Telephone: "Hello sir."
Telephone: "Hello sir. It is being room service sir."
Tourist: "Uh huh..."
Telephone: "Hello sir?"
Tourist: "Yeah, hello..."
Telephone: "Hello sir, it is being room service sir."
Tourist: "Uh...OK...But I didn't order anything..."
Telephone: "OK sir, no problem, I will be thank you sir."
India is hectic, chaotic, dirty, sweaty and jam packed but at the same time a daily source of Monty Python comments, scenes and conversations. It's difficult not to smile. An example from a few days ago, after months of seeing the "Incredible India" adverts on CNN whilst at work, I couldn't help but guffaw when, whilst stuck in traffic, a passenger in a jeep next to us rolled down his window and spat out a hefty amount of inner fluids, all of which splattered across the side of our car. Lucky, our driver, simply turned around and said, "You see, that is why India is so incredible..."
Anyhow, after the luxury sightseeing, we decided to continue with the flashpacking by booking a two week jaunt around Rajastan with a car and driver. It's worked out to be €35 per person per day with car, driver and hotels, which is a tad over budget but worth it considering the size of Lanas bag and the extra titbits that we'll see along the way. It also means that by the time we're back in Delhi, some of the monsoon floods will hopefully have disappeared and we won't need rafts to reach Kathmandu.
As such, we dined on another curry and japati rooftop breakfast in Delhi before hitting the road in the direction of Agra. En-route we passed through the dusty, industrial pit that is outer Delhi and witnessed shopping centres, slums and car show rooms all side by side. The poverty in India is extreme but it's harder when an abundance of wealth is shining in the middle of a tarpaulin and twig housing area and hungry children stumble around in the dust near McDonalds. Once out of the city, the scene became cheerier. Cows on the highway, four to a motorbike and typical Indian chaos.
|From An Ache For The Distance|
After 3 hours, we reached Agra, checked into the hotel and went for a wander. Within the space of half an hour we were asked by at least 25 rickshaw, autoricksahw and taxi drivers if we wanted to go to the Taj Mahal. A malnourished horse, surely only hours from death, was offered up as a ride to the Taj. We witnessed a man running across the street with something burning in his hands, more cows blocking the buses, child labour first hand as kids polished metal on the streets and a couple of tipped tuk tuks with guys repairing the engines using cloth and grease. I'm telling you, this country is chaos...
We slept that night in icey conditions, as the hotel's air conditioning was a centralised system with one arctic temperature for the whole building, and woke up to the prospect of the Taj Mahal with mild hypothermia. The drive through Agra at 6am was like a romanticised version of India as a misty haze blanketed the city and the streets were largely empty, except for a sprinkling of cows and dogs. We were dropped off outside the complex and had to walk the last half kilometre. Since 1994, polluting vehicles have been banned from from going within 500 metres of the Taj as the white marble was slowly being discoloured by the Indian smog. As such it's a long walk fighting off touts, hawkers, sellers and rickshaw drivers.
At the ticket counter and security checks, it's typical Indian organised chaos and we ended up with a 10 year old called Sanjeet acting as an unofficial helper. He turned out to be a little gem and so I gave him a few rupees as well as making a little deal. I gave him 10 rupees and told him to buy some postcards. Afterwards, if we saw him again, I promised I would buy the postcards from him for 100 rupees (€2). If we didn't see him again then it didn't matter as it was my money he spent and he could always sell them to other tourists. It was a win-win situation for him and possibly a business lesson at the same time. Later in the day, we did manage to find him again and we did buy the postcards but immediately afterwards, he tried the hard sell with his fridge magnets and keyrings, so in reality he probably needs no lessons from me. To the little fellas credit though, after I'd convinced him I had no fridge for the magnet and no keys for the ring, he gave me a keyring for free anyway, to say thanks.
The Taj itself lived up to expectations. The whole two hours we spent there I never lost the feeling that I was looking at a postcard or some kind of stage backdrop. It was photogenic perfection and somehow unreal. It didn't matter what angle I saw it from, it always offered that same feeling as the car drive of romanticised India. Even the river that runs behind the back of the Taj wouldn't look out of place in the Jungle Book. The whole scene was simply phenomenal and worth every rupee. The only slightly concerning aspect of the whole thing were the Indian tourists wanting photos with us. Various prints are now being slid into Indian families photo albums beside captions such as,
"This is me with a white man at the Taj"
"This is me touching the arm of a Scottish guy"
"This is me with his Russian girlfriend"
"This is me shaking the hand of the Russian girlfriend"
"This is our family with a Russian woman and a man from Yugoslavia" (I often lie about my nationality)
"This is our family with two white people"
And, in addition to the photos are the camcorders and phone videos, daily! A strange process when the tourist becomes the attraction...
Day 4 - Delhi Belly (negative)
|From An Ache For The Distance|