-a remark by a random shopkeeper as I passed
I am in Agra! I woke up at 4:30am this morning (you should be proud, parentals) and walked a kilometer to the ticket booth. My roommate called it "an enchanted walk"; it was dark but there were streetlamps and strings of Christmas lights decorating several hotels and restaurants. It turned out there was a gate closer to our hotel, but the people who went to that one didn't get free bottled water or little socks to put over their shoes like we did. (You have to take off your shoes or cover them with cloth when you go into the Taj Mahal.) Anyway the Taj Mahal was soooo beautifulllll. The most expensive entry ticket to anything by far, but so worth it. Despite all the people it was a very tranquil place (and we were some of the first in anyway). I took a roll of film; the light kept changing...the sky started out gray, then white, then pink broke over the white marble, and turned golden, and the sky became a clear blue...The Yamuna was all misty and gorgeous. The interior of the building had an intense echo, so the few people's comments echoed cacophanously which was sort of not fitting. But outside everyone was quiet, and we interacted with a lot of other nice tourists, taking photos for them or being photographed by them. This one Mauritian tour guide may or may not be creating a Youtube slideshow with our group in it...but anyway.
After a two hour nap, we went to Pizza Hut for lunch, which was glorious in a different way. Cheese is so scarce here usually, and they didn't hold back there. There was hip hop instead of cheesy '80s music playing. A strange observation was a young Indian couple slowdancing in the corner of the second floor (where the restrooms but no dining furniture is)...Then we went next door to Costa Coffee, which was expensive by local standards but so worth it. I got them to make me a black iced coffee, and we stayed for a couple hours talking and enjoying the air conditioning. You really do need to nap or take refuge in some way during the hottest part of the day here. I dont' know if we're having a hot spell or if Agra is just for some reason hotter than Jaipur.
Last night we had dinner at the rooftop restaurant of Hotel Kamal, which I booked for us as it supposedly has one of the best rooftop views. It was our first good look at the Taj Mahal, and we watched the sun set. The food was fairly tasty, but humorous: an eggroll was literally egg rolled up in dough, like a crepe with an omelet inside. A banana pancake (what I ordered) was a banana rolled up in dough. Hot and sour soup was not at all like hot an sour soup. (I didn't try it but it was very spinach-heavy.)
We also went to a bazaar yesterday which was kind of a bad experience; we picked it because the guidebook said it was "refreshingly hassle-free" as it is not geared toward tourists, but really it didn't have much to offer other than fruit and saris, neither of which we were looking for. And as we were the only tourists there, we got hassled quite aggressively. That was the first time I've been physically harrassed; these women kept nudging our arms. Today we went down more touristy streets near our hotel, and dealt with some really nice and funny shopkeepers. We browsed a lot before buying and always bargained down a hefty percentage from the lowest originally named price. (that was a complex phrase, but I think you can figure it out.)
Oh, also yesterday we went to the "Baby Taj." I don't know what it is actually called because the girl who suggested we go there always just calls it that. It was her Islamic Art professor's favorite architectural structure. It was much cheaper to get into than the actual Taj Mahal but was very beautiful and peaceful as well, and also on the Yamuna. It was a nice little oasis after the hustle of the bazaar.
We keep running into the same tourists today. I've gotten to use a couple of my foreign languages today, which was fun. I wish I had more time to talk, but since I'm in a big group I always have to keep moving on with them.
Agra seems to have a lot more...
2) excrement on the road
...than Jaipur. I imagine you can make some connections between these things.
Tomorrow we may be going to Fatehpur Sikri. I am kind of unenthused as I would like to save money and it will be an hour long unairconditioned crowded bus ride with my luggage each way, not to mention walking around for hours with my bags. We get back into Jaipur at night, and I have some studying to do. The air conditioned reclining chair car we were in on the way up was really great, I slept pretty much the whole time. The view out the window was not great; our window was steamed up and dirty. Hopefully at least one other person will opt to just go to a cafe with me or something.
Anyway, my hour here is about up. I promise to upload photos as soon as I can (probably Tuesday).
Miss you!!! <3