Monday, 29 December 2014


I went to the tourist office the following day and they arranged a cheaper hotel for 500 rupees (which was one of the ones that wanted 1200 rupees the night before!) and a car/driver for me.  They claimed to be an office of the Indian government but to be quite honest I had difficulty trusting them completely.  I think they are an independent company and receive commission from various shops and hotels.  But that aside, they were very friendly and I was driven around for the next couple of days for only 700 rupees ($21 AUD).

When I was planning my trip, I didn't realise that it's festival time here in India.  This means that many trains and buses between various cities are fully booked.  In fact when I asked the tourist office to book me a ticket to Agra they advised everything was fully booked for the next four days.  In hindsight perhaps I was naive but I took their word for it and accepted a package they put together for me.  For $300 I received a car/driver to take me to Agra, sightseeing there the following day, 2 nights accommodation and my train ticket to Gorakhpur.
Qutab Minar
It was a long trip down to Agra.  It took about three times as long as it would to drive the same distance in most countries.  Our car shared the 'highway' with the various types of transport and animals so it was never boring.  There is always plenty to see and shake your head in wonder at.  If my trip continues like this I'll be exhausted but extremely happy by the time I'm finished! 
In both Delhi and Agra I've seen virtually all the significant historic sites.  Both cities have a huge fort together with various mosques and tombs.  In fact, I've seen so many structures made from red sandstone and white marble that one was starting to look a little bit like the next!  But that doesn't take anything away from their individual beauty and majesty.  They really are awesome sights with an amazing history.  The Qutab Minar for example is the highest stone tower (72m) in India and was built in 1193!
Taj Mahal

The highlight of the sights I've seen would obviously have to be the Taj Mahal.  I went there yesterday at about 3.30pm and stayed till it was dark.  It was a magic experience and one I'll treasure always.  I'm not sure I can really find words to describe its beauty and elegance but it truly is the jewel in India's crown and one of the world's great sights.  

I have a little travel buddy that I photograph everywhere I go.  He's a little toy dog called Elvis.   At the Taj Mahal I had him placed on a seat ready for the photo when I heard men shouting at me.  I looked up to see armed soldiers approaching, speaking loudly in Hindu and pointing at me.  I put my arms in the air and assumed I was in a prohibited place.  But it was Elvis and they explained to me in broken English 'no toys, no toys!'  So, I apologised, put him away and discreetly took a photo later out of their sight!  Got the fright of his life he did…

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Arrival in India

I'm writing from an internet cafĂ© in the heart of Agra.  The slightly stale air is being cooled by a fan and it's a refuge from the heat and noise of this bustling and chaotic city...

Well,, what an extraordinary country this is!  I hardly know where to start in my description of it.  I've only been here five days and it seems like a month.  It's a quite bewildering and unique experience but I'm loving it!  As I imagined, it constantly engages all your senses and there's always something to catch your eye, nose or imagination.  Several times I've caught myself looking in wonder, admiration or sheer curiosity at sights which are simply a part everyday life here.

The capital of Delhi is an amazing city and probably a good representation of India itself.  The first (and probably lasting) impression I had is how busy it is.  Driving, or simply being a passenger (I don't know if I'd be brave enough to drive here!) the city streets is an experience to write about in itself.  All the stories are true - the cows do wander in the streets and it's often not limited to just the bovine creatures. 

Delhi street scene

The streets are a combination of Old McDonalds Farm and a safari adventure.  Honestly, I've seen cows, horses, goats, pigs and dogs in the inner city streets and on the road to Agra there were elephants and camels.  I've even seen a few monkeys but the animal life is just the half of it.  It's the vehicles that really make life exciting!

Sharing these crowded and polluted streets are cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, rickshaws, auto-rickshaws, bicycles and pedestrians.  Somehow, all these modes of transport co-exist and make their way around.  To be honest, I don't know how sometimes.  The smallest gaps between vehicles are exploited and I quickly learned that health and safety is a very low priority in these parts.  What we consider dangerous and crazy is perfectly normal day our Indian friends. 

Indian transport

Indians themselves are a curious mix of being extremely friendly and helpful while at the same time wanting to extract every rupee from you they can.  I think knowing which agenda they are focusing on is a key to successful travel in this country.  It began as soon as I stepped from the plane with a charming taxi driver offering to take me to the city for 650 rupees ($19).  I told him I'd think about his offer.  

Another thing I've discovered about Indians is that they find it very difficult to accept NO as an answer.  So, after I virtually detached myself from the driver I was approached by another man saying he worked for the Tourism Office and asked if he could help me.  I explained that I'd like to go into the city in a taxi.  He quickly offered to arrange a driver for 200 rupees ($6). I told him that sounds fine and within a few minutes the driver was waiting for me...the very same man who had just tried to rip me off!

Tired rickshaw driver

The story goes on to trying to get a hotel for the night.  After I'd paid his fare, I had a total of 1000 rupees left.  After he'd taken me to three hotels I still hadn't found a place to stay.  They each wanted between 1200 and 1600 rupees - no less.  Eventually at nearly midnight the driver offered to get a hotel for my 1000 rupees limit so we went back to where we'd been in the first place!!  Madness...and a rip off but it was late and I was in a country I'd never been before.  Hopefully the light of a new day would bring with it some sanity.