Saturday, May 19, 2018

India Part I - New Delhi to Agra

No doubt about it, we came to India to see the Taj Mahal. But this place is a subcontinent. One interesting thing I learned about the country is that one would have to go to the continent of Africa to find another place that exceeds it in diversity of language and culture. Every major religion is represented here, and there are many different parts of the country.

Unfortunately, we'd only have a limited amount of time. Naturally, I planned to see as much as we could, trying to jam everything in while still leaving enough time to actually see the places we were visiting. In the end, it meant six places in about two weeks. We covered a lot of ground and started in New Delhi. It's an incredibly active city. 

When we first arrived, I wondered if we were situated on a very busy street. After all, we were really close to the main train station.

I'd quickly learn that this is just New Delhi. And it's not the same everywhere in India (for example, Mumbai, which has a massive population as well, is not the same as this place). People drive in any direction on the streets, with pretty much no order to anything. There are lots of cows and other animals going everywhere. It's tough to tell if any of them are owned by anyone or if they're just hanging out. And of course, there are people. So many people. Everywhere. 

Walking in New Delhi required near constant concentration. There were some exceptions in other places around town, but for the most part, walking around downtown meant constantly staying vigilant for traffic, poop on the street, animals, and people.

On our first day, we went to Red Fort. I probably should have made more of an effort to see more things in town when we had just arrived, instead we pretty much just went here. That wasn't bad, but ultimately when we returned to New Delhi about ten days later for our flight home, we were both exhausted. And there is a lot to see in New Delhi.

Red Fort offers some lovely green space; there seems to be a shortage of it in many parts of the city so it was nice to be here. The smog took a break and we got some blue skies.

It's a lovely complex, and of course, they sell stuff here too.
Below, the spot where I cut my teeth on Indian street food. I'd been warned off it, but I was going to be here a long time. As a vegetarian, I don't get very adventurous with my meals on trips, but this was going to be an exception. I dug into my samosa, with nary a drop of hand sanitizer. It was delicious.

We did spend a little time wandering about the rest of the city. Below, we stumbled on to the largest mosque in New Delhi. It happened to be time for prayer so we didn't go in, but it was nice to see from the outside anyway. Like everywhere else, there was a lot of activity all around it.

In the evening we took a stroll around the bazaar and grabbed some food.

I noticed that neon signs are incredibly popular.

The next day it was time to head off to Agra. We'd gone to the train station the day we arrived and easily bought tickets in advance. We had no problem catching the train; the station was big but we found where we needed to be, and it departed more or less on time.

The journey took us through a lot of underdeveloped areas. I've got no issue with that, but I was disappointed to see so much trash. I'd learn that trash is everywhere in India. There seems to be little regard for picking trash up, and I saw a lot of people littering. It was something I never got used to.

We'd also find that people of all ages were very friendly and curious. I've heard a lot about various troubles tourists have had there, but we did not have any problems. I never felt unsafe.
The train we were on was very simple. Inside, build dates made it appear as though they were not old, but they are very spare, with only metal benches. When our train had a brief delay, everyone just left the train and hung out on the tracks until a whistle blew and we left again.

After arriving in Agra, we immediately bought an onward ticket. Then we went outside the train station and were approached by many tuk-tuk touts. We just picked a guy. He ended up being our drier the entire time we were in Agra. When we were done there and he took us back to the station, he just asked us to pay what we wanted to. It was crazy.

The guy was also super friendly. My husband sat up front with him, and he was letting my husband control the vehicle.

Our hostel was terrible, so never mind about that. Next morning we got up early and went to the Taj Mahal. Our driver was waiting for us.

There were lines - one for Indians, one for foreigners. We did the thing, got tickets quickly and went through security. It was all pretty quick.

Heading in, there are lots of other nice structures in the complex.

The early morning light was great but there was a ton of smog already.

The crowds getting their photos...

..and my first really good look at the place, which is huge.

Two buildings like the one above, which are mosques, flank the Taj.

The minarets around it are massive.

There is so much detail. It is quite incredible. You can go inside with shoe protection, and this was one place with no litter (they control what people can bring in too.. no food). There was not a lot to see inside, however. It is most impressive from the outside.

It was time to move on from the Taj Mahal. We decided to walk around the neighborhood for a moment before heading back to our driver. We grabbed some street food.

Then we headed to the Agra Fort.

Like so many other things in India, it was really cool. We had a lot of fun walking around and snapping photos. This is another complex worth a visit in Agra, and I was glad we had some time here before we were moving on.

We weren't the only tourists attracting a lot of attention.

It was time to go to our next destination, Jaipur. Things went smoothly for us, and our train departed on time. This train looked more like a regular car and had seats. The journey wouldn't be too long. I had some snacks and water, and we were ready to go.

We'd hit Jaipur, then head to Jodhpur. After that it was on to Mumbai and then Goa.
Then, back to New Delhi for our return home.

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