At the end of my rope

Agra Travel Blog

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The tomb of Akbar, one of the greatest Mughal emperors.


This morning I set off for Agra very early, meeting my driver outside the B&B at 6:00am.  Though pleased to have this direct mode of transportation, I must admit that I still felt slightly apprehensive about having taken on a car and driver by myself.  I think it’s partially the mild social censure towards solo female travel that I have frequently been aware since arriving here in India.  It seems to me that women traveling alone potentially face extra harassments on top of the “normal” harassments that all travelers face.

Inside Akbar's tomb
  But is that surprising where traditionally such strict gender hierarchies have existed for centuries?  (Note that in filling out the official form for a visa to travel to India, women applicants must give the name of either their father or their husband as part of the identity-establishing process.)


Leaving Delhi the landscape changed from urban to rural relatively quickly, and instead of seeing blocks of buildings and shanty towns rolling by it was now fields, punctuated by small settlements made up of rough 1-2 story semi-open concrete buildings on the roadside.  My jottings on this landscape:  flat, dusty, open trash heaps, patches of rough road, camels pulling carts, goats-cows-pigs wandering mildly or tethered in front of people’s houses.

Akbar's magnificent tomb
  Flea-bitten village dogs, the odd one lying dead in the road struck by a passing vehicle.  Depression at observing monkey handlers at the rest stops, their cat-sized monkeys collared and leashed and used to earn probably less than a few dollars a day.  String beds, sometimes occupied, on the roadside.  Any stop means that beggar children and vendors (trinkets, fruit, etc.) come and tap insistently on your window.  Bullock carts hauling elephant-sized bales of straw or hay.  Juice vendors with pushcarts, on which there are piles of citrus and ancient-looking hand-squeezers.  Conveyances of all sorts (trucks, motorcycles, auto-rickshaws) carrying passengers, sometimes an unbelievable number of them.  How many people can fit on a moped, for example?  I saw one driven by a man with a woman and a child sitting behind him, and a second child standing on the footrest between him and the handlebars.  (Women sit sidesaddle behind the male drivers, their colorful saris flapping around them.)


On the way to Agra, we stopped at Sikandra so that I could see the tomb of Akbar, one of the greatest of the Mughal emperors.  It was another stunning example of Mughal architecture, well worth a visit.  In fact, the national monuments that I’ve visited so far here have all been a delight, and I don’t think that I could get tired of the clean, magical elegance of Mughal palaces, tombs, shrines, or mosques.  With their garden settings, their soaring lines, smooth stone surfaces (sometimes like polished glass • remember that you walk barefoot in holy places, thus experiencing them with the soles of your feet as well as your eyes), beautiful carvings and delicate flourishes, they cannot fail to impress.


We arrived in Agra around noon, and in looking for a place to stay I decided to splurge on one night in an upscale hotel (Clarks).  While decked out with all the amenities you could wish for, it had a snooty feel to it, with uniformed staff people in every corner, leaping to anticipate your every turn and coming this close to bowing-and-scraping in a very unsettling way.  To my horror, after I had decided to stay and had paid for the room, the staff actually refused to allow my driver to come into the lobby or even to wait on the stairs of the entrance.  They didn’t even want me to walk away from the steps to the parking lot to speak with him, but snapped their fingers as if he should hustle over to the base of the steps for me to relay information to him.  This upset both of us, and he asked me heatedly (and rightly so) why should he, a human being, be treated like a dog?  I had one of those moments where my surroundings felt suddenly too much and too alien to comprehend, and I actually wept in shame at this (to me) bizarre situation.  The intensity of all the experiences of the last week (crazy noise and traffic, enervating heat, seeing Delhi’s extreme wealth coupled with its brutal poverty, the feeling that everywhere you go you are a potential mark for someone to squeeze some money out of) came crashing down.  My reaction was to crawl into bed in that unnecessarily haughty hotel and sleep for the next 17 hours.  I think it was either that or melt down.

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The tomb of Akbar, one of the grea…
The tomb of Akbar, one of the gre…
Inside Akbars tomb
Inside Akbar's tomb
Akbars magnificent tomb
Akbar's magnificent tomb
photo by: rotorhead85