Rajastan: Agra (Taj Mahal) & Jaipur (The Pink City)
Monday and Tuesday we rested at home and planned our trip to Agra and Jaipur. Wednesday morning we took a cab to the train station (800Rs) and got the 6.15am Shitabi express train to Agra. It is a really nice train and they first served tea and biscuits followed by a lunch that we have no idea what is was and then more coffee. In Agra we caught a taxi (50Rs) to the west gate of the Taj Mahal. Tickets to get in for foreigners are 750Rs each (but about 50 for Indians). After going through ticket check and security, Emily got stopped because she had an ipod in her bag…you can take pretty much anything in expect food and ipods…what the?? So we had to go back down the road and check our bags into a locker room. Second time lucky, we were in front of the Taj…it was a beautiful day with a clear blue sky and the white glistening domes were breathtaking. It was about 9am when we got there, so it wasn’t too busy or too hot. The emperor Shah Jahan wanted to create an unsurpassed monument to enshrine the body of his favourite wife, Mumtaz when she died after having given birth to their 14th child. Work began in 1632 and took over 20 years to complete being made from marble sourced from all over Asia and semi-precious stones. I’m pretty sure 90% of the world’s marble is in India, even crappy old buildings have marble staircases! Around the Taj is a red sandstone wall and inside are mosques, a long pool, a museum and beautiful gardens.
From the Taj Mahal we first walked around Taj Ganj then caught a rickshaw to some market, that actually had nothing of interested except…Café Coffee Day! We had iced coffees and club sandwiches, it was actually really nice to eat ‘normal’ food again. A boy with really twisted up legs chased us down the street walking on his knees and begging. Chris gave him 10Rs and he looked so happy, but then all the other kids started coming out of the woodworks so we had to make a dash for it. The rickshaw driver was this little guy with the crappiest bike in Agra! The poor thing had to pedal so hard with is broken seat and chain that kept falling off and it was the middle of the day so he was sweating profusely. We didn’t want to use him to get to the fort a, because we felt bad and b, because it takes forever…but he begged us to let him take us and said he’d do it for free…so we went.
Agra Fort is a big red sandstone fortress, and the Red Fort in Delhi is modelled on this one. It was built in 1565 along the Yamuna river as the strong of the Mughal empire for successive generations. There were monkey playing in the windows and the view of the Taj across the river was gorgeous. It was like a labyrinth of rooms, so we had fun playing hide-and-seek and running down corridors from room to room.
It felt like a storm was brewing later that afternoon, the wind was whipping all the dust and rubbish that is in Agra as swirling it around, but there were only a couple of drops of rain. We went back to the station and got the 5.45pm 3rd tired class A/C train to Jaipur.
We arrived in Jaipur at around 11pm and got a auto rickshaw to Jaipur Inn, had a nice warm shower and a good, deep sleep. Jaipur is also known as the Pink City as a lot of buildings and walls are a faded pink colour. The next morning, Thursday, we got up fresh as daisies and hired an auto rickshaw for the day for 250Rs. We first went to the bus station to get tickets for the A/C volvo bus (500Rs each) back back to Delhi that evening. Then we went Hawa Mahal, which we later found out opened about half an hour after we got there, so we only got to see the outside of it. Hawa Mahal means Palace of Winds. Out the front were 3 snake charmers. Emily videoed them while their scary cobras darted around and they smacked them in the head…but the dumb dumb didn’t push the button propertly so no video ☹ We gave them 10Rs each and they chased us down the road demanding more.
Next we went to the City Palace (300Rs with a free audio guide) in the centre of the city. It was built by Jai Singh in the 1720s, each door is beautifully decorated and is guarded by guards dressed in white with red turbans. There are old carriages, textile/arts factory, armoury, museum and a cafe. There are 2 silver urns in the public audience area which are listed in the Guinness world book of records as the largest objects made of silver. The royal family still occupy part of the palace.
We had to check out at 12 so we went back to pick up our bags, they had turned the electricity off so we couldn’t have a shower. When we got back to the rickshaw the driver’s nephew had decided to join us. We then went to Jas Mahal, the Water Palace, which is an old seemingly long disused palace built in the middle of a lake. There are walls and poles where boats must have docked along the shore and it looks like they rowed right into the palace. In the surrounding mountains you can see a wall (a bit like the Great wall of China) weaving around like a big long snake joining fortress and temple.
They took us to a textile factory where we were shown how the cloth was printed and taken on a tour of the factory. We spent ages looking at all the different fabrics and styles and finally decided to 3 big cloths for presents and a patchwork elephant piece for ourselves. It was not cheap, but was so beautiful and you could see how much work had gone into it. The nephew started taking us to random shops, which got really annoying so we went back to the bus station a bit earlier and waited for our 4pm bus. The bus was the nicest/flashest bus we’ve ever seen with big reclining seats with extendable foot rests, 2 LCD tvs and free water bottles. We watched Slumdog Millionare but it was in Hindi, so it was lucky we’d seen it before in English. There was a halfway station were we stopped for 15mins then on to Delhi, we got out at Gurgaon and saved an hour of travel time. It was so nice to be ‘home’ and we had missed our Indian family!
Friday we spent hanging out at home, going to the Omaxe mall across the road and packing. Emily got her dresses and shirt altered and we bought a big gold and green vase as a thank you gift to Meetu and Aman for everything they’d done for us. That night Sweety taught us how to make butter chicken…yummy!!!