Monday, March 14, 2011

India (2010), part2: Agra

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Agra is one of the most visited places in India, because of the famous Taj Mahal (NB: this is not a palace, but a tomb). The city has over 1.5 million inhabitants, but by the Indian standards it's quite small. One day here is enough. Besides the Taj Mahal and the fort there's nothing to do here. 

One of the world's seven wonders

On Tuesday 19 October, in the morning, a quarter past six, we head to Agra (Bhopal Shatabdi express, ticket: 400 INR, food included). The journey takes two hours. The Agra Cantonment railway station is about 2 km from the city and the Taj Mahal. There's no way to go there with bundles on our backs, in such a heat.
At the station, the man in the information office is nice and explains to us what and how, gives us even the indicative prices so that they wouldn't cheat us. We want to leave our luggage in storage (though guides advise against it), but as we have backpacks which can't be closed with a padlock (a requirement), so the man in the luggage room bluntly and vigorously denies.
When we leave the station, the beaters run to us. (Guides warn that this is one of the worst cities in this respect.) A pre-paid booth is just in front of us, but we are more clever than they are. We wait until the other tourists pack into the taxis and fill up the taxi drivers’ wallets. We walk around for a while, eat crackers, drink coffee and when the place gets empty, we start to bargain. A taxi with an extra guide for half a day will cost us 500 INR. We l
oad backpacks in the trunk and start off. With a soul on the shoulder we visit the Taj Mahal, thinking about our luggage left for two hours in the hands of our guides. (It turned out they were safe.) Taj Mahal is India's most famous monument, and of course the most expensive (open: Sat-Thu 6-19). A ticket for a foreigner costs 750 INR, the natives pay 10. So if the state shows that the tourist should pay much more, why should shopkeepers, hoteliers and bar owners do differently?
In addition to the ticket, we get a little bottle of mineral water and stylish protectors for shoes (in some of our museums they gave similar ones), but in the color of furious carmine. Officially, t
hese protectors are given so that visitors wouldn't have to take off their shoes to have their delicate feet burned on the hot pavement. If anyone watched the movie "Slumdog Millionaire" he also knows the other, less official, explanation. It's not allowed to bring: sharp objects, food, beverages, cigarettes, matches to the Taj Mahal - you can leave them at the reception.
T
he monument in itself is a miracle. It was really worth coming here. I won't elaborate here on the history of the tomb, because you can read it in every guide. 


Other monuments of Agra are: 
*Fort (open daily from sunrise to sunset; ticket: 50 INR, but they give a discount if you have a ticket to Taj Mahal) – we’ve seen it from the outside, because we planned to see the fort in Delhi.
*Tomb of Itmad-ud-Daulah, on the east bank of Yamuna, 30 minutes from Taj Mahal (daily from sunrise to sunset, admission: 110 INR, discount with a ticket to Taj Mahal). 
*Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque) - right in the center, near the market, just an ordinary mosque (it's worth mentioning here that almost one fifth Indian population are Muslims).
From the Taj Mahal and the Fort we go on to the market, but it makes a terrible impression on us. Stalls stand on the trash, next there’s a slaughterhouse in the open, the heat is terrible. We get q
uickly into the taxi. Our guides try to persuade us to have a lunch at an interesting restaurant. Premises are beautiful, the men in turbans play something nice, it's clean inside. We wonder what the prices do they have. From cosmos. We don't let them force us to eat here, we leave and go back to the station. We'll eat there ten times cheaper.
In the afternoon, before 18, we have a train to Gwalior (ticket: 150 INR). The journey takes one and a half hours.
When we arrive, it begins to get dark.

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