Location, Location, Location

Agra Travel Blog

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Nice view from the rooftop restaurant of our guest house

I seem to have been on the menu of every mosquito, fly, flea, and bedbug in India. The bedbugs are particularly insidious; you can’t see them or feel them as they feast on you while you sleep. I’ve got at least 30 dime-sized, bright pink bites on each calf as well as several dozen others around my body. My right elbow alone seems to have been a really tasty meal with 12 bites. I look like I was attacked by a mob of girl scouts shooting pink paint balls. And itch? oh my god do these things itch. There’s no choice but to furiously scratch them like a dog with a tick. If nothing else though they've been a good conversation starter. It usually begins something like, you have leprosy?  I’m pretty sure I got them from the blanket at the guest house in Varanasi.

This was also the place with the monkeys crawling on the grates of my bedroom windows, the geckos by my toilet, and two inch long cockroaches in the bathroom. It was like camping in the rainforest. I think the allure of these guest houses is starting to wear off.

One thing I must say though about staying in low priced--like $5 to $10 per night--places like this is the camaraderie amongst the guests. Every night people gather on the rooftop area and drink beer while discussing their day, travels, books, life back home, differences between cultures, or wherever may come up. On the other side of the spectrum Christine and I spent the last afternoon in Agra at a local 4 star hotel pool. It cost us 200 rupees ($4) each but it was well worth it since it was in the 90’s that day.

But you couldn’t help notice how everyone at this place stayed to themselves. They didn’t talk to other people by the pool, they didn’t talk to other people while they ate. Everyone seemed to isolate themselves. Maybe that’s what you get when you spend $125 a night for a room; privacy. Or a great multi-cultural experience for $5 a night.  Wildlife at no extra charge. 

We suffered through a long, cramped, mosquito-filled, 8 hour train ride from Varanasi up to Agra, which stopped just outside the town for 2 hours for some unknown reason, then crawled up to the train station. Agra is definitely a one trick pony kind of place. By the same token, after the Taj Mahal, where else do you go but down? And there’s no doubt that it clearly lives up to the hype. This is the most amazingly beautiful structure I’ve ever seen.

And I live in Cleveland, so I should know!

Arguably the world's most famous building, the Taj Mahal was built by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1631.  (I can only imagine how jealous the other wives were).  This garden tomb, an image of the Islamic 'garden of paradise' cost almost 41 million rupees, or roughly $5,000,000, if my conversion math is correct.  About 20,000 workers labored for 12 years to complete it in 1643.  There are dozens of rumors and stories of what happened to the workers on the Taj Mahal, for example, that all of them had their thumbs and fiingers cut off so that they could never work on another structure like it again.  It's my understanding though that most of the rumors are false.  The same stories seem to have been told about the Great Wall of China and the Terracota Army.


Despite the long train ride up to Agra from Varanasi, for basically one reason: the Taj Mahal, with another long train ride back down to Allahabad the next day, it was without a doubt worth every minute.  The Taj Mahal is a breathtakingly beautiful tribute to one person's love for another and I'm grateful to have experienced it.  There's a rumor going around that it will soon be closed to the public because of wear and tear from tourists and pollution.  I hope this too is only a rumor. 


merk888 says:
Katie, if you wouldn't have been rushing us we could've also done the "Lawrence of Arabia" and "Bollywood" collections for our new coffee table book. We're artists practicing our craft so when the energy from the camera speaks to us, we must listen!

Yes, I made it home, but after reading your Daily Ruckus entries I wish I were back there with you guys.
Posted on: Apr 25, 2009
kt_christine says:
Oh good, now the world has evidence of the Great Merker Taj Photo Shoot of 2009! I was there people, and this is just scratching the surface.
ps. Gary your blog is very entertaining, this is my first time reading it. Did you make it home safe or decide to stay and live at the ashram?
Posted on: Apr 22, 2009
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