Saturday, 4 February 2012

Agra

Got on my first train in India, that was pretty exciting :) The 2 Indians I was sitting beside were very helpful. I asked them a bunch of questions, what's safe what's not, what to eat, where to go, how much things cost. They even called a friend to ask what sites are open in a place where I'm going to, because it was Friday and sites were closed to tourists on that day. I noticed that they start raising their voice when they disagree with someone (hopefully not me), but when they talk to each other. First time they'll say it nicely, after first time they almost start yelling.
There are a lot of homeless people near train stations, most of them build tents or structures from anything they can find. For some reason they like to go to the washroom right on the rails. So it's very common to see naked butts anywhere you look. And I saw a peacock! Very strange site, since I'm used to see them in well groomed gardens and not in the middle of that dump!
When I arrived in Agra, I went to buy a train ticket to the next city. Someone got in the line again right in front of me (some waited on the sides), but that one went right in the middle of it. I told him to get out, and he started with maganabanandegegananegebadmabagabanana (read it, then try to say it 3 times as fast, at least that's how it sounded to me :) ). I don't get any of that mumble, and he wouldn't move, so I pushed him out of the line. He resisted, so I put my two hands on his shoulder, leaned towards him so I'll have more power and bulldozed him out :) When the guys on the side saw me doing it, I think they got a hint and moved away :)
I got a waiting list ticket. I really don't know how it works, I think there are 58 people in front of me. I'll go there in 2 hours, hopefully I'll be able to get on the train.
I couldn't understand anything the agent was telling me. There is a glass wall, with a little hole, I stuck my ear into it, but he was talking so fast with Indian accent that after asking him to repeat what he's saying 5 times, I just started repeating him what I need from him. I think I got the right ticket, will find out soon :S
Some taxi driver didn't let me walk, I told him that I'll take a rickshaw, he told me taxi was better, how better? Because it has doors ... uuuummm ... yeeeahh, good reason! I'm taking a rickshaw! :)
For people who don't know what's there to do in Agra, the Taj Mahal is here, and this city is extremely touristic! When I didn't feel the pressure in Delhi, I definitely feel it here, very annoying! And everybody wants to take you on a tour. I'll take you to the fort, then to Taj Mahal, then to baby Taj and to the market, overall it's $8 for a whole day (about 8 hours), but nope, I think I'll do it separately. I can't imagine it costing so much. In the hostel met a girl from Delhi, and we hung out together for 2 days. She's from Poland, lives in Ireland, and didn't tell her parents that she's going to India. She said that she planned the whole trip and so far nothing went according the plan, and that's not the first time I hear it. I guess you can't plan things in India, which suits me just fine :)
Went to lunch to a restaurant, and I ordered Thali, which is a perfect dish for me, it has rice, bread, nano bread with a bunch of different sauces, curries, pickles, so for someone (me!) who wants to try everything, this dish is great! :)
Got a rickshaw to go to the fort. I told him 40, he tells me 60, after a few times like that, ok, you say 40, I say 60, so in the middle it's 50. I tell him, you say 50, I say 40, so in the middle it's 45. Ok, he agreed to 45 :)
The fort was very beautiful. It's the most important fort of India. Great shahs lived there, and country was governed from it. It was visited by foreign ambassadors, and the highest dignitaries who participated in the making of medieval history of India. There are monkeys, parrots and chipmunks running around everywhere, and you could see the Taj Mahal from it, very pretty :) I sat in the middle of a lawn to read lonely planet book when I was approached by 5 guys (Indian guys) who asked to look at a map. Sure, I gave them the book thinking it would take half a minute. They started to pass this book around, everybody reading a different section, then asking me about trains and schedules to Jaipur. I said that the schedule is not complete in the book because I got a train for a different time, then they started to pass my ticket around. About 10 minutes later they finally went away. Don't they have any consideration for privacy?
There are bicycle rickshaws and autorickshaws. I always felt bad taking bicycle ones because they work really hard at paddling me, but then I read in lonely planet, that it might feel bad, but that's how they make money, which makes sense. On the exit from the fort, I was approached by a 70 year old man asking me if I want a rickshaw, I felt hesitant at first, but remembering lonely planet tip, I agreed. And that was the first time when I was knowingly scammed. I told him I'll pay him 50 till the hostel, he said, ok 75, but I'll drive you the bazaar, you could look around, I'll wait for you, 1 hour, 2 hours no problem. Ok, fine. But what ended up happening, is I paid more and he took me to the stores where he got commission (in which case I should’ve actually paid less), and this was the time when I didn't want to see any stores, I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. So he dropped me off at jewelry store, then marble store, then he told me 3 more, and I said no, we're going straight to the hostel.
Driver: no no no, I take you to big store, there I get a lot of commission so you go there
Me: I'm not going there, I'm going to the hostel
Driver: but I get paid 50 ruppees!!
Me: But what do I get out of it?
Driver: You get chai
Me: but I don't want chai, I want to sleep.
Finally he goes, ok, I take you straight to the hostel, and you pay me 100! HA!!! NOOOO ! I pay you 75 just like we agreed! And before all that hassle he was telling me about India, and how people are friendly and honest, I said sorry, didn't meet a lot of people like that yet. But then I didn't mind checking the store out, cause it's supposed to be the best store in Agra, but I told him that if I go there, I pay him less, and we agreed for 60. When we were walking there, he gave me the rules, you have to be there at least 10 minutes, and if they give you chai, you drink chai ! Yes sir ! I didn't like the store though, it's extremely expensive. Maybe good quality, but nothing I would wear. They make handmade rugs, and a big rug would take them 3 years to make, and it costs $61,000 USD! Crazy! Then they took me to a jewelry section, and it seriously something that my grandmother would wear. I try to tell him that it's not my style, so he tells me to buy it for me mom (sorry mom, no earrings for you :) ). I said that my mom won't like it either, and he tries to convince me that I need this jewelry, and I need something nice to wear to a party, and by this time he already raises his voice. I told him not to tell me what I should like, and walked out in the middle of some sentence that I didn't hear. At the hostel, I gave the driver 100 rupees, he started telling me that he's old, and that he's knees hurt, and how hard he worked, I told him that it's good for his health, and to give me the change. He gives me 30, and looks at me, I ask for 10 more, and tell him that it's nice to be honest sometimes. It's not the money, it's the principle!
When I went to use the computer, everybody (Indian guys) in the lounge started asking me questions while I'm typing. Where I'm from, how did I like the fort, how long I'm staying here? I try to answer and to read/type at the same time, then I got tired, and told them "guys, I want to check my email please" ... 100 sorry's, but seriously, the 2nd time today ... PRIVACY PLEASE !!!
Went to bed around 8:30, immediately fell asleep, froze the whole night again, and woke up at 5:45am to go see Taj Mahal during sunrise (as recommended in lonely planet). Well, guess what? There is a huge lineup. Men have 3 security checks, while women have only 2, and women carry more on them, so our line didn't move at all. Took us 1.5 hours to get into the gate ... almost time for sunset :)
Taj Mahal is said to be the most beautiful building in the world ... weeeeelll ... it's not ugly, but ... Hm ... maybe it's because I've already seen other temples and tombs, so it's pretty much the same thing. I guess if it would’ve been the first building that I’ve seen I would’ve be impressed, but I really wasn't. And it was very cloudy and misty, so while building against white background doesn't look very good. There were also so many people, almost impossible to take a picture without somebody walking right past the camera.
A bit of history from lonely planet: The Taj was built by Shah Jahan as a memorial for his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, she died giving birth to their 14th child in 1631. The death of Mumtaz left the emperor so heartbroken that his hair is said to have turned grey virtually overnight. Construction of the Taj began the following year and took eight year to build. Not long after it was finished Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son Aurangzeb and imprisoned in Agra Fort where, for the rest of his days he could only gaze out at his creation through a window. Following his death in 1666, Shah Jahan was buried here along-side Mumtaz. In total, some 20,000 people from India and Central Asia worked on the building. Specialists were brought in from as far away as Europe to produce the exquisite marble screens and pietra dura made with thousands of semiprecious stones. The Taj was designated a World Heritage Site in 1983 and looks as immaculate today as when it was first construction - though it underwent a huge restoration project in the early 20th century. In 2002, having been gradually discolored by city pollution, it was spruced up with an ancient face-pack recipe - a blend of soil, cereal, mild and lime once used by Indian women to beautify their skin. Now only nonpolluting vehicles are allowed within a couple of hundred meters of the building. There is a legend going around that Shah Jahan ordered that the hands of the project's craftsmen be chopped off, to prevent them from every building anything as beautiful again. Some even say he went so far as to have their eyes gouged out.
Afterwards we went to have breakfast on a rooftop hotel with a view of the Taj Mahal. If you didn't know any better, you wouldn't have guessed that in that slum there is one of the wonders of the world just half a minute away. There was a dog eating cow's shit in front of my face. I didn't get a change to take a picture of it, just so you'll have an "eeewwwwwww" reaction just the way I had it ... but hopefully reading about it would do the trick :))
The restaurant was nice, and Taj Mahal looked much prettier from distance than from up-close. The food was great as usual :) Every time I'm pleasantly surprised :)
We went to a bazaar to walk around. There were no tourists there at all. Then we took some side street, and I don't think these streets saw any white faces before. Everybody was following us and looking at us. All the kids were running, laughing, playing around, telling us hello. Even the pigs I think followed us. The men would get up and walk from far away just to ask us where we're from. It was interesting, but a little bit scary at the same time. I just hoped that I wouldn't get raped, stolen, mugged or killed, but they seemed pretty friendly, and didn't want to cause any harm.
On a fork in the road, I asked some guy how to get to the fort, and he told us to go left, then autorickshaw stopped by, we said that we're walking, and he's like, it's ok, I'll tell you the directions, and told us to go straight, I looked back at the guy, and he shook his head. It was left, the driver just wanted for us to get lost, so he'll drive us. Oooooooh ... the fun! One thing I learned is ask for stuff from someone who has no interest in your business!


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