After spending 3 days diving in the Red Sea off Sharm el-Sheik Egypt, we flew to Dubai for a day. Then my wife flew back to Chicago and I flew to the Philippines … by way of India! Now this is not really a crazy routing considering the price of a ticket from Dubai to the Philippines is very high. I decided that I wanted to visit the Taj Mahal to see if it is all it’s cracked up to be. So I planned 18 hours in India; I left Dubai at midnight and landed 3.5 hours later in New Delhi. There, I had a great shower in the airport lounge and I was off in a taxi to the train station (actually an Uber!) Boarded a high speed train (100 mph) to Agra and I was there by mid-morning.
I sought out a bus tour that I’d read about, but it was nowhere to be found. All I found was a mob scene of touts, drivers, agents, scammers, beggars and a few cows walking around as well. I just went with a guy and told him to drop me at the Taj Mahal south entrance. The price we agreed on was about $2.00. Off in his tuk-tuk we go, about 3 miles, with him promising to take me around the entire day for $5.00. I was getting a bad vibe from the guy and knew I needed to shake him. So when we got near the south entrance, I got out, gave him the $2.00 and walked off, with him shouting at me to come back. If he would have parked the tuk-tuk, he would have chased after me but he was in traffic. In hindsight, this was a great move as I met people on the train back to Delhi that got taken by tuk-tuks to shops selling Taj-crap, overpriced restaurants, and gem places, and the driver refused to leave until they had spent time in these places.
First hurdle over, I’m near the Taj Mahal. The south entrance has no lockers for my small backpack (no bags whatsoever allowed inside) so I walk over to the east entrance, check my bag, buy my ticket (about $20 for foreigners, Indians are less than $1) and enter the complex. It was built in 1651 as a tribute to Shah Jahan’s wife. She died giving birth to their 14th child. He was heartbroken because she was his favorite wife! It’s an impressive building. The Internet is loaded with millions of pictures of the Taj … here are 2 of the pics I took.
After leaving the Taj Mahal, I took a long walk through the back streets of Agra, trying to get away from where I was being constantly hassled. Still, the noise NEVER stopped.
My day in India continued with my own walking tour of the town … the real town, not the area right next to the Taj. No sidewalks, so walking is an adventure in trying not to get run down by a motorbike, walk into a cow, or fall down a hole in the street. The whole afternoon, I never saw any westerners til I got to the train station. I walked for 2+ hours, except for a 1-2 mile, 15-min ride on a rusting pedicab driven by a very-old-looking guy. (70 cents, I overpaid). (He was probably younger than me.) Never saw western or packaged food, no alcohol, no toilets and it was NEVER quiet. The smells are indescribable … always an odor of “decay” unless I was near food cooking, then a nice smell.
When I got back to the train station, I bought a bottle of water and a bag of potato chips, which I ended up giving to a woman begging with a baby in her arms. Back on the high speed train to Delhi, then into a taxi to the airport for my late-night flight to the Philippines (via Singapore).
The India is saw was not clean (I didn’t expect it to be) and also poor. It came nowhere near rivaling the slums of Tonto, Manila. And there did not seem to be a sense of “desperation” that one would expect in such poverty. I was asked for money only about 20 times (less than I thought) and when anywhere near a road with vehicles, I was constantly hassled to get into a taxi/tuktuk/pedicab/motorcycle/whatever. Constantly. It never stopped. The only safe harbor from the touts was the back streets of Agra, that were too narrow for vehicles. I felt happy walking there!
BTW, Google maps is a vital tool if you want to find your way out of the back streets. I suppose I could have navigated by the sun if I knew where I wanted to end up. lol
I am so glad that I spent this 18 hours in India. Everyone should spend 18 hours in India. lol
Below are some pictures and a video, which is a combination of what I saw plus a short clip of me riding on a pedicab when I got tired of walking. I paid the guy less than $1.00 for a few km, about 15 mins – I probably overpaid. 🙂