Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Amazing Agra

The city of Agra is by no means beautiful. In fact, mere metres from one of the most famous sites in the world (Taj Mahal), you can find people of all ages relieving themselves by the side of the road. Fields of garbage are often burning, and frequently rancid, and provide an interesting backdrop to the 7th wonder of the world.

 My first impressions of the city upon leaving the train station were not pretty. I made my way to my driver's tuk-tuk, to find a million moth march parading on the vehicle's rooftop. I inhaled a few of them as I pushed the rickshaw back to life, and into the ensuing madness of Agra's traffic. Potholes and pollution aside, the city is a fine place to try chaat, as vendors are scattered all over the place. Agra is famous for fine Mughali cuisine, and a haven for those with a sweet tooth. Although candied pumpkin (petha) isn't to everyone's taste.



I know it's cliche, I know it's been done to death, but you just can't escape the significance. If you visit a marble shop beforehand, and work out how much the stuff costs, even in small amounts - it truly is a breathtaking spectacle.

I have visited other well known landmarks in the past, but I have almost always walked away disappointed. The Taj Mahal is the opposite, I had to remind myself to blink. I couldn't even walk away from it without looking back every half a dozen steps. It's as if the intimidating structure dares you to try and turn your back on it. In comparison, the Eiffel Tower seemed like a cheap and tacky toothpick.

It's so big. It's so elaborate. It's perfect.

Surrounded by manicured and maintained gardens, flanked on each side by Mughali monuments, the imposing building is situated on a raised platform and made entirely of marble - ka-ching! An inevitable trip to a marble shop will highlight the price involved and the prosperity enjoyed by the nawab Shah Jahan, who built it as a mausoleum for his beloved (third) wife as the ultimate symbol of undying love. Upon learning of his wife's death, Shah Jahan's hair is said to have turned gray overnight.

It truly makes any romance past seem like mere puppy love.

Another sight worth seeing in town is Agra Fort. It's good for a gawk, although a guide may provide useful as there is a lot to see and neither sign nor textbox to explain it all. It's also handy to have someone present to tell you which parts of the fort are currently occupied by the military, as you'll get an abrupt discharge by soldiers clutching AK-47s should you venture down the wrong path. The fort is also home to many mobs of monkeys, squillions of squirrels and dozens of dozing dogs. Beggars are also persistent at this point of interest, and are more persistent here than in other parts of the country. People will grab hold of your body, clutch at your wrists and demand payment rather than ask for it.

It is almost always safe to assume the worst of any friendly stranger you meet in Agra. There are predatory tuk-tuk drivers, terrible touts and unsavory vultures lurking on almost every uneven city corner. There is a heavy influx of foreigners on any given day, and many who are on package tours are unfamiliar with Indian bargaining and 'outsider prices' - so the chances of being ripped off are sky high. Unfortunately this practice is not just limited to rickshaw wallahs and street side merchants, expect travel agents and even retail vendors to cheat you, all with a smile on their face.
Hotel Riya Palace deserves a mention for all the right reasons. Spacious and spotless rooms with all the facilities, at a fair and reasonable price (less than $30). The room service was 24/7, entirely vegetarian and absolutely delicious, while the staff were pleasant and friendly. A welcome relief from the filth and furore of Hotel Regency..


In complete contrast, Hotel Regency (near Agra Cantt station) is a festering shithole. The rooms are filthy, and there are frequent power cuts day and night. Stampedes of cockroaches scatter loudly throughout the night, down the hallways and scurrying under doors. Stained sheets that smell of recent sex cling to dusty beds, while the showers are icy cold, not to mention piss-weak. Nothing works, and the only thing this hotel seems to supply in bulk are bullshit excuses and a blazing indifference.

Worst of all though, is the night manager. A rude and greedy vulture who tried to con me into using a taxi service all the way to Manali (750km), as there was 'no bus or train.' I knew this was bullshit straight away, but I wonder how many people the sleazebag has hoodwinked. The only questions he asked me were about money, and ranged from the price of my sunglasses to how much my flight to India was. Like the shifty snake he was, he was sizing me up before launching an attack on my finances. His plan failed though, and I was so repulsed by his lack of morals that I only paid half of what he demanded at checkout. I left the worst hotel in India with a smile on my face and laughing heavily, he could holler all he wanted, there was no way I was paying full price =)


  1. Interesting facts mate! Not sure if you know- Shah Jahan's '3rd' wife's name was Mumtaz 'Mahal', and 'Taj' means crown. Also, shah jahan cut the hands of the labors who constructed the taj mahal so that know one could ever construct it again. =)


  2. Wow, I didn't know about the hands being cut off. That seems pretty extreme, did the workers know beforehand?

    There's Taj Mahal replicas all over India, but none of them come even close. Maybe Shah Jahan was on to something after all! =P

  3. I had a similar thing in Thailand except with a taxi on Koh Phangan - I asked for a taxi as quick as possible for just myself and was told 500 Baht.. suffice to say, he picked up as many people along the way as he seemingly thought possible - half the fare was just, I thought. The Taj is something I'll see eventually, mid-2011 I think! Iran and Asia next..