We wake in our hotel this morning for breakfast and a drive to Agra. At breakfast we are fed WAY too much food by the beautiful Nepali chef, them stocking up our plates every time we put our fork down.
Agra is a city on the bank of the Yamuna river-and we are now about 200 kms south of Delhi where we began. And its biggest claim to fame? the Taj Mahal. We’ll visit there this evening.
We’re all a little worse for wear this morning. Chris has been nursing a cold all week so he coughed a fare amount last night in his sleep- which meant he slept great- and I spent the night fighting the urge to smother him with his own pillow. And, although our rooms last night were just beautiful- they have been the first place to have sketchy AC- the old machines seem to be having trouble keeping up with the 42 degree consistent temperature. So we basically slept in a tandori oven last night. And it looks like I’ve blown through all the smaller clothes I brought on the off chance Gary was wrong about how covered up we have to be. So I have mid sleeve to the knee flowy tops for the rest of the trip, and now I’m going to have the added issue of carrying around Gary’s dead body as I feel the nightly beatings will be amping up- we’re considering requiring him to wear all the clothes we beat him with for the night to sweat out his sins even further. I have a cute pink number I think is going to look stunning on him.
We leave the hotel for the Red fort first. Very near Agra, this fort- Fatehpur Sikri, is a UNESCO site and for a short time was the political capital of the Mughals- the founders of India. I try to listen to the history, catching snippets here and there- like how the moghal owner- Emperor Akbar – had a favorite elephant who he would have stomp anyone who fell out of favor or was found guilty of a crime, eventually building a tomb and monument for that elephant when she died. Or that it took 12 years to complete this palace, but they only resided in it for 4 years, having to abandon it because of lack of water-and relocate to Agra instead. He built different areas for all 3 of his wives, allowing them to practice whatever religion they wanted-what a guy. (Insert rolly eye emoji here) Around the palace were dry and wet motes. The wet ones filled with crocks and dry with tigers. But mostly what I’m doing in this lovely place is staring at the women. The clothes they wear are so impossibly beautiful-the colors so deep and bright. And they wear gold nose rings and gems, earings and scarves over their heads in deep purples and amber. Against the red sandstone they are breathtaking. To top the look they put black ash around their eyes and the eyes of their children- to keep out evil. One woman and I ask to take pictures of each other- her holding her ash eyed baby proudly, me feeling painfully under-dressed. Aside from these few people, we basically have the place to ourselves-our guide explaining that we have to be the craziest white people he’s ever met for coming here in this heat.
We board the bus for the next 1.5 hours to Agra where we will visit the Agra Fort, settle into our hotel and then on to the Taj Mahal tonight. Emperor Akbar built the fort in 1631 out of sandstone and then years later is successor, his grandson Shah Jahal amped the fort up- constructed white marble palaces within the fort. Shah Jahal lived at this fort with his wife- Mumtaz Mahal- for four years until she died in child birth- 19 years after they married – at the age of 39. Then he built the Taj Mahal in her honor, on a bank visible from the Fort, and Buried her there (well, entombed her) and watched her grave from the Fort every day until he too died. Interestingly, shah Jahal was imprisoned by his son who usurped his kingdom – and he was kept in a prison that was in the fort and overlooked the Taj. Shah Jahal died at the fort and took his last breaths staring at the Taj and his wife – and they were respectful of his body and laid him to rest there at the Taj Mahal with his love. Finally they were together again.
So we look all over the palace with our guide-while everyone at the palace is looking at us. It’s like we’re wearing lamb flavored perfume. We can see the Taj across the expanse from the exact same window Shah Jahal would have watched her from while he was in prison here over 400 years ago. Crazy. I wonder if he ever imagined it would be this famous. I have a second of emotion when we see the Mahal for the first time. All four muppets. Lined up staring at another world wonder together. And what does a stagger of muppets do when they get this chance? A selfie of course. We take many
We wander the expanse of palace- people watching and taking a look at the Taj across the distance at each window.
Next we are brought back to our hotel for the night. It’s a lovely building – the only one over 3 stories high that we can see around…….
*** I’m going to take a bit of an aside right now- I’m currently writing this on a plane- that just took off from the sole airport in Khajuraho- only 3 flights take off from this airport a week- on Air India. And I’m pretty sure I’m currently seated on a recycled paper airplane that was folded by an child sometime in 1947. – I actually saw duct tape on the nose of this thing- and I’m pretty sure the cockpit moonlights as a curry place- we are 4 of about 35 people on this flight- and they drive their planes like they drive their busses. Like they stole it. I am currently trying to locate all the exits and from what I can tell one of them is not working and the window of the other is down and some woman is drying yesterdays saree out it. I’m pretty sure we just swerved to avoid a cow. They just brought us food, and I’m trying to figure out how I can fashion a parachute out if this crustless sandwich and I’m about to write “I love you mom” on the window out of the ketchup packet. I’m. Freaking. The. Crap. Out. Right. Now.
Meanwhile Chris is chatting up all the other passengers, has started to sell the water in his care package and has made 1590 Rupees. Gary has made friends with the literal goat in first class-feeding him his sandwich and is currently petting a cat that wasn’t here when we boarded. I have NO idea what Nicole is doing because I’m Afraid to look at her Incase she’s thinking the same things I am which means it’s true. Greg: you’d die. ***
Okay…. back to the story. We enter our hotel and request the usual upgrade- we secure the suites on the 1st and second floors (which are the 2nd and 3rd in Canadian) and are thrilled to see they are very sweet! Little sitting areas and lovely big bathrooms. And a fridge. All the rooms in India have a fridge. Which is great for the beers and the chocolate. And the rum. And the pop. And my underwear.
We meet at the pool, and for 100 rupees ($2) we have an attendant. He follows us around and pulls out our chairs and shows the boys the beer choices and the view. We are quickly brought 4 ICE cold Indian beers- which we’ve come to love- mild but 5%- true Canadian beer- and we spend a few hours cooling off and talking about the day so far. Even Chris gets in the pool – now that’s hot- and bobs around- our attendant asking if he has put on sunscreen- worried about his delicate white walker skin.
We leave for the Taj Mahal around 6- and a short bus ride later we are there, getting ready to go through the gates. The tour is very short- he tells us all we need to know before we enter the gates- so that when we do we can just take it all in. We are given tiny rolled poly fiber booties to put over our shoes if we chose to enter the tomb, and our tickets.
We are lead through security. The list of prohibited items is long- no leather, no liquids or gels, no pens or pencils, no medications. I keep my phone in my shirt against my boob (yes yes I know. Relax.) and when I get VERY THOROUGHLY FRISKED behind a curtain like every other woman entering, my security guard feels something in my shirt and stops dead. What’s that? She demands loudly. “My phone”. She reaches in and takes it. And notices there’s more in there too. Before she’s done with me she’s pulled out my phone, 2 extra camera batteries. $5000 rupees. My entrance ticket. My Booties. Chris’s booties. Nicole’s booties. Gary’s booties. A mint. 2 hair elastics. A paneer. And a bottle of water. She tries to be very stern but can’t help herself, she starts to crack up. Slapping her leg and full belly laughing. Calling me something over and over that I can’t understand but most likely means “fat lady with boob compartments”.
We walk in and make it through the gate and we see it for the first time. How astonishing- just as breathtaking as you’d imagine from the pictures you’ve seen your whole life. All made of marble that is see through, it takes on the color that is around it- right now a slight pink hue from the low in the sky sun. It really is breathtaking.
Nicole and I do this thing where we do jumping pictures at all our most recognizable destinations. Well, I jump, Nicole slightly hiccups and calls it jumping. But this is no exception- so we take a few minutes to head to a quiet area, and start to jump- making a pact that if it seems to be offending anyone- or seems disrespectful in any way- we will stop. But when we get started we find that we gather a crowd- and they are DELIGHTED at watching this go down. Gathering children and staring with big smiles. It’s most likely because they want all the things falling out of my boob compartments as I jump- but whatever. Pics are taken by gary and Chris, and half of India, and we are done. We walk and see the Taj from all angles, it being the same on each side- and although the same measurements and architecture of all sides, the light is different from each angle, and I can’t stop staring and taking pictures. What a true testament of his love- what she would have thought of this no one knows- but when Chris even pours me a bath after work I feel loved- I can only imagine how she would have felt. Every detail is to perfection, the carving in the marble- inlaid with gemstones and mother of pearl. He really knew what he was doing.
Off we go to enter the tomb.
We are motioned to put on the booties and told our phones are not to be taken out while inside. We enter and walk around the tombs of Shah Jahal and his love, forever sitting next to each other. And it’s quite moving- all the noises being bounced off the marble and made echoey- the heat inside, the two tombs there next to each other. We take a few minutes to take it in and then head outside for the view of Agra Fort where we first saw the Taj from.
While outside we take a minute to do a little dance video- not kidding- which I will debut as soon as I can get some acceptable WiFi.
But the time we finish walking outside we realize it’s about 7pm- and approximately 40 degree. Full sun. And both Nicole and my feet are so swollen that when we take our booties off we can just barely fit our shoes back on. That’s when we decide that elephants don’t really exist. They are just swollen Indian hippos. I’ve never seen my legs and Ankles this swollen for this long- having come down very briefly after we got here, only to pump up to miss piggy size and never go back down. I feel like I’m gathering liquid in my ankles like a water hippo.
We take a few more minutes to walk around, and then head for the shops so Nicole can practice her custom of dickering and making venders wish they had never owned a shop. I see her doing stretches and practicing her “NO. Too much” in the 23 different languages she forced herself to learn this sentence in.
We buy a couple of things – nothing too exciting- I MAY have purchased an overpriced marble Taj Mahal for the desk at work (I’m so sorry Jessica!) and a few other things I don’t need. Nicole coming out with bags and bags screaming “start the tuk tuk! Start the Tuk Tuk!”.
We finish up and are brought to our hotel for dinner with the group. It’s our last night together- so we oblige and decide to be social- having a great meal and many drinks and stories all around. I find out Cowboy Sam and I have art in common- he studied to be an animator- so we chat, everyone swapping travel stories.
We find out that tomorrow we are alone for our trip to Khajuraho- by train. Sounds….like a muppet adventure may be in the works…..