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Agra, India

March 16, 2008

 Helen – We were up very early and met in the lobby at 5am because our group from Sri Lanka had arranged to tour the Taj Mahal and nearby Agra Fort, both of which are in Agra about a 6 hour drive from Jaipur.  We had rented the Fulbright 10 seater van with driver for the day and were to pick up the tour guide when we arrived in Agra.  The drive there was very interesting with camels (larger than the ones we saw in Egypt) pulling carts.

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There were also conical haystacks piled in fields, dung disks drying then piled into a herringbone pattern cone shaped mounds to be used for fuel, women working in the fields dressed in the most beautiful, colorful saris, men wearing turbans and scarves, fruit stands with clusters of tiny green grapes which we bought and found to be so sweet (grapes are only found in the super markets, not local stands in Sri Lanka), and large trucks with “Blow Horn” painted on their back doors or bumper.  This sign was to signal when you wanted to pass them, otherwise they drove in the center of the road where there were fewer holes.

Rest stop entertainment (expecting tip)

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Road hazard, wait for the sheep to move –

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 We stopped for breakfast after about 3 hours on the road.  It was a good restaurant but it took us an hour to order and eat.  Driving into Agra was chaotic with the traffic, vendors, and pedestrians on market day; I was drooling as we passed the colorful materials spread out on the ground wishing we could stop just for a few minutes.

 

Our guide was well informed but seemed to be more interested in his commission from the lunch restaurant and shopping stops (which we chose not to do) that he actually rushed us through the Taj and fort but was quite laid back for lunch break and then really upset when we said we didn’t want to visit the marble handicraft shops and other shopping stops.  Upset, he took us to the fort and brisked us through then asked what else we wanted to do.  When we mentioned several other historical sites, he said they were too far (hoping we would now go shopping) so we said that we would then go back to Jaipur since the ride was so long and we wouldn’t get there till after 10pm.  Visibly irate, he dismissed us as we stopped to tell the marble shop we would not be coming in.  We were really tired when we returned to the complex and went straight to bed without dinner.

 

Tom – I have seen hundreds of photos of the Taj Mahal and so thought that our visit might be anticlimactic – wrong!  The structure, size, setting, balance and beauty are incredible.  What is amazing is that humans 360 years ago were capable of producing this immense piece of art AND that it exists today in its wonderful state of preservation.  Even after millions of individuals have walked on its stairs, there is no indication of that traffic on the marble.  It has been cleaned and small repairs made but overall the structure is essentially the same as when constructed.  The Indian government has taken some steps to enhance its preservation by requiring that electric cars be used to drive to the main gate and that shoe slippers (or bare feet) be worn when walking on the monument.  Beyond the descriptions, photos, and physical presence it is the feeling of “awe” that will remembered. 

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Agra Fort (also called the Red Fort for obvious reasons) was also impressive.  It is huge with most parts still occupied by the Indian army.  It is considered the most important fort in India.  It is ironic that the builder of the Taj Mahal, Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, was imprisoned here by his son Aurangzeb.  His accommodations were quite elaborate and included views of the Taj about 1.5 miles down river.

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The end of our tour –

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Brick furnaces driving back to Jaipur

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