WARNING: This is insanely long and contains many pictures. Sorry!
Yesterday was beautiful, frustrating, sad, uncomfortable, thrilling, joyful, pretty much every adjective rolled up into one.
We left at the ungodly hour of 5 am, and we got into a car that was made for 6 people MAX, but we had 7. I somehow ended up smushed in the backseat with one leg crunched under the door handle and the other leg on Shannon’s lap, with my left shoulder twisted and my right shoulder straight. Absolute torture, especially at that hour! So I moved to the very back with Mary and Annica where they had those 2 jump seats that face each other. I curled up on the floor in between them, and over the course of the day I spent 9 hours on that floor. I got to spend all those hours looking at this man, who, in a giddy moment of delirium, we named “Pradesh.” I love how he’s stroking his moustache!
We drove 3 hours to the Taj, and what they don’t show in The Namesake is the insane amount of hassling you get in the parking lot! People coming up to you, grabbing you, trying to sell camel rides, postcards, tours, merchandise, etc. It was like a low-rent, in-your-face version of Disney World. But once we got through the gates and paid our entrance fee (extra for Americans), it was everything you could ever dream of. My camera picked that exact moment (literally, the moment we saw it) to decide not to work. But after wrestling with it I managed to get some decent pictures. I feel so, so blessed to have been able to see the Taj Mahal. Words can’t really even describe how beautiful it was, so I’ll just show you some of the pictures I took.
We felt like rock stars because this group of Indian girls spotted us and asked us to pose for pictures with them.
It was middle-of-the-summer hot out, so by the time we were leaving there we were completely run-down. I crammed into my little spot on the floor and we thought we were headed for lunch but we were driven to the Agra Fort. We saw monkeys sitting there by the entrance!
Look, Ma, homeless monkeys! The fort was beautiful, such intricate carvings and gorgeous architecture. I wish we’d let one of the men hassling us be our guide, because we really had no idea what we were seeing, but it was lovely!
When we got back in the car we were totally harassed by people trying to sell us things. I made the mistake while we were walking back, of buying a present for someone back at home from one of these guys. Then he assumed I wanted a million of the same thing. It’s kind of frightening how much they think “no” means “yes”. They just did not let up, no matter what we said. I ended up just closing my eyes and ignoring them. But, person I bought the present for, I don’t regret it and I know you’ll love it!
After the Agra Fort we finally had lunch. We went to this restaurant that sort of catered to the tourists in the area, but in some ways this was good because we knew it would be safe. I had garlic naan, and in honor of Mary, her favorite, muttar paneer. It was different than the version I’ve had in the US, more sweet and sour, but it was very good. The restaurant was pretty and looked like an inside tent.
We got back in the car and someone came up to Annica’s window and said, “Hello sir!” She said “I’m NOT A SIR.” And the boy said “I want your body.” It was hysterical, and totally creepy.
We drove for an hour or so and got out in a parking lot where there were rickshaws (Mary, they called them tuk-tuks here, like Guatemala!), camels, horses, etc. We decided we’d spent enough rupees and decided to walk to whatever this monument was. We were harassed the whole way by people who wanted us to take their transportation and children who kept saying “I good student! School pens? Chocolate? Toffee?”
We walked up this hill and there were tons of dead bees. We made jokes about how this is where the bees all come to die, and we were so right. When we got to the top of the hill there was this massive building.
We had to step over tons of dead bees on the way up the stairs, and live ones buzzed around us. This was freaky and another one of those moments where I decided “What does not kill me will only make me stronger.” It was definitely intense but worth it.
This guy came up to us and said he was a guide, paid by someone (I forget, the gov’t maybe?) to give tours at no cost to us. We rolled our eyes because it seemed like EVERYONE wanted our money, and would lie to get it, but the more we talked to him, the more he seemed legit so we let him show us around. We had to take off our shoes because it was a mosque, and they had sprayed to kill those massive beehives, so dead bees were dropping out of the sky and scattered on the ground everywhere. With our socks on we had to tiptoe around the bee carcasses, but avoid the children who kept grabbing us and trying to get us to buy things. One boy shoved his postcards right at all of our chests, clearly trying to cop a feel.
Aside from all that whining about the bees and the pushy people, the mosque itself was SO AMAZING. It was totally beautiful.
They had these windows that looked like stained glass but were carved out of marble.
The bees made it almost better in a way, because I felt like we really had to work for all that beauty. There was a special chamber in the mosque where you tied a string to the marble window and made a wish. The guide told us that the wishes always come true, and his wish came true (to go to Europe and marry a European woman – he married a girl from Spain). We decided what the heck, and we made our wishes. Surprisingly, they didn’t make us pay for this, so they must have been at least semi-genuine.
When he finished leading us around, our guide, surprisingly, did not ask us for any money! It’s weird when NOT being totally ripped off and used for your money is surprising. We began to feel kind of violated throughout the day, like we were only good for a) our money and b) our appearance, because we are apparently tantalizing to Indian men. We had been warned that the second week is when the culture shock and annoyance comes in, so I guess we’re right on target.
The car ride home was long and painful in the positions we were in, and the 3 of us in the back were like a living show for Indian guys, who flashed their lights and gawked and grinned. But it was such a glorious day, it was all worth it. Just to be able to be all the way over here, in INDIA, is mind-blowing to me. And all of the hard parts were interesting, and things to learn from. I feel like I’m becoming tougher, and it makes me really think about the good things about where I come from. At the same time I appreciate the beauty of this amazing ancient civilization.
***And a few side notes:
After we got home we were starving and tried to go out for food but after crossing the 3-lane highway in front of our apartment complex (scary!) found that nothing seemed to be simultaneously open and not sketchy. We decided to try ordering Pizza Hut, figuring that it would never come but it did! I had a “Paneer El Rancho”, Cajun spiced Indian cheese with corn, black olives, and peppers. It was yummy and fun to have the Indian take on American food. We watched some ridiculous show about “America’s Best Lifeguards” and laughed and I finally felt like I’m at home here and I have good friends. It really was a nice day.