Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jan 31: Long car rides, Swindlers Row, Traffic Police with sticks and oh yeah, we saw the Taj Mahal.

Jan 31

I would like to tell you all in great detail about how wonderful the Taj Mahal was but since we were there for only about an hour, I'll get to that later since there was so much more to the day. We were told to be ready to leave the "hotel in the alley" at 7am sharp and got to the lobby at 7:02. Expecting our ride to be there we waited. And waited. And waited. At about 7:45 they showed and we left. Awesome, great start to the day. We were told it was about a 3 hour drive to Agra and with our flight being at 8pm tonight we figured that would give us a solid 4 hours or so at the Taj. We saw the India Gate, a large ornate arch, on our way out of Dehli an then drove. And drove. And drove. And drove. Well, we stopped for food around 10am and got back on the road, figuring we should be an hour or so away since we had been driving around 2 hours. Yeah, we couldn't have been more wrong. We hit ridiculous traffic jams in small towns that were seemingly built on one road made up of cattle, cars, huge trucks, buses, pedestrians, sidewalk vendors, mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles and traffic cops wielding large sticks that they would hit insolent drivers with. I am not making that last part up. Read it again. TRAFFIC COPS WOULD HIT DRIVERS WITH LARGE WOODEN STICKS. And every one of the cops looked like Saddam's twin brother right down to the beret and mustache. Yes, our driver got hit at one point on our way to Agra while trying to turn left amidst a total cluster F of other cars, motorcycles and bicycles. (Quick sidebar: what is it with third world countries and mustaches? I guess it's a testosterone thing showing virility but come on! EVERY guy here has a mustache from the 12 year olds trying to look a man. Here's a quck list of them: The Wyatt Earp, the Uncle Rico, the Un-waxed Rollie Fingers, the Molester, and the Saddam. It's insane!).

Worst part of the trip there, (ok, not worst but most disturbing) were the dressd up monkeys at the place we stopped at for breakfast. One had on a dress complete with make up and the other had a painted on mustache (oops, forgot that one, the Monkey with a Painted on Mustache). And don't try and take pics of the monkeys either (I didn't take pis of the dressed up monkeys, I am neither condoning nor supporting that retarded activity). The owners or handlers or swindlers, whatever they are, will try and get you to pay money. Don't. In fact, don't even get out of your car driving to Agra because someone witll try and get you to buy something or pay money for looking at something the wrong way.

So, when we got to Agra and parked, we walked to Taj, fended off a metric ton of people wanmting to give bike cab rides to the Taj, give us a tour or sell us a photo. Oh yeah, one quick note. We arrived at 12:30. 12 F-ing 30. Yeah, our 3 hour ride took us almost 5 hours with one 20 minute stop. This is NOT good, it's not even close to being good. That means at the last we need to factor in 4.5 hours on the drive back so we can make our 8pm flight which means we need to leave no later than 2. So that gives us a whopping hour and a half to take in all we can at one of the 7 modern wonders of the world and walk around. Did I mention we had been driving since 7:45am? I did? OK, just wanted to be clear on that. We bought the tickets to get in, which by the way cost Americans more. Had I been Canadian it wold have been Rs 250 (rupees), about US $5, but no, it's Rs 750 if you're from America (US$15). Evidently foreigners are willing to spend money on guides at the Taj Mahal since one guy and his 14 teeth was just sitting there waiting at the ticket counter for foreign tourists offering his tour guide services. After turning him away since he was charging Rs 975 for a guided tour (the other guy we had gotten down to 400 for each of us before we sent him on his way) we agreed for his buddy to show us another entrance for Rs 400. It was WELL worth it since the other line was an hour long but the funniest part was as we are walking the guy we are following starts walking up a dark staircase. I stopped dead at my tracks and said, "Whoa, where are we going?" He said the other entrance was through an alley (another great sign that Mark, me and our rupees were never going to be seen again). But true to his word he was right and we went right in saving us a TON of time.

So we walked around and it really is magnificent, don't get me wrong, but Mark and I both agree, when visiting the Taj Mahal, you need more than about 75 minutes. We were less than happy with our host as he is trying to go from one place to another and we both said at one point, "Hey, this is our trip, we'll go where we want, when we want while we are here." For whatever reason, leaving late, a small force of swindlers large enough to occupy Lichtenstein and only 75 minutes at the Taj Mahal made us a bit cranky. So, the 2pm bell arrived and we headed out and back up Swindlers Row. This is the path that connected the street where we parked to the Taj entrance with everything from people trying to sell me photos to old guys trying to get us on their bicycle taxi to kids selling Taj Mahal snow globe key chainsIf you haven't seen Slumdog Millionaire, do it. The part with the tourists by the Taj Mahal is absolutely correct and eerily accurate. Two little kids walked with us, one all the way to our car where our driver literally had to grab the kid's arm and take his arm out of the car trying to sell us the damn taj Snow Globe key chain. The only english they know is please Mr. Please buy, I give you a good price. They are nothing short of tenacious. At one point tonight Mark and I decided it was like the scene from "Airplane!" when Captn Rex Kramer enters the airport and starts fighting off all the people offering him information on one thing or another. It's crazy.

So it's 2pm, we're on the road back to Delhi and were making pretty good time. I was thinking at some point we might make it back to the airport by 6 to get some food, relax and get on the plane. Once again, I was completely wrong. We got caught in traffic outside Delhi because of the wonderfully organized roads, construction on said roads and buses and road side shops and said roads. Well, 6pm was out, hopefully 6:30. Nope. Neither was 6:45. Or 7. Or 7:15. Ummmm, did they know our flight was at 8pm? Apparently yes and our driver was doing his best to get us there braking numerous traffic laws (well, if they had any here and almost running over any number of pedestrian or two wheeled vehicles).

So we pull up at 7:30 and what does our host tell us? "Please hurry, flight is leaving." Wow, really? We had NO idea, thanks for the update. And then again as we are waiting for the gentleman with the large machine gun to check our tickets and passports and let us in the airport he tells us again to hurry. Once again, thanks homie.

So again, for the 2nd time in as many weekends we made the flight by the skin of our teeth except no exit rows seats this time so Mark and I folded ourselves up in the regular seats and laughed at how crazy the trip had been and how much we wanted to get back to Chennai. And then the guy sitting in front of me, who looked like an Indian Jerry Stiller (George Costanza's dad on Seinfeld) leaned his seat back all the way back in my lap. And somehow, my trip just got a little bit better. The 2nd time Indian Jerry Stiller did it we asked him to lean forward a bit since his plaid shirt and dyed orange hair was giving me vertigo and he was NOT happy (OK, I made the part up about the vertigo but he WAS wearing a loud plaid shirt, he DID have orange highlights in his hair and he was NOT happy). As we were getting off the plane he gave me a nice long glare. Evidently he being all of 5'8" needed the leg room more than me. Sorry, my bad.

And now comes the end of the 24 hours from hell. Total tally from 8pm Jan 30 to 10:30pm Jan 31: 5.5 hours of flying, 11 hours of driving in the back of a rather small car, 6 hours asleep in a hotel whose entrance is in an alley, and 75 minutes at the Taj Mahal. Saaaa-weet.

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