Thursday, June 22, 2017

On Our Way to Agra!

I'm back in Agra!  I always had a feeling I would come back to this city.  I was also here in 2007 and of course, it was all about visiting the Taj Mahal.  Back in those days, I never really did much pre-trip research so I had little idea about what to see or do in any of the places I visited.  I was pretty much focused on hitting items that most travelers have on their bucket list.  Of course, for Agra, there's only one highlight and that is THE Taj Mahal.

I had done enough reading about the Taj that I felt like I knew all about the building.  Still, there is nothing like the moment you stand before the most amazing building in the world.  I still remember that instant - standing still for just a few seconds to take in the full view of the site with the Taj flanked on both sides by a guesthouse and a mosque.   You seriously lose breath gasping at the sheer beauty of the place.   I look forward to sharing the moment I had with the gals.

In fact, I remember a lot about my time at in Agra in 2007 which included wandering about the other famous Mughal landmarks in the city - Agra Fort, Fathepur Sikri and Sikandra.  On this trip, I have planned for us to visit those four sites as well as a couple others that I have not been to.

One thing has changed though from 2007 to 2017 and that is the road from Delhi to Agra.  Back in 2007, it was pretty much a two lane road connecting the two cities and the drive between them took 5 hours!  Now, there is a highway and travel time has been cut in half.  It'll most certainly be nice to get to Agra faster but I wondered if we will miss out seeing and experiencing the local life because we'll be zipping by rather than chugging along.

Our day began early; Dinesh would be picking us up at 8a.  Shortly before 8a, we made our way downstairs....a little more challenging than usual for me as my left ankle was still swollen and in pain from my tumble yesterday at Qtub Minar.  Still, I always push on so one baby step at a time, clutching to the stair rail, my suitcase and I made down several flights of stairs.  Keshap spotted me as I neared the bottom and he rushed up to help me.   As he put my suitcase back down on the ground, I motioned if I could take his photo.  Sweet man.  He immediately stood at attention, looking very much like a soldier out of uniform.  Even the smile disappeared.

Dinesh promptly showed up outside our gate at 8a and with the help of Keshap, loaded our suitcases into the trunk.  We said our goodbyes and thank yous to Keshap and got in the car.  We had stayed in the apartment for 3 nights and all that time, were the only people in residence.  Even though we didn't see either Islam or Keshap all that much, I think they enjoyed the brief company.  It must be awfully boring sitting all by yourself all day long. 

The backs of Indian trucks are always full of instructions!

We slowly but surely made out way through the morning rush hour traffic of Delhi.  Somewhere past Noida (?) and the traffic lightened up to where we could actually move along at the posted speed limit.   I have to say, it's a very nice highway and once everyone is moving along at a decent clip, you don't hear any horns honking.  It felt like a ride on any highway in the US.

The further away we got from Delhi and the road began to cut through farm land.  The landscape is surprisingly arid and flat here.  I always have to remind myself that while Delhi is full of green spaces, the surrounding area is really much more desert like than one would expect.

Somewhere along the journey, Dinesh (whose English is not all that great) asked if we wanted to stop for breakfast.  I suggested to the girls that given that we did not know when we would have lunch, we should grab the opportunity to have some food now.  So, we told Dinesh that would like breakfast.

Dinesh pulled over at a roadside restaurant that served up simple food cafeteria style.  Truly nothing fancy.  The only thing that we recognized on the menu as being something that we could eat were masala omelets so that's what all had.  Cups of plain tea and masala chai were what we washed down our meal with.  Simple meal equals quick meal so we were in and out of the place in no time.  I was definitely eager to get back on the road. 

As we were pulling out of the lot, approaching a gas station where Dinesh would fill up the tank, we passed by another car with a flat tire.  Dinesh got out to see if he could help.   Thankfully, they had everything under control so we made the stop at the gas pump and then continued our journey.

Ah....Chantale.  Put her in car and in no time, she's fast asleep.😁  But the poor thing, she has been sleeping better but the worries about her father are never far from her thoughts.

As with many highways, this one was a toll one.  We, rather Dinesh, had to pay 415 rupees for the trip to Agra.  Not too bad though I guess if you want to avoid the toll, then you would have to go back to the two lane road and double your driving time.

We put Chantale in the front passenger seat and her responsibility was to keep her eyes out for anything interesting that we might want to stop and take photos of.  These thatched buildings caught her eyes so Dinesh pulled over right alongside where three very friendly young man were standing.  Why they were standing on the side of the highway??   Who knows.

I never imagined seeing thatched structures like this in this part of India - so close to two large cities but here they were.  I didn't know if these were homes or granaries.  I suspect they are the former.  They were situated quite a distance from the highway so I had to used the full angle of my zoom lens to take the photos.  It was only when I zoomed it that I realized the animals feeding around the hut were deer.  I first thought they were goats.

You can also see just how arid the land is.  We are in the dry season so that's not so surprising.

In a nearby field, a farmer was walking by three water buffalo, grazing on what little green stuff there was to munch on.  

On our road stop, I also had Dinesh pose for a photo. He was looking very spiffy in his white shirt and white pants with his name badge affixed to the pocket of his shirt.  You can tell he takes a lot of pride in his appearance.

As we continued along, we made more stops.  This one was at another place where there were a lot of thatched huts.

This time, it looked like an entire family was out harvesting something.  I couldn't tell what the crop was.  In the background, a sole man was chopping down sugar cane, a plant that I am familiar with.

The moment we were spotted, a few of the people stopped working to look at us.  I'm sure they were wondering what we were all about - same curiosity we had about them.  I waved to them and they waved back.

I think that both Chantale and I would've loved to run down and meet these people but something held us back. I think it was the language barrier not only with the villagers but with Dinesh to start with.  It would have been difficult to explain to Dinesh that we just wanted to say hello to the people, find out about what their lives here and take some photos.  I am almost certain something would've gotten lost in translation with Dinesh.  So, photos from afar will have to do.

We arrived into the heart of Agra shortly before 1p.  It was lunchtime!  So, Dinesh dropped us off outside a very nice restaurant where, most importantly, they have menus in English.  I let the gals do the ordering.  I've come to quickly realize that the northern Indian cuisine menu for tourists can be quite limited.  I am about to tire of eating chicken, dal, rice and's all starting to taste the same even though there are variations in each dish.  Okay, I will take back the one statement about being tired of rice and dal.  I will never tire of that combo.  In fact, I think I can happily survive having that, a veg and a bit of naan for every meal. 

Another simple meal but I think it's been good that we've not been over eating here. 

Working with Moin, I had asked that we visit Fatehpur Sikri on the afternoon of the day we arrive in Agra so guess where we went to after lunch? 😁