Taj Mahal ~ Amber Fort ~ Elephants (sent May 1st)

Here is another post from Rita on her trip to India.

This is the day I was waiting for – going to Agra and seeing the Taj Mahal. It is everything that you expect and more, really an incredible site. The guide told me that about 3 million people visit this place a year. I would not recommend coming in April or May and the summer. Today we started out at 5:30am to miss the heat, but that is really not the case since it is hot no matter what! The temperature today was at 114 and when you come from Seattle OMG that is hot (and humid!). No matter how much water you drink you would lose it faster then you can imagine with the sweat.

I spent about three hours just looking and wandering around the grounds that are kept so clean and green. I can see why the Indians are so proud of this place, so much Islamic architecture and workmanship in the tiles and the carvings. It is one of those places that you could come back to time and again. One visit is not enough.

I stayed at the Orient Taj Hotel which is only about a 10 minute ride to the Taj. Then you need to take a little motor bus to the entrance and walk about 10 minutes to get to the gate. Lots of security -people are not allowed to take in food, or any other objects like files, notebooks, pads, or paints; just a camera and water only. They are afraid that people will be picking at the mosaics and trying to remove them or afraid that someone might carry a bomb in the other materials. The hotels also have a huge amount of security here. Pat downs and screening of bags etc. I believe a lot of this is from the hotel bombings they have had. They need the tourism.

The only thing in India that is annoying is all the vendors- they get into your face and try and hawk their wares- they do not understand NO – you are suppose to just keep walking and have no eye contact or anything with them. Once you talk that means you are interested and they will keep at you even when you get into your bus. I have never seen anything like this. When traveling in the Middle East or North Africa once you say No or “go away, I am not interested” they usually leave you alone. Not here. You get this from little kids to adults, all the same. You have to keep yourself from not shouting Leave Me Alone! That is the one thing that was very hard to deal with.

Still not seeing a lot of beggars, though. In the villages that you drive through you do see little kids at the bus that are putting their hands to their mouths asking you for food – I would get some cookies or something and give it to them, but it was not enough they would keep wanting more. They would not say THANK YOU or anything just as if you did nothing. It was very interesting.

I had a man wait for me with a bicycle carriage and I was told to give him 50 rupees which is about 1US I thought he waited so long and was nice that I gave him 5USD – he asked for another 5US and said you are American and have money give me more.

Agra the city is very crowded and people come here for the Taj and also for the Agra Fort which is still in use by the military, but they will show you around. You get to see about 25 percent of it. The city is also known for its leather and shoe factories.

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