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India

Current stop: Agra's Taj Mahal
Previous: Lotus temple and India Arch
Next: Agra Fort


Agra is the home of the Taj Mahal, one of the most famous buildings in the world. That's why we went - that's why everybody goes!
We had tried getting train tickets there, but we were told that there were no seats. Oops. We then tried to arrange a private driver, but every time we went to the agent for a scheduled meeting with him, he had mysteriously disappeared. Not really inspiring much confidence there.

So, on the evening before we were planning on leaving Delhi, we stopped in at another travel agent, asked about renting a car and driver, and were told that it was arrangeable.

Long story short, we set up the driver, arranged a schedule, and trundled off for our last night in the hotel with a tree growing in the middle of it.

Heading for Agra was an adventure. We met the car at 9, and instantly realized that we should've met at 7. Traffic through the city was atrocious, and it took us the better part of 2 hours just to get out of Delhi.
 
Our long drive through the countryside had its share of adventures too. At the internal border between different states, while Dave went with the driver to pay the highway tax, Susan and the kids were left to fend for themselves against the swarms of people there.

Luckily (or not), they had an ace in the hole. Breck had gotten a bit carsick, and just as the crowds - limbless beggars, trinket sellers, men with chained monkeys - really started to thicken around them, he leaned over and puked, narrowly missing a hijra (a transvestite, mistakenly called a eunuch here) who was out soliciting business from the truck drivers stopping by. That parted the crowds quicker than Moses could have, and the family was left alone for the rest of the stop.


By the time we got into Agra, it was about 130 in the afternoon. We got out of the car and walked in the direction our driver told us was the east gate, only to find that we'd instead been going toward the west gate.

Certain family members were in desperate need of a bathroom, so we popped our head into a different hotel, rented a room (400 rupees that night that's ten bucks, folks. Your imagination can fill in the details to the quality of our abode!), used the loo, and walked back out to see the Taj. The line stretched way far down the road, so we thought we'd stop, have a lunch and a beer, and then see how the line was doing and perhaps wait until the next morning to go.

Lucky for us we brought those obnoxious tourbooks. As we were eating and drinking, we noticed that the site closes at 6:30 and gulp would not be open tomorrow! We quickly reassessed our plans and jumped into the long lines.


Surprisingly, the men's line moved much faster than the women's, so Breck and dad had some time to kill waiting for the girls. We took some pictures of the enormous "welcome" gate, but resisted the urge to join the crowds inside until we were together as a family. When the girls finally made it through security, we all headed inside the grounds.


Everyone knows the Taj Mahal, so it needs no introduction or explanation. Our first view was through the darkened recesses of the gate, but then it burst into late afternoon splendor for us.


We had the obligatory family picture from the steps taken, and then joined the hordes (of mostly Indians) in exploring the site.





We admired the surroundings, took lots of scenic pictures, and even found time to take more family pictures too!


As the sun went down, the Taj took on glowing colors.


There was not a beautiful sunset to speak of, but the last rays of the evening gave us a magical look at the stonework.

 
Of course, the kids were more interested in checking out the reconstruction going on, playing Disco Statue, or racing around the grounds in the cool night air.

They were also happy to play photographer for mom and dad, taking their photo with a nice Taj Mahal background.

Unfortunately, the monument is not lit up at night, so there once the sun went down our show was over.

This night was the first night we got a little hint of the cold that we were heading for. The restaurant where we had dinner brought a big clay bowl with coals in it to warm us up as we ate. Agra is also where we realized the kids would die of starvation if they didn't eat, so we got apples, bananas, peas, carrots and potatoes at the local veggie market (total about $1). It was on this silage our children survived the next 2 ½ weeks. The carrots here are red, not orange, and much sweeter. They are reaaaaally long, too. One is almost a meal unto itself!
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Next: Agra Fort
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