Agra: The city where the Taj Mahal is located! I woke up super early to check it out, having heard the lines can get ridiculous! Unfortunately this past Saturday, all people got in for free due to World Heritage Week - unfairly enough it was still part of that week but the Indian Government was being its shiesty self, and charging money after the one day expired. At least during this time of year, DO NOT ARRIVE SUPER EARLY TO SEE THE TAJ. Why? You will not see it. Why? Due to the immense amount of fog clouding the atmosphere! I arrived around 6:15am to get my ticket, and was inside the Taj by 6:45am, 7 the latest. I had to go right in front of the buildings in order to see! Let's talk unfairness for a moment: Indians pay a mere 20 rupees (40 cents) and all foreigners are charged 750 rupees (15 dollars). How would you feel if you knew you were being charged 35 times the price that natives of that country pay? If you think of it in US dollars, in fact it is not a lot, and many of us can afford to pay that more than Indian citizens can. I can see it both ways, but again I speak from a fairness and equality standpoint. At least they gave a free bottle of water and shoe covers for going inside the buildings! So anyway, I explored the intircately designed center tomb where Mumtaz Mahal was buried and the mosques flanking them! The types of stones used varies and the amazingly detailed flowers make me realize why this complex was so expensive and took so much time to design! The huge pillars are even bigger in person than when viewed on the internet! The complex itself is quite large - a Western, Eastern and Southern gate! There are many cheap hotels to stay at in the Taj Ganj area and from there many restaurants have rooftop bars from which the Taj Mahal is visible. Catching an evening glimpse can be particularly pleasing to the visual senses :)
On another side note, there is a TON of theft in India. Who are the culprits? THE MONKEYS. Never leave your passport, wallet or any important documents out on a table, because there's quite a high chance that you might lost it to the hands of a primate when you are not looking. I heard of this happening to a Japanese girl (stolen passport) just recently. As Chris and I had breakfast one morning from the second story of a building, Chris saw a monkey creep down a stand where a vendor was selling various items. It yanked a loaf of bread away from the stand and immediately zipped up some poles onto the roof to bathe in the refuge where it could not be bothered, and enjoy the savory meal!
20 Years ago, some Indian restaurants were working with certain hospitals and cutting deals to send the people they poisoned (by putting poison into the food) to these select locations. An investigation was launched after two tourists died from the poisoning. Needless to say I was VERY careful where I ate there, and yet again shocked at how low people in this country would stoop for an extra few bucks...it's TRULY AMAZING what games people will pay when fighting poverty!
From the Taj we took a bus to Delhi! The busride was interesting I will say... When the gentleman collecting the money and handing out tickets told me it was 300 rupees, I questioned him. Then he admitted it was 150, but he printed two tickets and wanted me to pay for both. "Why?" I asked. "Luggage Charge", he replied. Unfortunately, this shady gentleman, clearly trying to pocket an extra 150 had picked the wrong tourist to f*&! with. I began getting irritated and louder as he smiled. I went to the back of the bus to see how much Chris had paid - 150, although the guy also tried to charge him 300. Then he came to the back of the bus, insisting I pay the luggage fee and I became louder and clear that I WAS NOT GOING TO PAY A LUGGAGE FEE, BECAUSE NOBODY ELSE WAS PAYING A LUGGAGE FEE! He then tried to have Chris and I split a "Luggage Fee Ticket", to which we refused. So I gave him 200 and he walked away without giving me the 50 after I was requesting it. Then, when he came back again, I began more heavily pressing him for the change, and he gave me 20, to which I sternly replied, "50." Finally, he handed over a 50 and the incident was resolved. There had been a gentleman translating next to me from Hindi the whole time, and I thanked him for his help. I HATE being treated unfairly and was not going to put up with this. So, lesson learned, ALWAYS check the ticket price first before paying and ALWAYS carry small bills with you, even for bus rides!
I was not initially thrilled about the idea of returning to Delhi, because being overcharged and dismissed from the city a month prior had left a sour taste in my mouth. HOWEVER, upon arriving and knowing our stuff, the blokes trying to gently separate us from our money have been in for a rude awakening! We got a bus from the bus station to the New Delhi train station instead of paying an absurd rickshaw fare. Then, after wandering for quite some time with heavy bags, we were able to find a decently priced place! Finally settled again...for the moment at least!
Wow, Delhi has McDonalds, KFC, Dominos, and best of all - PIZZA HUT! I was SO HAPPY about this and ate there the other night! There is no McCafe in the McDonalds, however there is a small kiosk located in KFC which is called "Krushers". This joint serves up chilled drinks such as Iced Coffees/Mochas and other interesting concoctions...definitely on my list of things to try here! There are also restaurants that double as bars here, WHOA! And it's somewhat cleaner...AND THERE's A METRO SYSTEM! Actually, there are certain seats reserved for women, and whole cars reserved for them! Must be because of the problem with Indian men groping women in inappropriate places, and Western Girls reading this, I hate to inform you but you must expect this to occur in crowded places in India. Whether you choose to ignore it or knock a dude out is your choice :)
A friend and I met some locals and were taken for some great Raja Chavel (Rice and beans!) After that, SAFFRON ICE CREAM, MMM! The girls insisted on paying so for the first time in India, I felt treated instead of tricked, a rather nice feeling :) One of the girls explained that she lived in a house with 17 rooms! You would think she must be rich right? Guess again - she lives with here ENTIRE FAMILY, including her grandfather, her family and her father's 5 brothers and ALL OF THEIR FAMILIES...now consider that for forced family bonding... Overall the girls seem a bit less conservative here, more of them dressing in jeans and more approachable to have a conversation.
The outskirts of Delhi (which I saw from the metro) seemed to contain a lot of slums...many buildings looking as though they were about to crumble to pieces and many "huts" or tents you can say, setup where people were residing...the overpopulation issue here is huge, and unlike China there is no "One child per family" rule or anything of this nature, so there is currently no method/s in place to control this issue. Let's see what the future brings, but if nothing changes then India is set to outpace China for the most populous nation in the world in a par of years!
Aside from the region in the North and Connaught Place - where all of the Western food places were found..I had not yet been anywhere else. Today, we explored Old Delhi! We took the metro to Kinari Bazaar and saw all the glimmering gold and silver and other things being sold. It was not as impressive as I thought it might be, and certainly not as hectic! This was after viewing the Red Fort (enormous) from a distance! After seeing the Bazaar, we walked to Chowri Bazaar and took the road to Jama Masjid - India's largesst mosque. It was there that we encountered a strange goat that had weird patterns adorning its skin, and a large nose, appearing to be the most human-looking goat I had ever seen! We then tucked into a back alley to have a meal at Karim's. "What is Karim's?" you might ask. Karim's is a restaurant established back in 1913 and still in business, with decendents from the owner/s during the Mughal empire either working or managing the place. It was BUSY, and the prices looked EXPENSIVE! Chris and I managed to get some cheap stuff though - the Dal was perhaps the best I had ever had, along with his Tandoori Roti and another style Roti. My paneer (like tofu/cheese) paratha (stuffed chapati - chapati is a circular piece of bread) was excellent as well! After that, we returned to the area where we are staying, Paharganj!
India is certainly having more problems such as suicides in certain rural areas, where the government has very few regulations and is unfair in the treatment of farmers. Many of the farmers have killed themselves with pesticides, due to owing seemingly insurmountable amounts of money to the government without any logical way to pay it back. I could only imagine how terrible it would be to live in a place like that!
Jaipur is next on the list, entering the old kingdom of Rajasthan where Rajas and rulers used to precide! From December 1-11 I will not be allowed to have contact with the outside world so don't be offended not to hear from me - nobody will. I will be engaged in a Vipassana course, where I will be meditating in chunks of 2-3 hours each day for a total of 8 hours (I believe). All meals and lodging are included. The course is free.