Thursday, March 4, 2010

Agra, India

Our auto rickshaw driver in Agra was crazy.  Definitely either manic or schizophrenic.  One minute he was happily chatting our ears off (in broken English with a thick Indian accent and with the constant honking of traffic in the background, so that we could barely hear him, and rarely understand him).  The next minute he was visibly angry, yelling at us “I drive many Americans.  Americans good people.  You cannot be Americans!” (because, I guess, he did not at that moment think that we were good people).

He’d started to get upset when, after our morning of sightseeing at Agra Fort, the Baby Taj Mahal (Itimid-Ud-Daulah), and another Mughal tomb called Chini-Ka-Rauza, we asked him to drop us off for some shopping at Kineri Bazaar.  This is an area where the locals shop, it’s crowded and chaotic and cheap, and not on most tourists’ itinerary.  He pointed this out to us and tried to stick firmly to the typical tourist list of stops.  We insisted; we had time to kill before a sunset visit to the Taj Mahal.  Sameer asked for more money.  This made Mohit upset, since a) it wasn’t at all out of the way, we were asking to be dropped off just behind the very touristy Agra Fort, and b) we’d pre-paid for his services for the entire day.  Mohit stood his ground, and finally Sameer relented, on one condition (typical of all drivers in all tourist towns)- we had to take a quick look “in his friend’s marble emporium”.  We were tired of arguing, so we sighed and agreed.



After patiently sitting through a 10-minute marble inlay demonstration and firmly declining to purchase any slabs of inlaid marble (who buys this stuff?  It would definitely have put our luggage over the weight limit), we climbed back into the rickshaw.  Mohit accidentally pushed crazy Sameer over the edge when he asked him how much commission he gets for bringing people to the marble shop.  BIG mistake.  I swear Sameer started shaking with rage.  “Stupid stupid American book!  It lies to you about commission!  No commission!”  Apparently Sameer is no fan of Lonely Planet.

Angrily mumbling something to himself, crazy Sameer abruptly pulled over a good ten-minute walk from the bazaar, and we were all too happy to get out and away from him.  Nevertheless, we still needed a ride to our next stop- the Taj Mahal.  In a calm voice, I asked him to meet us back here at 4 p.m.  He said “Fine.  Four thirty, maybe five o’clock.”  We thought maybe he’d misunderstood.  Calmly, we insisted; No, please pick us up at four o’clock.  “No.  I sleep.  My head is not good, I need to sleep.  Five o’clock.”  Mohit yelled at him, he finally agreed.  We practically ran away from him, agreeing that his head definitely was not good.

We were the only westerners in Kineri Bazaar, and all heads turned to study us as we walked by.  As in cities everywhere in India, the dense urban streets were crowded not only with people and motorbikes, but also huge black cows with curved horns and tons of tall, gangly goats.  I spotted some costume gold bangles and knew I’d paid too much for them when the shop owner agreed to my counter-price too quickly. Oh well, still a good price in our currency.

When we met Sameer again an hour and a half later, he was suddenly all smiles and love.  “My friends!  Kineri Bazaar good?  I so sorry sir, it was so hot, my head was not good.”  He chattered away the whole way to the Taj Mahal.  We didn’t say a word, just kept nodding.  “OK, maybe I get little commission. Twenty rupees only.  Smile madam, big smile, OK?!  You are my sister.  I make you my sister.  You like Agra?  Agra very beautiful?  I know- Agra is good, driver is bad, right?   Driver is bad….”

I’ll reiterate what all the guidebooks say- Agra is a dusty, ugly town and it’s full of ruthless touts (and crazy rickshaw drivers).  The sights in Agra, though, were worth the trip.  Agra Fort was interesting, especially since I’d read the fantastic book “Beneath a Marble Sky” by Jon Shors before arriving in India, and I knew the fascinating history of Aurangzeb, who imprisoned his father, Shah Jahan, in a tower in the fort in order to seize the throne.

I was surprised, too, by the abundance of life in such a crowded polluted town; there were monkeys on the rooftops in Kineri Bazaar and Agra Fort, a tree full of bright green parrots, iridescent blue hummingbirds on the red puffs of flowers outside Chini-Ka-Rauza, hundreds of water buffalo in the mud along the Yamuna River, and flocks of snow-white egrets attending to the buffalo.

We spied a cluster of squeaking wiggly bats hiding from daylight in a crevice in the Fort and iridescent blue hummingbirds on the red puffs of flowers outside Chini-Ka-Rauza.  Chipmunks kept running up to our toes looking for handouts and orange butterflies circled us in the garden surrounding the Bay Taj.



And the Taj Mahal was all that I’d hoped it would be.  Of course, it’s the image everyone conjures when imagining a trip to India.  Mohit had already visited two or three times before on his previous trips, and it was solely for my benefit that we’d made this long day trip from Delhi.  I was nervous the Taj would be a let-down, since it’s just another big building that’s slowly being eaten away by acid rain and air pollution.  But as we passed through the shadow of the red sandstone gateway, that first glimpse of the gleaming white domes and perfect minarets made me catch my breath.  It truly is the most perfect, incredibly beautiful piece of architecture I’ve ever seen.

I’m sure our photos don’t convey the awesome beauty and simplicity, but I don’t know what more to say about it.  We sat and just soaked it all in until the sun set and the guards started shooing everyone out.




When Sameer dropped us off at the station for our nighttime train back to Delhi, he was still apologizing and still telling us over and over again to “Smile sir!  Smile madam!”  He was clearly angling for a tip, despite his erratic behavior.  “I so sorry sir,  I very bad.  Very very sorry sir.”  He took Mohit’s hand, pressed it to his heart, then pressed it to his cheek.  I though he was going to kiss it.  In the end, we gave him 100 rupees (about $2), mostly because we were so glad to be rid of him, and didn’t want him chasing us down.  Agra definitely good, driver definitely crazy.






6 comments:

  1. looks awesome! you should have brought me!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Great post! Hotel industry in Agra is very big because of tourism factor. Anyone can find good accommodation here very easily. You can find 5, 4, 3, and star hotels in Agra and along with that there are plenty of budget hotels easily available here.
    You may contact www.hotelsinagra.org.in to book your desired hotel.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Agra is an awesome city. It is a city of TAJ which is also called The Love City. The way you described about Agra is very good. One point you missed over here which is cuisine. Yes, the people of Agra are crazy in cuisine. There are lot of restaurants available every corner in the city.

    ReplyDelete
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