Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Taking the morning off from the adventures of the streets. Agra is tourist craziness. From marble shops to the stories of restraunts intentionally posioning people, I've heard, seen, discussed, and lived parts of all of it. Lonely Planet published a bit in their India how restraunts were involved in a racket whereby people would be posioned and then sent to "clinics". Thankfully, nobody was killed by this tourist trick of the most noble variety; however, several doctors and restraunts were put out of business. People talk about it, and one rickshaw driver even tried to steer us away from our chosen restraunt. We told him we were fairly confident in our choice. Advice has the weight of a grain of salt around these parts. Except in certain places. The guesthouse I've stayed in the past two evenings has been incredible. Unlike most other places this hotel refuses to dole commisions to the rickshaw drivers. So, naturally the drivers will attempt to dissuade you from visiting the establishment. It's trully unfortunate that the transportation folk are so far down on the scale because you never really have the opportunity to engage in a sincere interaction. Everything boils down to the almighty, dollars.

People will pretend for an entire to be your friend and speak for their own honesty, repeatedly. When you simply want to go home, they keep pushing for the stores, the keep pushing for arrangements for the following day. It's all very off putting. Although in a more exciting turn of events last night, my new found travelling friend for the day, Michael and I went out for dinner. When we returned home the rickshaw driver concerned us because he was so small trying to push us rather stocky tourists. He couldn't have weighed more than 50 Kilos, and the two of us probably rang in at 200+ Kilos with the weight of the bike included. So Michael and I got to take turns driving the rickshaw with our driver in back. He was slightly taken aback at our offer; however, he easily conceded to letting us do this. With hand motions for directions we made our way back to the hotel.

Yesterday was one of those really great non-stop days. I woke at 7:30 to be ready for the bus to a nearby town, Fatepurh Sikri. I had a great breakfast, and then the hotel told me they would not be running their bus to the town becuase not enough people had signed up for that day. Fine, no problem, re-group, finish reading the newspaper, and I thought to clear up my confusion about my train ticket. Well, turns out that the ticket I bought was not valid for today, rather it was good for the day I purchased it, Monday. Well, things were starting to look down a bit, then a guy at the counter was asking for the bus to Fatepurh Sikri. Since I hadn't really spoken to anybody on Monday except my rickshaw driver, and I've already espoused my opinion on them, it was pleasant to make the company of a fellow traveller. Michael is on holiday travelling from Sydney. It was funny to learn the most common question he receives is whether or not he likes cricket. Yea, really big over here, and Australia currently has one of the strongest teams in the world. So we joked about it because he really hates the sport.

From the reception area at the hotel we made our way to the bus station, by foot. This was amazing because tourists walking get about as much attention as a topless woman would in the streets of New York. People are always trying to topple you. "Very Cheap." "No, you can't, it's too far." What do you mean I can't get out of my way. Many times I've entertained strolling roadside conversations. I suppose the effect is lost that they are barking up the wrong tree. Anway, back to positive travelling.

We made our way to the bus; we made the one hour journey then we were on to this beautiful town. It was built about 40km away from Agra and rumored to have been abandoned for a lack of water. It was phenomenol. There was a beautiful mosque with some of the most intricate marble screen work I've every seen. Some of the panels took four years to be carved by one individual. A very interesting site was to see the very small tombs next the larger one of the town's holy family. These were for the carrier pigeons. Once we were outside, sure enough there were some hundreds of little arch shaped alcoves for the birds to perch in. The victory gate entrance to the mosque was 54m tall and quite impressive. The red sandstone out front was so hot one couldn't standstill on it. The guide also told us the white people didn't come there in the summer time because the sun overwhelmed them. I could see that happening.

Then we took the tour of the abandoned city, had a great walk through the small local market; we picked up some fruits to snack on and waited for the bus back. We returned to Agra around 16:00 I went for the train station took care of my arrangements there. And, when I returned to the hotel they told me Michael had left two minutes prior. We spoke about meeting up to go out for dinner. The hotel has a lovely courtyard and all, but I wanted a change of scenery; something I was more willing to do with company. So, I start running down the street, no Michael. Resigned to having missed him I start ambling back to the hotel, and sure enough he goes slowly moving along past me on a rickshaw. I callout and he has the bike pulled over. And, in one of the most free feeling moments yet in my travel I asked if I could join him, and we went off on our way to the restraunt. There are so many factors going into daily decisions, and it was nice to know that I wanted to go a certain direction. The only source I needed to consulte was myself. This moment in my travels really resonated well with me.

We went for a place with a rooftop view of the Taj. It wasn't possible to see too much, only a shilouette, but it was nice to have that change of scenery. We met a lovely girl travelling from Israel. She had wanted to come to India for reasons she couldn't explain. She had been in Nepal with her husband and he had no interest in India, so she did this leg alone. The three of us had plesant conversation over dinner then went for a beer and called it a night. Oh, yea, and the restraunt owner also fed me an entire line of shit about being able to charge what he wanted for beers. At least, that's what a government sponsored advert in the paper this morning told me. There is a law here governed by the department of measurements whereby a Maximum Retail Price is printed on nearly everything. Only, at this restraunt last night the MRP had been scratched off the bottles leading to my enquiry.

It's been a good time in Agra. I made my way to some of the major sites, I've seen some commercial marble, got food and rest. Soon, I'll make my way for rickshaw-bus-rickshaw-train-car-rest. Another great 12 hour travel day. But, then, I'll be with Holly and I hear the food in Lucknow is exceptional, yea!

No comments: