Agra, more than just the Taj

Guides books say the only reason to come to Agra is to see the Taj Mahal. Get there the night before, up before dawn next morning to see the magestic tomb turn from deep orange to bold white, then get the hell out.

Luckily on this visit, even though was only 24hrs, I was able to get a lot more out of the place this time.

Old pointy is an architectural feat that won't be trumped for a very long time.  Massive blocks of marble chiseled into delicate lattices, rare stones from every corner of the known world infused into the 40 metre high ............  This modern wonder leaving a thick rope of intertwined contradicting legacies.  It's original purpose maybe the thinnest of the twine.  Devoted love, the shine a tribute to the rulers favourite wife.  Legacy of human achievement, with basic tools, such a monumental building can be constructed.  But the steel fibre I see running through the rope is the bankruptcy of a nation. The mogul rulers ............

But enough about that. After our morning snapping away unsuccessfully trying to capture and take with us a piece of it's grandeur we still had 14 hours to kill before our train to Varanasi.  What to do, what to do...... Getting sick of the hounding from rickshaw riders, decided to accept, under the condition I get to do the riding. With no where to go and lots of time to do it we just started off.  x hours later we had ridden x kms, taken in Red Fort, ridden 2 kms up the wrong way of a dual carage way road, and entertained thousands of Indians who couldn't hold their laughter at seeing a westerner chauffeur an Indian rickshaw rider. Drenched in sweat I was just happy to get a bit of exercise.

For being a good sport about it all, I paid the rider 3 or 4 times the rate, and Kate and I happily accepted his invitation to have dinner with him and his mate, who would meet us at 7pm in his auto (tuk tuk).  So they took us to one of the more fancy restaurants, not what we were hoping for.  They then said they'd eat else where.  Well, we invited to join us and sat through an excellent meal, but due to limited language weren't about to get much out of our guests.  We covered their pricy meal and they took us back to the hotel.  I had 50 ruppues in my pocket, so gave that to the friend for petrol money, but was then told this was not enough!! This happens to many times in my experiences (so far) in India. My experiences in other poor countries is that if you tip or give a bit more, the person is grateful.  In India, tip a rupee they'll take a 100,000.  I hope I'm not sounding like a whining imperialistic whitey, "They should be grateful for the pittance that I spare them", but the feeling that I'm nothing more than a walking wallet to these people is something that I've only experienced here.  

But then thanks to the roulette wheel (or more appropriately, the wheel of karma) that is backpacking, on our return to the hotel we had the most fascinating chat with the manager of the hotel. A worldly man, who had spent many years in New Year married to an American, and once divorced returned to India.