Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My India Travels and Eats, Day 4

On day 4 in India, we woke up before sunrise to see the Taj Mahal. The easten gate was maybe 1km, if that, from our hotel. We sunscreened up, ate a small snack from our bag, and left. We walked out and followed another group of white people. That must mean we're headed in the right direction, right? We had a rickshaw driver tell us over and over that the ticketing office was in the opposite direction. We didn't believe him. We kept walking and he kept telling us. We just figured he was trying to sell us his services. Turns out we were both right -- he was trying to sell us his services but the ticketing office WAS in the opposite direction. We sure felt stupid! He walked his rickshaw alongside us, trying to get us to ride the entire way to the ticketing office. You know who else talked to us during the walk to the ticketing office? A LOT Indian vendors. Every shop wanted to sell us their "high quality but inexpensive" marble. Yeah, right. Every guy came up to us and told us to come into his shop after our visit to the Taj Mahal. Everyone tried to sell us clothing, shoes, food. The homeless begged for money. This was NON STOP. The persistence of the rickshaw driver combined with the nagging of every vendor near the eastern gate made us feeling like we wanted to punch someone. We were hating Agra and we had only been out in it for maybe 30 minutes.

When we came out after purchasing tickets, he was still there waiting for us. Ok, we'll take it. The guy was persistent after all. And nice! We talked him down and paid him equivalent to maybe $2 so it wasn't too bad.

Rickshaws are tiiiiny. Michael didn't fit.

We arrived at the eastern gate, again, but this time with tickets in hand. Unfortunately the line into the Taj was no different than any other place in India -- the men and women had separate lines. Michael waved goodbye and headed to his short line.

After going through metal detectors, we were in!

The sun was rising beautifully over the exterior walls of the compound.

Our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal from inside the estate. It blended right into the sky, didn't it? Almost looked like a backdrop.

We've seen pictures, obviously, of the Taj Mahal but we never imagined how it would look in person. Honestly, it's majestic. It's just so... grand. We couldn't believe its beauty. We walked around and hung out in the garden for a while. We couldn't take pictures inside the Taj Mahal but it was stunning. Shah Jahan and Mumatz Mahal are buried inside and surrounded by such ornate details in marble and various gemstones. The exterior walls and land were perfectly built around the Taj Mahal -- everything was made with precision (the Taj Mahal is actually as wide as it tall). There are mausoleums surrounding the Taj Mahal so it took us a while to get through everything.

During our exploration, we ran into an Austrian photographer who was intrigued by me and my "art", as he referred to my tattoos. He kept calling me beautiful and even took a few photos of me in front of the Taj. I just sent him an email and am hoping to get copies soon!

I'm standing next to it for scale.

Sitting on the backside of the Taj Mahal, looking out over the river.

Michael standing next to the entrance to the Taj Mahal for scale.

 We took one last photo before we left to see the variation in color of the sky. Didn't look so much like a backdrop here.

After sightseeing, we head back to our hotel. Of course we were hassled and followed on the way back as well. Damn you, Agra. Since it's still morning we head for the free buffet breakfast before we check out. Luckily almost all of the Indian options are vegan. Score! We stocked up on vada, rice, and some dish that I can't remember. This breakfast was delicious. We ate a LOT of it. We were hungry and about to fly out to Khajuraho so we made sure to stuff our bellies.

As we are checking out, we run into a young Chinese couple. We don't think anything about it until we get into the Agra airport and see them there as well. Hm, coincidence I guess. We fly into Khajuraho and are greeted at the airport by our "hotel representative" and our driver. We were wondering what the heck a hotel representative was. He's almost like a concierge, always keeping in contact with us and helping us with our travels. He takes us back to the hotel, hands us flowers, and checks us in. He shows us to our room and tells us he plans on showing us around Khajuraho (for a price, of course). Temples and folk dancing at night and in the morning go see some more temples! Sounds great! The prices weren't too bad (I think everything was around $20 total) so we agreed to it.

Our room was beautiful. We had a balcony leading out to a grove of papaya and mango trees. We were overlooking one of the villages, too, which was neat.

Here is us on our balcony with the flowers.

Our bed was adorned with flower petals!

Doors leading out to balcony.

This was by far the nicest place we stayed during our entire trip. The entire hotel smelled of fresh flowers (they kept fresh picked flowers in the lobby at all times) and it was made of marble. We hung out for about an hour or so in the room before we headed out with our hotel representative, Veejay. He took us around to see the southern temples. These were neat -- most were located just randomly in the middle of some of the villages. The detail on these temples were incredible, as you can see below. Some of these dated as far back as 10th century.

We ran into this little puppy in one of the villages. He wanted to play with my skirt. I didn't want to touch him, though. I wasn't sure what was crawling on him.

Michael and VJ at one of the southern temples.

I thought these girls looked so cute and took a photo. They ran over to me and hugged me like crazy after I took it.
Chaturbhuj Temple - Lord Vishnu with 3 different bodies (head, torso, legs)

Seeing the temples and getting glimpses of Khajuraho was neat. This city smelled GOOD, unlike Agra. There were villages situated among the temples. Kids played in large grassy areas, women hung up laundry, and most locals waved at us. It was a neat little city and we couldn't wait to see more.

We headed back to the hotel and ran into the CHINESE COUPLE! Say what? Their room was next to ours! That's weird. They were at our hotel in Agra and now Khajuraho! Too funny. We talked with them a bit and discussed what a weird coincidence this was. It gets even weirder later. Trust me. We all leave for the local folk dancing at night. Uh, this was no local folk dancing. Turns out a group of professional Indian dancers were in Khajuraho and that's the show we ended up seeing. The auditorium was located right in the center of Khajuraho. This place was weird. There was astroturf and statues replicating the carvings on the temples EVERYWHERE. It was like we had walked onto a movie set or something. It didn't look real, honestly. The inside of the auditorium was small but cute. We were seated in the front row, by the way. Before the dancing started some weird voice came over the speakers and started to describe what we were about to see -- different styles of dance from all over India! Seemed pretty interesting The dancing started and we were already feeling a little skeptical. One of the guys wouldn't stop making eye contact with all of us in the theater. We ended up moving back a few rows because we couldn't handle being in the front with all the awkwardness of the staring going on. They were also fake playing drums as well as lip syncing the entire performance. In between each style of dance, after the slowest curtain closing I've ever experienced, that voice would come over the speakers and explain the next dance. The whole experience was... odd. There were a few talented dancers that stuck out to us, though. Luckily the tickets only cost us a few bucks so we at least have good stories to tell I guess.

We had dinner on the rooftop of the hotel but we were eating by candlelight so I couldn't get any photos. Seriously, it was by candlelight. I could barely see my own hands let alone my food. It was beautiful up there, though. I still can't believe the stars in India -- the sky is so visible at night there. Anyway, I got baingan bharta and I can't remember what Michael got, both served with roti. My food was sort of bland but Michael seemed to really like his. We headed for bed feeling pretty great about the day and ready to experience more of Khajuraho the next morning.

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