can find are mandarins, oranges, bananas, mangoes, green grapes and lemons. There are no air conditioned shopping malls or supermarkets here, nothing remotely like them. I think I will enjoy my first supermarket trip when I return home..... so many options! Most days I crave for something really cold, and usually settle for Coke.
I only have one more day in Agra, and expect the temperature to hit 44 degrees again. It's just too hot to be out in the middle of the day. Several tour members have been affected by the heat and I have been experiencing light headedness myself, which I can only put down to the heat, otherwise I'm okay. I take it as a warning, up the water intake and stay inside during the hottest part of the day.
Around 9.30am, I grabbed a tuk tuk from the end of the street, wanting to go to the bazaars to pass some time. The driver took me to a shop (his friends), and suggested I might like
The Taj Mahal
Back view taken from Agra Fort.
to shop there instead. Go inside and have a look, he said, then he would take me where I wanted to go. It was easier not to argue and would only take a couple of minutes, so I did as he asked. Two minutes later I was back in the tuk tuk, empty handed, and we set off again. The driver asked if I would like to go to a textile shop! What don't they get? I said no, I'm not buying textiles! Eventually I got to the bazaars to find only a few shops had opened and the rest would follow by 11.00am, exactly when I don't want to be out because of the heat!
I had a quick look around and then headed back to the hotel. I also visited Shilpgram, which was advertised as a handicraft and artwork market with food stalls and a bar. It was just around the corner from the hotel, in the complex where we bought our Taj Mahal tickets. It was a huge disappointment, as it turned out to be a motley collection of half a dozen stands all selling identical souvenir rubbish. The stall holders all clamoured at me to
The Taj Mahal
The classic photo!
buy and followed me around, pushing their products in my face, and giving me their 'best price'. I left there feeling cranky, over the heat and the pressure to buy rubbish I don't want.
I returned to the hotel and stayed in for the remainder of the day. Tonight we're meeting on the rooftop for dinner before heading to the railway station for an overnight train to Varanasi.
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