A Travellerspoint blog

Of Animals and Aliens

12th-14th January 2012

sunny 13 °C

As I type this I am currently in a cyber cafe in the town of Tundla that I don't think has seen a tourist since the 70's. There is a dead dog on the floor outside. Everyone stares at me like I am from outer-space. Some smile; others glare and children shout "Hello" in ridiculous sing-song voices as they crowd around me to shake my hand. One small child hit me several times on the arm, presumably to see if I was human. Another pointed to the headphones in my ears and then to his own. I put it to his ear so he could hear the music and he looked amazed and a little bit confused. Maybe he was wondering why, in the year 2012, anyone would still listen to Will Smith (hey I can't help being retro)! Of course then all the children wanted to listen so I stood there for 10 minutes while they all had a turn. Some older siblings in their mid-late teens stood back and regarded me with suspicion, presumably thinking I was some sort of international pedophile.

On the way here the driver missed the turn-off on India's equivalent of the M1 and instead of continuing on to the next junction and doubling back, he screeched to a halt, threw the car in to reverse and drove backwards 200m down the highway against the traffic to make the turn-off. He also nearly fell asleep at the wheel twice today, once nearly killing a motorcyclist and the second time narrowly avoiding swerving off the highway into the central reservation. At least this is the last day I have him and I'm on my own from now, which will ironically give me more scope to meet people.

Backtrack a few days and you would have found me in the town of Ranthambore, home of India's national park and the most tigers per square kilometer anywhere in the world. As far as I could work out, this place specialized in car mechanics and little else. We left for the safari around 7am and were in the park hunting for Tigers by 8. We saw a variety of birds, two different types of deer, yet more monkeys, a blue bull (exactly what it says on the tin) and a couple of crocodiles. Sadly no tigers but the whole experience was still pretty cool none-the-less.

On the next day we face the 6 hour drive to Agra across some roads that Colin McRae probably would have had second thoughts about tackling. We certainly could have done with the navigator rally drivers have, although his instructions may have sounded a little different. "COW!!!!! COW COW, WATCH OUT FOR THAT MOTORBIKE! OH S*** A MONKEY!!! PIGS, PIGS!!! AGGGHHH AGGGHHHH!!... or something like that. Even so, the long drives in India are quite fun and it's entertaining to see the huge variety of scenery and villages as we pass. Upon arrival in Agra that evening (13th Jan), I do what I do in every new town we arrive in. Immediately dump my bag in the hotel and take a walk outside to see what adventures I can make happen. I quickly discover that Agra is, to use a travelers term, "A bit of a dump". The pollution is off the charts, the streets are packed and deafening, and the rickshaw walla's (drivers of bicycles with small 2 seat carriages on the back) are notorious for being the pushiest in the whole country. I walked down Agra's main street and looked for a place to change my travelers cheques. One rickshaw driver refused to believe that any Westerner would want to simply "walk" anywhere and followed me for ten minutes trying to get me in to the rickshaw. I walked in and out of passing shoppers, crossed the street forcing him to ride on the wrong side of the road and occasionally doubled back on myself, but the guy would not leave me alone. Eventually I found a place to change money and went inside. There was a long queue and the transaction took a couple of minutes so by the time I came out I had pretty much forgotten about the rickshaw guy. However, as soon as I came out the shop he was on me again! "Hello sir, where you want to go, I take you anywhere, only ten rupees (12.5p). I'm slightly ashamed to admit at this point I lost it a little bit with this guy.

Omar (loudly enough for everyone within 10 meters of the already very loud street to hear): WHAT ARE YOU STILL DOING HERE!? YOU'VE BEEN FOLLOWING ME FOR 20 MINUTES! HAVE YOU NOTHING BETTER TO DO!? PLEASE URINATE IN THAT GENERAL DIRECTION (may not be an exact quotation)!

This morning in Agra however more than made up for the cities less desirable aspects. The driver came to collect me at 7am (although I had been so excited I was awake at 5:15). The reason for my excitement? I was about to see what I had come to Agra for. What I had come to India for! We were going to the Taj Mahal! One of the wonders of the world, the best encapsulation of this amazing monument I've heard was by Tagore (a famous Bengali poet) as being "a tear drop on the face of eternity". As beautiful as this statement is, it doesn't even begin to do the real thing justice.

The Taj Mahal was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife and true love, Mumtaz Mahal. Grief-stricken when his wife died during the birth of their 14th child the emperor ordered the construction of a giant mausoleum to house her body. The Taj's gardens are based on the Qu'ran's description of the gardens of paradise. Construction began in 1632 and took 20,000 continuously working men 21 years to build, finally being completed in 1653 and costing approximately 32 million rupees, at a time when gold cost 1 rupee per gram! It is the greatest monument to love ever created and first sight of it brought tears to my eyes and the eyes of many people around me. This building alone has made the whole trip worth it...

Anyway, I have a train to catch. An overnight, 8 hour sleeper train, which the tour agency thoughtfully put me in first class for so it should be good. This will be first time I've legally been 1st class anything in my life so I'm off to make the most of it.

As always, miss you all and thanks for reading!

Omar x

Posted by OmarInIndia 03:13 Archived in India Tagged train safari mahal taj agra ranthambore driver rickshaw wallah tundla

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Great blog! You're an awesome writer ^^ I did a super geeky quick calculation and figured the Taj cost $52.4m at today's prices!

by Marcus

Thanks Marcus! Yeah it's really something. Looking forward to more meet up's when I get back!

by OmarInIndia

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