Friday, August 8, 2014

Delhi + Agra

I have now spent two full days in India. One day in Delhi, and one day in Agra. I feel as if we have already experienced some of the best and some of the worst of what India has to offer. Delhi was a shock to the system: its streets were filthy and odorous, and many of its citizens were aggressive and prying. Agra had these qualities too, but even after a day our both our senses and social expectations had begun to adjust. People spit here, and throw their litter directly onto the ground with reckless abandon. Children, as well as adult men, really want to take a picture with you. People purposefully give you wrong directions just to try to make a commission. It can be exceedingly difficult to tell if someone is just honing their English skills, or luring you into a tourist scam. The bright smell of incense used to keep flies away from fruit stands swirls together with the faint but ever-present scent of raw sewage. That being said, that’s all just part of the experience as far as I’m concerned, and our day in Agra was fantastic. We saw the magnificent Taj Mahal, as well as several other sites, and have enjoyed our stay at a modest homestay (aka BnB), which sits on a quiet street off the main drag. Back to the beginning.
Our flight from New York was delayed by three hours, so unfortunately we didn’t get into Delhi until around 11pm. The plan was to check in, spend the next day in Delhi, and then catch a 6am train to Agra the following morning.
We stayed at a hotel called Hari Piorko. It’s located on a crazy street called Main Bazaar alongside fifteen hundred other mediocre “backpacker” hotels. Hari Piorko is supposedly a bit nicer than the others, but the main reason I picked it is because each room has a fish tank in it. I thought maybe it would be like staying in a crazy Vegas hotel or something, but in reality, it was more like staying in a creepy hotel room where everything seemed like it was from 1973, including the fish tank. Hopefully the fish themselves were of more modern vintage.

In another bizarre twist, the ceiling was covered in glow in the dark stars, which I legitimately thought was a nice touch. The only other thing worth mentioning about the hotel is that it had this sign in the bathroom:

I love the idea of police crashing in on you in your hotel bathroom right after you put a paper towel in the “toilet pot” and busting you for committing the aforementioned punishable act.
As I eluded to above, our first full day in Delhi totally kicked our asses. It being our first day in India, we had modest goals. But Delhi made sure to beat us down. Immediately. Our basic plan was simply to wander through the bazaars and back alleys of Old Delhi, and maybe go to the Jama Masjid, which is India’s largest mosque and is nestled somewhere towards the center of Old Delhi’s winding alleys. But after about 45 minutes of wandering around through 90+ degrees of sweltering, muggy heat, the hassle began to hit hard.
First, any time I took out my guidebook to consult the map, one of several young men would instantly approach and begin to offer directions to various tourist sites we weren’t even trying to go to. They would then invariably proceed to follow us around for several blocks, telling us we were going the wrong way, or telling us they knew just the perfect shop for us to visit. If asked why they were following us around, the inevitable response was, “No, I am just happening to go the same way as you! I am not a guide, man, just being a friend.” These young man (this happened about three times) would then fade away, only to magically reappear a few blocks down the road, once again insisting that we take his advice and go to some dumb tourist trap so he could get his commission.
Since we actually were a bit lost, we eventually decided to find an auto-rickshaw (aka a “tuktuk”) to take us to the mosque. The first guy told us we didn’t really want to go there, and that tourists much prefer to go to the center city, because it’s “better for the tourists.” A second driver initially agreed to take us there for a fair price. Success! But as soon as we took off, a friend of his with better English hopped into the front seat along side the driver and began talking to us. He started talking about how the mosque was actually closed down because there was fighting between Muslims and Hindus just a few hours ago. My bullshit detector immediately shot to 10. Simultaneously, my sense of direction kicked in, and I was certain that they were driving us further away from the mosque, and directly towards the same “city center” the first guy wanted us to go to. After I accused them of leading us astray and told them I wouldn’t pay them anything unless they took us to the mosque, they rather quickly admitted that we were in fact headed towards the city center, and they had no intention of taking us to the mosque. WTF. We got out and retraced our steps back towards Old Delhi, frustrated and defeated.  
To make a long story short, we eventually found Jama Masjid, and chilled out there in the shade and recouped. Here is photographic evidence.

Jama Masjid, Delhi

In all honesty, I don’t have much else to say about Delhi. I kind of love the chaos of the old city, but I can see why maybe it wasn’t the greatest idea to go there with Hallie for literally her first experience in India. Oops! I can’t say I’m in a rush to return either.
Fortunately, our day in Agra today was absolutely amazing. We are staying at a wonderful homestay on a quiet street, and the family that runs the place has been friendly and accommodating. There are still strange smells, questionable electricity, and the giant mud pit across the street isn’t exactly the best view, but I really can’t complain! To my absolute relief, they also set us up with a very dependable and quite funny (dare I say eccentric?) tuktuk driver named Mukul. He was waiting for us at the train station when we arrived at 8am this morning, and he drove us around all day long and took us to some cool sights I otherwise might not have made it to. Most importantly, he made our day 100% hassle free. Here is a picture of the three of us. 

Hallie, Mukul and Me at the Agra Train Station.

We visited the Taj Mahal, the Agra Fort, and the Tomb of I’timad-ud-Daulah, which for simplicity’s sake is affectionately referred to as the Baby Taj. The Taj Mahal is amazing. It 100% lives up to the hype, in my opinion. Tomorrow morning, we head by train to Jaipur in Rajasthan, where we will settle in for a full week, and really get to know the place.  

Enough writing. Here are some pictures from Agra!

Sassy Butter

Taj Mahal, Agra

Hallie in front of Taj Mahal, with Man's Face and Belly

Taj Mahal wing structure, taken from inside Taj Mahal

Italian tourists just asking to be pickpocketed. Please.

Hallie with some kids that INSISTED on having their picture taken with us. Baby Taj in background. 

Inside the Baby Taj.

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