We left Jaipur bright and early to make it to Agra with enough time to make some visits. Our first stop was to Fatehpur Sikri. This is a combo fort and deserted city visit. We visited the old fort, which we think was not actually a fort, but a mosque. I think we got some info wrong, because it was set up like a mosque, and the happenings inside the building were very reminiscent of the mosques we've visited. We were going to go to the deserted city, which was what we were initially interested in anyways, but it was unbearably hot and we were getting quite hangry, hungry + angry (thanks Emily and Neil, that one's come in handy). So we made our way to Agra proper to have a bite to eat at a South Indian restaurant named Dasaprakash. We ended up ordering the vegetarian thali, and it was so much food that we couldn't finish them. Delicious though. We paired them with mango lassis, which were quite tasty.
We, then, got in the car to visit the Taj Mahal. For me, this was the highlight of India. I was a bit apprehensive of visiting the Taj Mahal, because we had run into one or two people who said that once you got there it was a bit of a let down, because you already knew what it looked like from photos. I thought it was beautiful. Gleaming white domes and spires with nothing but blue skies and fluffy white clouds draping around it. Surprisingly, we were the only white people there. Maybe there was another couple that was hiding behind a bush, but the majority of visitors were Indians. And quite reasonably so. It is quite inexpensive for an Indian to visit the Taj Mahal, only 20 rupees (the equivalent to abut $0.40, or the same price as a litre of milk here). For foreigners it was 750 rupees, which pans out to about $15. In the US everyone pays the same price, with the exception of small discounts for students, children, or seniors, and the difference is quite minimal. Since we've left Europe, the discrepancy in entry fees has been unreasonable. India must make a killing off all of these attractions.
This is a picture of Seth at the Taj Mahal. Note the many people between the camera and Seth. Once you leave Western countries, the idea of waiting or taking turns disappears. Whether it's someone pushing between you and a railing to see into an exhibit in a museum, or walking through the line of a camera lens, all semblance of patience is nonexistent.
Our hotel was quite comfortable and clean so we were quite happy cooling off for a bit before dinner, even though they charged 200 rupees per hour for internet. The way they rip off tourists is not right. This is the one thing I will not get used to while traveling.
For dinner we went to a place that locals visit as well. We ordered two delicious dosa, and they were for the local price, which was nice.
The next morning we were dropped off at the train station to make our way to our next destination. The train station was filled with beggars. The majority of the beggars were little children who obviously had a handler nearby. This means that whatever you give to a child will go straight to the handler. But, before we came to that conclusion I had given a shirt that I no longer wanted to a little girl. I really hope she tucked it away for herself, because when I handed it to her she got really excited and smiley and held it up to her body for quite some time. I really hope it didn't get confiscated. Something else we saw while we were waiting was another tourist give a bar of soap to a boy. The boy got really excited and immediately took the bar of soap to the fountain and began washing himself vigorously with the soap. He was pretty excited about it, and after he was through soaping up he carefully replaced the bar in the plastic, and then the box, then tucked it into his shorts pocket. Well save a bar of soap for any train station kids we see.
Aside from the beggar children there were the usual 'sad woman with sick child', shuffling old man, and man without limb. Sometimes when you turned your back or they thought you weren't looking their limp would disappear or a child would smile. I'm not saying that they didn't have issues, but what am I supposed to do. I gave the shirt to the little girl before she began begging. And aside from the beggars, there was the filth. The train station smelled like a bathroom, because essentially it was a bathroom. There were people doing all types of their business, on the platform and squatting off the platform onto the tracks. The weird thing is that you'd see people using the train tracks as a toilet when there was a toilet no more than 20 feet away. I don't get it.
After a fairly comfortable and air conditioned train ride with pretty countryside views, we made it to Jhansi. That train station smelled even worse and was more crowded than the one in Agra, so we were a bit nervous. But, luckily we were heading to Orchha, a small village. The village is small and there a few monuments to see. The palace was pretty and had some nice views. Luckily it was a small town because our driver and I think guide (it was a weird thing where he was there and then he left with the driver), they left us. That was about noon and we didn't have any info on the town in our guidebook, no info given by our tour company (surprise) and we weren't even quite sure of the name or location of our hotel. We wandered around for a bit before it became too hot and we found our way back to the hotel.
That night just before sunset we made our way down by the river, and the amazing sunset made up for the difficulty we have been having, quite beautiful.
Today we went for an extremely hot walk to the river and watched some kids swimming. It's a very pretty village with a nice river, but we can't go in it, so… This evening we hop on a train to Delhi where we spend the night before catching a flight to Nepal in the morning.