Thursday, April 21, 2011

Our India, Delhi to Agra

Internet communication is not 100% even in a large metro area in the US so why do I keep thinking when I stay at a hotel and the front desk assures me they have wireless internet, I am such a believer they mean now. I've discovered having wireless doesn't necessarily mean now or even the day you ask. Some clerks are up front and say yes but clarify it will work in about three hours. Then there is the situation after you check in they discover I have a MacBook and explain their network isn't compatible with Apple.  A couple days ago a brand new issue thwarted my attempt to complete my India blog, the country of Turkey has blocked Google Blogspot because it was used to stream "football" games and on March 5th, 2011 it blocked out Google. So I apologize to my readers for the delay (this sounds like my excuses in high school for not handing in my homework on time) but the government of Turkey prevented me from blogging for a few days. We've moved about quite a bit and now we are on the Mediterranean coast and that seems to permit me to use my site. Hooray, so let me tell you a story about Our India. It must be reported in a few segments because of the time spread and the number of experiences.

I've gotten spoiled about having someone meet us at a major airport when arriving into a country for the first time especially when we arrive late in the afternoon or evening. Having a sign with our name on it when we step out the door from immigration is comforting and cuts through the hassle of arranging a taxi to find a room. But I am still held by the risk of selecting from the internet without getting to see the room first but that's the trade off from wandering around late at night.

Chhoti Haveli, our bed and breakfast in New Delhi
I've heard horror stories about arriving to New Delhi with all the beggars, touts, thieves, and hustlers before leaving the airport. I was mentally prepared for the worst. We breezed through immigration and the non existent customs, walked out into the greeting area and a handsome young man holding a sign with our name smiled and met us at the end of the barrier area. He was our driver to take us to Chhoti Haveli, a bed and breakfast located about 20 minutes from the airport. I arranged this place the night before and the proprietor, Surinder Maini was kind enough to believe I was serious about arriving and held the room for us without prepayment. The young man grabbed Sharon's bag and we followed him to the parking garage to a nice SUV and off we went through the streets of Delhi. The streets were busy but not any more than any other big city but I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of trees and parks. We pulled off the main boulevard onto a small road with a guard station. The driver went right through to a slightly dismal apartment looking complex and parked. Sharon and I looked at each other with that look of "what have we got ourselves into", grabbed our bags, hiked up three flights of stairs, walked into a small living room/dining room with children and a couple other adults. It was as if we arrived as the aunt and uncle from the US. Our driver directed us to our room up more stairs to a smallish clean bedroom with attached bath and a small balcony. OK, not bad but not quite the quaintness from the internet description. Within a few minutes later a knock at the door and in the doorway was Surinder, the person I had communicated with the night before. She introduced herself and we discovered how wonderful and fortune we were to meet her. Surinder and her doctor husband, Pawan lived in North Carolina for six years but returned to India about six years ago. During her stay in the US she had picked up all the subtle mannerisms of the language and became a great asset to us in understanding so much of current India, where to go, and what to eat. We stayed three days and with her help we got to see much of New Delhi. It was getting late and we asked about a close good restaurant. She suggested The Flaming Chile which was only a ten minute walk away. After our absolutely delicious meal we returned to our room and quickly fell asleep. The next day Surinder arranged a driver for us to tour New Delhi which allowed us to see quite a few places in a short time period but what we got to see was very nice. So you folks who believed like I used too...give New Delhi a try...I think you'd like it.

Sharon with new friends at the Fort
A life's dream fulled...standing in front of the Taj Mahal
Our fourth day in India we boarded a 6AM train to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. The airconditioned second class car was very nice and included tea with a little breakfast. By 9AM we arrived at the Agra station and decided not to stay in Agra but to immediately purchase a late afternoon ticket to the Rajasthan city of Udaipur. This train is an overnight run so we thought to see the Taj Mahal and the Fort that day and return to the train station later to spend the night going to our next city, arriving there early the next morning. Purchasing the ticket was a circus to get a seat and we wouldn't know our seat reservations until a half hour before the train left the station so we left the train station by an all day prepaid taxi onto one of the seven wonders of the world, the Taj Mahal. Again I've heard stories about this temple looking better in photos than in person but I must emphasize, you can't believe what you hear until you experience it first hand. The Taj Mahal is truly magnificent! From afar it's like what Sharon described as a hologram and the closer you become the building is immense and incredibly designed and crafted. This was the real deal. We wondered around for a couple hours and returned to our driver who wasn't being very cooperative with our requests. Taxi drivers are trained to take tourists on a route which includes stopping at handicraft shops so they can earn extra rupees each time they haul a couple heads into the shops. We had no interest or time to play this game and demanded he take us directly to our next site. First I needed to stop by an ATM for lunch money and the next historical site so our driver went to a parking area, stopped and pointed across a street and small courtyard to a hidden ATM. I walked over to the machine inside a small space, waited for the person at the machine to finish his transaction and then stepped up to begin my withdrawal request when suddenly a group of people squeezed into the booth. I'm usually pretty paranoid about people hovering around while I do my business but in this case, it was far beyond hovering. This was like how many people can fit into an ATM booth because it was air conditioned and the temp outside was a bit high I guess they all felt the right to keep cool while they wait. I image it's a cultural thing so I continued with my transaction hiding my PIN entry the best I could and withdrew as much as these folks make in a month.

Alternate View of the Taj Mahal from the Fort 1 mile away
Agra Train Station waiting for train to Udaipur
I returned to the car and Sharon said she had a heart to heart talk with the driver and he confessed that he had to stop by handicraft shops to supplement his income so she asked how much would he expect to get from the scheduled stops. He said it usually totals 50 rupees which is a little over one dollar so we promised him the 50 rupees if he didn't stop. That satisfied him so went freely went on OUR way. It was about lunchtime so we asked for a good local restaurant but unfortunately he took us to a tourist place and when we entered, I was greeted by a 10 year old girl made up to be a 20 year old, singing and dancing and winking alternating eyes frantically to the beat of her accompanied musician. She grabbed my hands to dance. I politely danced a few steps but retreated. It wasn't was kinda weird and I walked by quickly into the dining room with other seated tourists not looking too happy but we were hungry so we ordered and ate the overpriced mediocre food. After the lunch we took off to the "Fort" which was a very large impressive compound with a great view of the Taj Mahal off in the distance. The weather turned very hot and we took our time walking about taking some great photos. After the Fort we still had about three hours to burn so we asked to go to a local city park to walk quietly without the crowds. At first the driver said there wasn't such a place (which I began to believe after seeing this city) but then dropped us off at a park which wasn't bad but not up to the parks we've walked through in other cities. After the walk we returned to the train station about 4PM and bide our time in a waiting room at the station until 5:PM when our tickets were to be ready. I walked over to the ticket office and the station master issued us tickets without seat numbers, only a cabin number. I didn't get what he was saying but he insisted all I needed was this cabin number hand written on the ticket I had earlier. I returned and was told by another rail employee that our train to Udaipur left on Track 4. We walked up the suspended pedestrian bridge over the other tracks and dropped down to track four. There were a couple other travelers and I asked if they were waiting for the same train. They said yes and we began to talk about our travels when word started spreading on the platform that our train was leaving on Track 2. We all quickly grabbed our bags and trucked back over the bridge to Track 2 and a train was waiting. All of us rapidly walked almost the entire length of the train looking for our car when word spread once again...this isn't our train...this train will leave in a few minutes and ours will pull here in a half hour or so. I paused with relief and a waterfall of sweat dropped off my brow. Once again I inspected our tickets and the car on our tickets didn't match any of the other travelers. Ummm....The train left and the other train pulled up but we still didn't see our car. I asked a gentlemen at the refreshment kiosk and he pointed towards the back of the train. This is not a good sign because usually all first class tickets are in cars at the front. We began our walk towards the back with all the third class general seating cars when we saw the car number on our ticket. It was an old car with first class stenciled on it. We stepped up into the car and found our cabin which turned out to be a great comfortable sleeper cabin with air conditioning. Wow, what a lucky choice...I guess this is what you get when I picked the most expensive ticket on the list. After the train left the station, the conductor paused at our cabin door, asked for our ticket. I presented him what I had which wasn't very official looking. He asked why my ticket was for starting at other station. I shrugged my shoulders and said I bought it at the "Cantt" station. He smiled, shook his head, punched the ticket and continued on through the car. I believe someone somewhere somehow got a little something and Sharon and I were just along for the ride. Next stop...Udaipur.

No comments:

Post a Comment