Visiting the Taj Mahal
Agra Travel Blog› entry 17 of 41 › view all entries
Larry has told me before that I worry too much. But if thatâ€™s one of my defects, I can live with it. Iâ€™d rather be over cautious than not cautious enough.
Wednesday night, I was in my hotel room preparing for my trip to Agra. I had already arranged through the hotel for a driver to pick me up at 6:30 AM to take me there, and a few other spots and to bring me back to the hotel the same evening. My mother called me and started worrying me about traveling by myself. I cut the conversation short. But then after hanging up, I started thinking in my head, maybe this wasnâ€™t the safest idea. A girl by herself in a car with a complete stranger on a 8 hour trek (back and forth)â€¦.
So I called Larry and spoke to him about it. He of course, assured me I would be just fine. He asked me to find out the name of the driver. I decided to go speak with the receptionist at the hotel who had helped me with the arrangements. He also assured me Iâ€™d be fine. I asked him if I could have the full name, phone number and a copy of the driverâ€™s license. He smiled, told me the driver was trustworthy and agreed to get me all the information I requested.
I called Karanâ€™s sister (my friendâ€™s sister lives in Delhi) to make plans with her for Saturday and happened to mention I was worried about my trip to Agra.
I half-jokingly asked Larry to call me a few times, and if I didnâ€™t answer I told him to call the embassy. He laughed. He said, â€śV" knowing youâ€¦ Iâ€™ll start a search for you with the embassy and theyâ€™ll find you at some coffee shop in Agra giggling with other American tourists.â€™ I laughed. He has a good way to make me realize I'm over-worrying.
So Thursday morning, I met the driver, got a copy of his license and gave the information to Larry.
The ride into Agra was quiet. The driver didnâ€™t speak much English and I had a hard time understanding when he tried to respond to my small talk, so I just observed the scenery. I almost said I enjoyed the scenery, but it was actually interesting and sad to see.
I saw elephants, camels, monkeys, dogs, cows, and lots of people walking the streets already by 7 am. I saw people squatting to use the bathroom on the sides of roads, I saw men bathing out by tents on the side of the roads.
Along the way at one point, I saw a huge pile of trash (not uncommon here). In that pile, a dog was feeding from what I think was a cow carcass, then right next to that there were a few young children playing in the same trash pile, and over a few feet from there I saw a few cows feeding on the same trash the children were playing with.
All I could think was people should not be living in these conditions. This is not dignified living!
My driver first arrived at Akbar's Tomb (Sikandra's tomb). That was good to see. The tile work on the structures was so detailed. I took pictures outside, walked around by myself, then went inside where I heard a man chanting. It echoed brilliantly.
Then I met the driver again, and on to the Taj Mahal we continued. Right before we got to the entrance of the Taj Mahal (about 10 feet before the entrance), my driver pulled over and a few other men came over to the car.
They insisted, insisted and insisted. I didnâ€™t get back in the car. I asked the additional men for their IDs, wrote down their names and ID #s (not sure what the hec I was going to do with any of that, but it seemed like a good idea). The one guy kept saying all I had to do was let him walk with me and heâ€™d be happy to take a tip. Uggghhhâ€¦. I walked, he followed.
I looked at the driver and he said heâ€™d be out front when I was done.
I began walking towards the entrance and my â€śself-appointedâ€ť tour guide pointed me in the right direction to where I needed to buy my ticket.
I decided if I was going to have to tip this guy at the end of my â€śtourâ€ť Iâ€™d make him work for it! I noticed he had a limp and he walked extremely slow, so I decided to give him my camera and appointed him my photographer knowing I could outrun him if he took off with my camera.
So, I had a photographer and a tour guide at the Taj Mahal.
The Taj itself was splendid. What a magnificent sight! It was so large and majestic. It was exactly what I expected. My tour guideâ€¦ I meanâ€¦ my photographer did well following me around taking pictures and educating me on the history of the Taj Mahal. I have to admit I did learn a few things from him, but I didnâ€™t give any indication he was helping me. I was impressed with the Taj Mahal. That alone was worth the long drive to Agra. We walked around for about 2 hours or so.
I learned that the Taj Mahal took 22 years to build, which is what the 22 dome-like structures on the front and back of the structure preceding the Taj Mahal represent.
At one point during our walk, I offered my photographer a piece of gum and he threw the wrapper on the ground. I picked it up and told him he shouldnâ€™t throw trash on the ground. I told him in the US we have to pay a fine if we get caught disposing of trash on the street.
When done, I walked back to the car and my photographer told me heâ€™d call my driver. This confirmed the driver and he were friends (which I had already figured out anyway) and they had â€śworkedâ€ť the scam together. I asked him if he and the driver always coordinated tourist drop-offs like this and he said yes. He said the tour guides make their money off of tips. The tour guide told me he works with six drivers, who call him anytime they are bringing tourist into Agra.
The two of them took me to a local marble shop (after I told them I didnâ€™t want to shop). I learned there that this also was part of their little scam. The shop owner gives the tour guide a cut of whatever I buy for â€śbringing me in to shopâ€ť.
The ride back to Delhi was long. There was a ton of traffic. I did learn from my driver that he has a wife, a 5 year old son and a 5 month old daughter. We said very little to each other, as the language barrier was difficult to overcome. He asked if I was hungry at one point and I said no. He stopped at a street vendor and got a snack, but I was too scared to try the street vendorâ€™s food, so I decided to wait until I got back to the hotel.
So that was my trip to the Taj Mahal. It was bit worrisome in the beginning (Iâ€™m a worry wart regardless), but it turned out well in the end.
Plans for tomorrow ďż˝ďż˝" Iâ€™ve booked a driver to take me to all the tourist attractions in Delhi. Not sure how that will go, but Iâ€™m looking forward to it so I can at least see Delhi properly before I head out.