Jesse’s Blog

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Of all the Mahals, the Taj is the best!

Yesterday we got up super-early (6:00am is super-early for us) and headed to the Tajmahal. As you can see, we were all very happy to be awake and on the road to the “eighth” wonder out of the total seven wonders of the ancient world (nevermind that it’s not exactly ancient – but that’s modern marketing for you).

Our trip took us through all sorts of Indian countryside and smaller cities that we had never seen before. The trees and open land were nice, and at our first stop (a restaurant on the border of Uttar Pradesh) we actually got a beautiful view and some nice fresh air.

I also got to hold a wild snake, and sit down with a cobra. Yeah, that’s right. I’m a regular Indiana Jones. Beat that. I didn’t eat a big spider though, because that’s pretty gross.

The man was actually more scary than the cobra. And you thought dancing fast food mascots were bad…

We stopped at an interesting fort that looked a lot like a temple of some kind. This is when we got our first taste of the price difference in foreigners and locals when it comes to visiting the national monuments. Our price of admission was 110 rupees, but an Indian Citizen’s was only 20 rupees.

Some guy’s tomb in the fort.

The fort had a lot of repetition in its architecture which inspired me to take this photo. Now, if everyone could play an instrument, we might have ourselves a band:

Albert is way to cool for school. It’s kinda like a… fort…

At Agra (the city the Taj is in), we picked up a guide at a local crafts store (more on that later) and proceeded to the parking lot area to take an electric bus up to the Taj. As usual, we were first greeted by throngs of natives peddling their over-priced wares to the tourists on our way to the bus.

The bus ride was short and there was no line at the ticket counter so we quickly purchased our tickets for the price of 750 rupees, which is about $15 USD. Out of curiosity I checked the Indian price – 20 rupees, or a little less than 50 cents. Wow. I felt… cheated. Yes, I’m a foreigner – but my salary isn’t much more than a lot of Indians while I’m in this country. Sheesh!

We went through some security guards and metal detectors until we got to a plaza area where our guide was pretty insistent on giving us his spiel. He even insisted we wait to take a picture we wanted to take until we got to another place and we said “No, we want to take it now.” Ridiculous!

We took some more pictures and listened to the guide talking about a lot of things but mostly he liked to talk about the marble and how unique and beautiful it is, etc. There was something fishy about all of it but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

After the Taj we went to the Hilton and had probably the worst 5-star meal I have ever tasted. I won’t go in to details, but we complained and got everything for free.

The guide had stuck around through lunch because he wanted to show us the place where the marble is still made today, inlaid with semi-precious stones. We didn’t want to see it, but he practically insisted – saying he had waited 1.5 hours for us to eat lunch and if we weren’t going to go we should have said something earlier. So we went, and I immediately smelled “sales pitch”.

Sure enough in this 150-something year old shop where they still make this stuff they were trying to get us to buy some of it. I really was flat-out completely uninterested. I think the stuff is gaudy and unattractive, but we pretended to look around and be interested anyway. I was so annoyed by the tour guide’s actions at this point – everything had fallen in to place.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, he had overheard us talking in the car about how we didn’t pay for lunch because it was so bad, and called the hotel manager to try to work out some deal where he would hold us here until he came to give us the bills and collect the money. Fortunately Ruchika saw right through his plot (he probably wanted some of that money for himself), so we paid him the absolute minimum (rs. 200) and went on our way.

The drive back seemed to take forever. I was tired and my stomach was upset from the bad food we had at the Hilton. I got some sleep in but I never thought it would take 5 hours to go 200km. Crazy! We didn’t get home until almost 10pm.

View all of my pics here. You don’t have to sign in, just click the picture frame.

posted by Jesse at 8:45 am  

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