Monday, December 20, 2010

Day 2 - Taj Mahal!

Day 2.

The sleep was extremely disturbing, cause as cute as the hotel was, the walls weren't! So all night footsteps in the hallway felt like footsteps in my head, which led to us waking up bleary eyed at 6ish. I decided to wear my HLS sweat shirt which I bought in Boston, since Boston cold can easily kick Agra cold's ass! Girls on a mission - we were dressed and ready to hit the road in less than fifteen minutes! It was Taj time baby!

As we reach the ASI office to buy tickets we get mobbed outside by rickwallas and tour guides speaking their best Englisss! We quickly duck inside the office, where I get my ticket for 20 bucks, and my poor traveler friends pay 750 bucks each for theirs. But on the flip side, they got a free bottle of water with theirs! Racism?! I thinkk so!

Its about a km walk from the ticket office to the Taj entrance, so we preferred walking, since we needed a warm up in the freezing cold anyway. Now the amazing thing is, you can see tiny parts of Taj from all over the walls, but you can only see the monument in all its glory as you cross that entrance, cause its elevated high over the ground on a stage like structure. They don't allow you to take ipods/phones/water all kinds of things inside, and give you these funny red coloured socks to wear over your shoes (you need to wear these as you go get closet to Taj, and go on stage - and it looks really funny cause everyone is wearing giant red shoes :D).

As we entered, and saw the monument in its entirety, I could hear myself sighing. The spectacular view of Taj kicked the Ranbir encounter finally out of my head. Its magnificence has a charm, and you perhaps need to be in love or something to see it. As I recall the view now, it makes me go *sigh* all over again. My last visit to Taj as a kid, was quite a waste cause I remember being awfully bored. I felt different this time. Maybe it had something to do with the melodramatic play last night, or someone who kept popping into my head while I was there, or the dreamy idolizing sorts I have become off late, who knows. I'm a walking talking question mark, with no answers for anything.

So we spent a long time around, soaking in the history, the amazing facts about it, clicking like a billion pictures of the monument, its reflections in water, the sunrise spectacle we decided it was time to have some fun. So we started following random Chinese travelers around to have a chat (they're always fun). One of the ladies while discussing Taj asked me where I was from. So, I rummaged through a list of countries before saying I'm from Canada. She looks at me, and goes like "Oh, that's so beautiful isn't it. I've been there. That's where LA is right?" I just quietly nod and walk off. Told ya!

Meanwhile, Betsy was having more fun clicking pictures with the village-cool-studs who were around in plenty. Then we started walking towards the entrance and got into the usual time to get crazy pictures stage, but not the "Hey! look look! I'm holding taj from the top" which has been done to death. I tried one licking the Taj, didn't quite work out, then Betsy managed to get a more decent one kicking Taj! Oh well, Shahjahan can turn in his grave. We realized we'd been wasting too much time chatting with random travelers and it was almost noon, time to eat something and hit the road for Jaipur!

As we started walking back towards the ticket office where our car was parked, we saw a bunch of cute guys across the road. I barely mentioned the words "hawt scandinavian dudes - 11 o clock" to Betsy, that I saw her run across the road towards em' saying " "hey! wait up - cute Indian bride for sale, who wants one" *Fuck me!!!* Now maybe I should explain her retarded behaviour, ever since she has landed in India, she had been on a husband hunt for me. This has ranged from chaiwallas - porters - watchmen who I always flatly reject, with good reason!! So, when she heard me call some guys cute, her excitement went OTT. Anyway they had good humour, which made it easy to get over the embarrassing moment. They were actually really nice, and after some exchanges about our awe of Taj, we all bid adieu. Phew!

I've been asked to concentrate more on advertising the food than the actual trip, so for all curious people, eat vicariously or try to. The lovely lunch previous day basically consisted of paneer nan and raita and ginger tea!! The lunch was simple, but the ambiance was what was lovely, not the food. We're sticking to two meals a day, early lunch and early dinner - travelers huh?! We however went for lunch today to a place called Taj restaurant something (yeah, everything in Agra has the word Taj attached to it, big fuckin surprise). The restaurant was really nice, and we decided to share two thalis. The thalis were ellaborate with several veggies, chicken curry, shahi paneer, chicken biryani lotsa papads etc. Once we were fed (read stuffed beyond measure), we just walked around the road a bit, and I saw a shop selling pethas, and remembered my mom's love for em. So, I got two boxes of the famous 'Agra ka pethas' packed for home, and we were good to go.

The drive from Agra to Jaipur is fantastic, with beautifully finished roads and we covered about 241 kms in four hours. We managed to enter Jaipur before it was even five, and that includes two tea stops.

As we got into Jaipur, and drove and drove around the city to reach our next 'lonely planet' recommendation "Sundar hotel guest house". Its quite away from city, and in a residential neighborhood. As we enter the hotel, I was hit by the same familiar sight of travelers-laptops-surfing-vagabond, where I feel instantly at home. The hotel is gorgeous! We have a HUGE room for 1250 bucks, and quite lavish to boot. Includes food, atleast breakfast as far as I know.

We were planning to meet a coupla girls in Jaipur from the Haridwar Orphanage who are working here, so we call em' and turns out they live right behind our hotel, in one of the houses. What are the chances. We all went out for dinner again to Pizza hut :P and treated the girls to a lovely dinner (pizzas + salads + desserts) before catching up with what's happening in their lives. One of them wants to come to Delhi and get a job there. Its so endearing to see how well the girls are doing in life! We drop the girls off to their PG, and return back to the hotel. The hotel lobby is full of all travelers returning after a busy day, surfing net, planning next destination. The girls retire to the room, and I just hang around to chat with this lovely new yorker I'd met before. She's leaving for jodhpur-jaisalmer day after.

As I'm back upstairs, contemplating, maybe I should join her and explore the Rajasthan I always long to see but never quite manage to. Maybe?!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Golden Triangle Dot Com.

Day 1 - Agra!

I'm sorry if I may get into long boring details, but this is kinda for my journal keeping purposes too!

Considering the crazy kinda days I've been having its no surprise the last thought every night before hitting the sheets is always 'I gotta slow down and take a break'. Thus, when my Canadian gf's suggested we move our traveling plans from Monday to Sunday, I could only respond with a *mental groan*. My late night patters also didn't align with the need to wake at seven am and hitting the road soon thereafter. So, as usual a late saturday night happened, but we managed to hit the road on time and I decided to catch up on my sleep in the car *as usual*. Road trip for extremely uneventful, with all three of us napping away to glory, we tried to play a couple of car games, but I dozed off during my turn while thinking of the next something *Can't remember*.

Anyway, we got into Agra way past afternoon, starved, tired and super excited to see Taj. It seemed to be a little late in the day, so we decided to see the historical beauty tomorrow instead at six in the morning. We drive towards the hotel which is highly recommemded by lonely planet. They called it a tiny little oasis away from the main touristy noisy areas in Agra. Its called 'Tourists Guest House'. We reach and are obviously surprised, as from outside, it looked abandoned, yellowy and way away from our traveling path. We decide to pay the room a tiny visit to see if this place is worth staying in after all. As we move past the reception, I see the most beautiful little garden, full of backpackers just lazying the afternoon away, surfing their laptops. Instantly, I think - " free wifi and perfect place to meet fellow travelers, love it already!" The room was reasonably decent, and they added an extra bed for no extra cost. All in all, 750 bucks for three people. No complains. So, we started filling in the register at the check-in which had several columns asking address, occupation et al. We noticed some bloke from the UK had filled in his occupation as "professional kite flier" Baby jesus! And almost, instantly Betsy decided to make things more interesting, and fills in hers as "super-model" and mine as 'super-lawyer'. So, we're standing waiting for her to finish writing for which she's taking ages, and losing patience Theresa tells her to hurry up. To which Betsy is quick to reply "Come on, gimme a break, some of there questions are really hard for a supermodel". Touche!

So, we got fresh, had a lovely lunch in the beautiful garden, met some travelers, a lovely Italian couple biking away to glory across India etc etc. We headed out, all excited to get a distant glimpse of Taj. Now say all you want about it, I think it is and will always be incredibly spectacular. Ofcourse when you are an Indian and its in your face zillion times a day, nothing may seem graceful thereafter, but it'll always be the most charming monument ever architecturally created. But heading out seemed really futile considering we didn't have the choice of seeing any monument/fort since it was almost 4:30ish. We had decided to catch this show about Taj later in the evening that everyone had been recommending besides it was better than idling around the hotel. Two hours to kill, which can seem a lot in Agra.

We got off at the Taj parking lot, and started our walk towards the monument looking for the perfect rooftop restaurant to have a cuppa tea with a good view. Finally, we come across a gorgeous little hotel called 'Taj resorts' (its not affiliated with the chain). The people in the hotel were really warm and nice, and set up a chair and table for us at the roof, and we decided to forget tea and have beer instead watching the sunset. A superb evening had begun. We got so lost in the view of Taj, and our frivolous conversations that we almost forgot we're late for the show. We rush to pay the bills, call a cab and make it in time for the show at Kalakriti.

For travelers interested, there are three ticket ranges, 300 bucks, 750 and 1000. The two expensive ones come with audio interpretation devices since the play was in hindi/urdu, but we decided to go for the cheapest ones in case its trashy enough to be walked out of. And, most obviously I was the elected interpreter. Great! Now imagine scenario : The play being in hardcore Urdu went way over my head. So I had to first translate urdu to hindi, and then to english for two very curious canadian girls wanted to know how on earth mumtaz died. Halfway through the play I got so exhausted that I decided to just fuck-it and take a nap. The play by itself, was quite neat. Its a must-watch if in Agra. There's no need to spend money on expensive tickets, since the view even from the balcony where we were in was great. It has lots of songs and dances with stunning costumes, c-grade hindi music, mumtaz dying, a melodramatic akbar crying (which made me break into fits of laughter, and victim of audience glares :D) but towards the end of the show, they display a giant replica of Taj on stage which was phenomenal. And once the show is over, you can walk over to the stage and see it up close. I would gladly pay 300 bucks, just for a glimpse of that. Anyway, they don't let you take your own pictures, and you have to get snaps clicked with the professional photographer (which we did, but I didn't bother taking a copy), so I wish I could put up a picture here. Post-show we caught up a quick but late dinner at Pizza hut :P and finally returned to our rooms after what seemed like a good day!

We're to wake up at six am tomorrow to get a quick sunrise view of the taj before leaving for Jaipur, and its elevenish already. Another, long day ahead :)

Will keep thee posted!