Monday, 11 April 2011

Weekend of the Taj -- Steph/Joe Combo

Steph and I decided that we were going to blog about our weekend at Agra, the city where the Taj Mahal is, together.  I'll be in normal font, and Steph will spice hers up with italics.

We were ready to set off on our first Indian adventure on Friday night.  At 8pm as scheduled, our cab arrived to pick us up.  Our program coordinator graciously agreed to set it all up for us, but then unfortunately happened to mention that he was a little worried about our cab driver.  For those of you who don't know, Joe is the ultimate back seat driver.  He trusts NO ONE'S driving but his own, and maybe his father's...No, actually, I don't trust my father's.  Ok, fine, he only trusts himself.  So for whatever reason we both get incredibly nervous, Joe throws around the idea of not going which well...makes me pretty peeved.  We walk out to the cab and see our driver, he looks just over 14 years old with the worlds tiniest car. 

This is when I first start to get that uneasy, impending sense of doom feeling.  But Steph says in classic fashion, "well what do you propose we do now"?  Great.  So we end up getting in the car anyway.  Then I quickly find out -- there are NO seatbelts.  Steph gets this deer-in-headlights look on her face, and I was pretty confident that we would have a high probability of dying on the road.  I'm not going to lie, at this point I am freaking out too, but I am absolutely dead set on making it to Agra.  Joe throws a fit, I try to pull it together and we finally decide to get another cab (a larger one with seatbelts). 

Our new cab shows up, and I already am feeling like a ridiculous demanding American.  I try to assure myself that it's really just because I value my life.  We set off, but only after an hour of stopping to buy chew (the driver that is, not us) and picking up his "assistant."  At first things are ok, just the usual near head-on collisions that we have come to expect, but then it gets a little dicey as we head into the mountains.  There is one lane at times and a steep cliff with no sign of a guard rail anywhere.  I eventually decide that I would do a lot better if I just closed my eyes.  So I do, and I fall asleep. 

I, however, do not.  It gets to be 1 or 2 in the morning and my eyes are fixed on the driver and on the road.  Steph tried to reason with me that I should just go to sleep; I told her that it frankly was not possible.  Moreover, I explained to her, the driver's "assistant" (his friend in the front seat), had already fallen asleep and thus could not be depended upon to keep the driver awake.  Someone had to do it, right?  Steph did not seem so sure -- but I knew that I was right (in classic Joe fashion). 

Yes, actually, and I quote from Joe "Someone has to stay awake with the driver, DIDN'T ANYONE EVER TEACH YOU THAT?!"  I stop feeling bad for him and just close my eyes again, haha.  Minutes or maybe an hour or so later he wakes me up, concerned again about the driving.  At first I am just annoyed, but then I realize that our driver has his eyes closed and is swerving out of the lane.  I panic and say "Um, excuse me, do you need to stop and take a rest?"  He wakes up, insists that he's ok and within minutes swerves again, nearly killing us.  I again demand that he needs to stop.  He ignores me and eventually stops to get more chew, for once making me thankful for nicotine.  The rest of the ride is relatively uneventful, just about 100 more near death experiences and a massive traffic jam where I had to wake the driver up to let him know that the traffic cleared and he could drive again, AWESOME.

Sorry for expanding so heavily on all this up to now -- but we felt it was necessary to give everyone a sense of the panic we both had.  ANYWHO -- now we're in Agra.  We had wanted to go to the Taj and then go to Fatehpur Sikri and stay the night there in a hotel we had made reservations for.  But no, this is where the grafting and grafters take over and determine our destinies and how best to exploit the dumb Americans.  We try to tell our driver our plans... he says, "we go to a friend's hotel of mine, it nice".  There was a major language barrier so we just went with it.  The place charges us way more than they should have for a tiny, musty, awfully-decorated room.  They tell us that we'll have to wait for the next morning for Taj and that we should go to Fatehpur at noon, giving us a few hours to rest and get lunch.  When we meet in the hotel lobby at noon, we suddenly have a "guide".  Did we ask for a guide?  No.  Did we want a guide? No.  Were we stuck with him? Yes. 

Luckily, he ends up being wonderful and I am so glad we had him.  He was very nice and knowledgable and even called us a "friend."  I bought it, for a while, but I will get back to that.  Fatephur was ridiculously beautiful.  Seriously one of the most awe-inspiring things I have ever seen.  It was the emperor's palace.  He had three wives (one for each religion- christian, hindu, and muslim) and had a palace for each.  Absolutely amazing.  We got to tie a string (for a price of course) to a beautiful ornate gate which brings you luck and one free wish.  It was really a wonderful experience.  Later that afternoon, we went to Agra Fort, again beautiful.  It had great views of the Taj and was where Saison was sent to be inprisoned when his son wanted to be king.  After all this, we suddenly are taken to gift shop after gift shop where we see some hokey demonstration and then are offered stuff that was probably made in China. 

I told Steph that our driver and guide probably have a deal with the local merchants in order to bring us over to their shops.  Turns out, they do.  By the end of this trip, I realized that my paranoia isn't completely unfounded.  We don't buy anything in the shops and then we are taken back to our hotel.  We had wanted to go and walk around and find a nice restaurant; when we asked our guide for a suggested restaurant, he told us that our driver would take us to a place that foreigners' usually like.  And that was it -- we didn't really get a chance to dispute his supposed suggestion.  The food at Indiana (weird, right?) was pretty awful.  Steph and I both had dishes with meat in it, and the meat was utterly inedible (we've since decided to stick to all vegetarian dishes while in India -- they simply don't know how to prepare meat here).  BUT, we did have one magical item... BEER!  We both only had one, and it was marvelous; it only took the one beer to completely knock us out.  I had been up since 7 AM on the day before, so I was dead to the world in seconds of hitting the bed.

We slept like rocks and got up the next morning for the TAJ!!!  It was amazing (I know I've used this word a lot, but really it is beautiful).  We took about a million pictures and learned a lot more about Indian history (which I won't bore you with right now).  We also saw a wild peacock and monkeys!  Which was a fabulous bonus.  After a few hours of taking it in, we got some street food for breakfast.  It was a deep fried spices biscuit like thing with green chile and potato sauce in a LEAF bowl!!  Awesome, but I was a little nervous about potential GI backlash.  We survived, were taken to about a million more gift shops until we threw a fit and hit the road to go back "home" to Dehradun.  After another incredibly frightening 10 hours in the car we arrived safe and sound to our homestay.  We again slept like rocks and woke up this morning to be driven to our new location for the next week Mussorie (pronounced is Missouri).  It is up in the mountains and it is ridiculously beautiful.

Thanks for reading friends, we will keep you updated this week with more adventures!!


  1. Well...this was a suspenseful read. So glad you guys had some cerveza! Keep blogging. LOVE

  2. Sounds like you guys are having a lot of fun! I am enjoying reading your blogs!

  3. Reading your weekend adventure made my neck and shoulders tense up. Two glasses of wine and I was relaxed again. I saw your car hanging on a cliff and the driver was still slepping.
    Enjoy your trip and be safe.
    Love, Mom