Today we went on a 4 hour bus ride to Agra. This involved crazy traffic out of Delhi followed by nearly empty expressways culminating in even crazier traffic in Agra. We encountered a cow crossing the crazy Delhi traffic, farms with various herds of animals along the expressway, and a mix of free roaming cows, monkeys, donkeys, and boars on the streets of Agra.
Also on the expressway: We passed lots of hitchhikers, many of them in groups. I saw my first herd of sheep being herded by a guy with a staff. The toll plazas had motorbike-only lanes. Two Mormon missionaries rode by on their bicycles against the flow of traffic. Their direction of travel is actually not that unusual; pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, and cars all do that on a fairly regular basis. Our tour bus did the same on the streets of Agra later that night.
Shortly after we exited the expressway the Agra roads became super crazy. It was like New Delhi in a pressure cooker, with more ingredients. There were all the animals, plus more people, more narrow roads, more cars, more tuk tuks, more motorbikes, more bicycles, more speedbumps. We encountered a quintuple speedbump, followed by a dectuple speedbump. That, and there was a sometimes covered sometimes not sewer trough that ran along both sides of the street. It took us forever to go just a few miles through town. Huge props to our driver.
Once we got through town, we headed straight for the Taj Mahal. We had a seasoned guide who knew how to get us in without waiting in a single line, but getting through the masses of humanity was still pretty intense. In particular, there’s a shuttle that takes you from the ticket window to the gate. I’m pretty sure we packed about 40 people into a bus designed to seat 16. But that’s how things are here. We probably didn’t look that different from many of the vehicles we saw on the expressway.
It was all worth it to finally see the Taj Mahal. One of my coworkers told me a couple weeks ago, “It has a presence,” and when I saw it in person I immediately understood what she meant. It’s amazing in pictures and even more amazing in person.
The inside, however, is far from what you’d expect from a mausoleum. Mostly, it’s throngs of humanity shuffling through trying to take pictures of something they’re not supposed to take pictures of, all while a guard repeatedly blows his whistle to direct traffic. I was happy to exit so I could stare at its intricate walls and marvel at its majestic presence.
And take some pictures. Or else it didn’t happen.
As we exited, a call to prayer began. This is the first one I’ve heard in person.
Just one random note today: There are a lot of products from the Himalayas here, and every time I encounter one I think, “Ooh, fancy,” before I realize the Himalayas are really close by. I’m starting to think “Product of Himalaya” here is like “Made in Mexico” in the US.