The Taj

Up early again since the Taj Mahal opens at sunrise and the plan is to beat the crowd (and the heat). I experience the first sign of stomach problems and find it best to go for the antibiotics right away. Thorstein, Lars and Börje shared a room last night and they are still more or less drunk as we get on the bus, rumor has it that they were so drunk last night that Lars slept alone in the large double bed while Börje and Thorstein shared the small extra bed. But that is only hearsay, I haven’t gotten any confirmation =P

The Taj Mahal is very close to central Agra and as we walk up to the gate we’re mobbed by trinket-salesmen. A kid holds up a snow globe with a miniature Taj Mahal inside to Fredrik and asks if he wants it. “Yes, thank you” he says and grabs it. “Now you give me money” the kid says and Fredrik replies “No, you gave it to me, I don’t have to pay”. “800 rupees” the kid says, “10 rupees” Fredrik says and after weirdly small amount of haggling Fredrik gets the snow globe for 10 rupees (1.60 sek) …only to have it taken away at the security check five minutes later. This is the first real security check we’ve been through and they only allow wallet, cell phone, camera and water bottle inside. Lars vainly (and drunkenly) tries to save his snus from being taken but the guards are steadfast. The snow globe is taken care of by the brother of the guide and kept safe.

Coming through the portal you see the first glimpse of the Taj Mahal and it’s nothing short of magnificent! There are already a lot of people here but we manage to get a few nice shots of it. On each side of the Taj Mahal is a mosque, but only one of them is a real mosque, the other one is there for symmetry’s sake. When going up to the Taj Mahal you have to don shoe protectors or remove the shoes in order to protect the marble. We have an hour here and I more or less just mill around and enjoy the silence and absolute beauty of the thing.

As time comes to reassemble we discover that Thorstein is missing, but soon enough the guide gets a phone call telling us that Thorstein is outside buying t-shirts! Damned if I know how they knew that but it’s fascinating to see how well they did. Turns out while buying no less than six t-shirts Thorstein was pick pocketed of some money.

Next stop is a workshop where they make marble crafts such as tables and other trinkets. First we’re shown how the grinding process works and it’s nothing surprising there. We’re also shown the magic of the white marble that is translucent in nature and actually spreads the light. This is what happens with the Taj Mahal also and is part of the wonder. The owner makes a point of the fact that if we buy any large pieces they will be delivered to our door free of charge and we get a new one if it’s broken in any way. It’s nice to look around but I don’t buy anything, Börje however, buys a plaque for something like $5000.

Done with the store we go to Agra fort, in the center of town. I decide not to tag along this time and instead try to find some mosquito cream. I guess I should’ve asked first though, because there are no medecine shops within walking distance from the fort. There are plenty of really awful salesmen there though, quoting incredibly dishonest prices like 1500 rupees (250 sek) for a 2 GB SD card when they are less than 80 sek back in Sweden… And they hardly ever give up either, I have to escape into a cafe for a mango juice in order to get rid of them, only to be pestered by the owner repeatedly asking if I want anything more than the juice.

I find Maria after a while though and she says I should try the pakora??? if I wanted something spicy. So I sit down at one of those holes in the wall and ask for some really spicy pakora. The food I receive isn’t all that spicy though and I ask if I can get something more spicy. The chef throws up his hands a says “Too spicy!” and I reply “Yes, I want too spicy!” He goes back into his hole and cooks me up some too spicy food and this time it actually manages to make me sweat. I still feel that I’ve gotten far spicier food in Sweden.

The group that’ve been in the fort is back soon after I’ve finished my food and we are once again back on the road. The roads are yet again really bad and it’s an estimated 7-8 hours before we reach Orchha. On the way we are forced to make a stop in a village since a couple of cows thought it a good idea to lie down in front of the bus and not move. This is of course a photo opportunity for us and as we’re done photographing we turn around to find a crowd of 30 or so Indians staring at us, at this point we are the attraction!

We finally arrive in Orchha in the early evening to find out that we’re staying at a really fancy hotel where we get some sort of tent-bungalows in the garden with old hindu temples looming in the background. It’s absolutely fabulous and we just gawk at the scenery. Most of the others decide to eat in the hotel restaurant, but Ricard and I go downtown in hope of finding some street food. We end up at a restaurant we saw from the bus when pulling in, but decide that we don’t really like the menu. The owner just says “That’s okay” and leaves us be. Unsure if this is still India we move on down the road and come across a cheerful guy called Sunil. He asks us where we’re from and when we say Sweden he lights up and tells us that he has a friend there with the Pink Caravan: Maria. We tell him that she’s here now and he is really pleased and says he’ll go find her in the morning.

We eventually find a restaurant and order some cauliflower tikka, something we’ve never seen before. A few minutes later we see a man going by with, presumably, our cauliflower. This is the first time it’s taken more than 20 minutes to get our food in India, but once we get it, it’s really good. As company while we wait we have a couple of cows and a stray dog which turns into nine cows and five dogs before we pay and leave.

Coming back to the hotel we find some turkish pepper candy outside our tent, and having an idea of who put it there we bring the turkish pepper shot and some whiskey over to Piff and Puffs tent for a nightcap.

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