Agra: Taj-tastic!

(Emily)  The route to Agra was dual carriageway for the majority of the way – boring and uneventful but hey, that’s a bonus on India’s roads! That said, there was the small incident of James nearly riding at full speed into a large metal police barrier; a bit of a heart-stopping moment for me who was keeping up the rear!! He had momentarily allowed the irritating drivers to get the better of him and gave it full throttle to get round an annoying truck that was weaving across the two lanes… turns out the truck was actually veering left for good reason – that reason being a barricade across the right hand lane. Emergency stop-tastic! (James: having swung out into the outside lane and hit the throttle, I found myself no more than 30 metres from the barrier. I locked up the rear which, even with the bike so heavily loaded, was wildly fishtailing, and then even managed to lock up the front tyre (not ideal on a bike!) and somehow came screeching to a halt at the barrier. Em drew up alongside and, having checked, told me that the front of my tyre was just 3 or 4 cm from the blockade!! All we could do was look at each other and breathe a sigh of relief, amazed by the fact I wasn’t pancaked on the road with my bike in a thousand bits!) The rest of the journey, roughly 250km, passed quickly and without comment, though on reaching Agra it took forty-five sweaty minutes to find our guest house. At one point we found ourselves in a crazy-busy market street with bicycles, cars, rickshaws, mopeds and pedestrians all coming towards each other (and us) from about six different directions at once; it was one of those ‘this is so ridiculous I can only laugh’ moments as we fought our way through, nudging peoples’ heads with our handle bars as we passed (people are pretty diminutive in India!) I wish I’d taken photos but to have taken my hands of the handle bars would have had dire consequences!

We eventually got to our destination and parked up in the gated courtyard (at first they proposed that we just bring the bikes in off the street at night and then put them back out in the morning but we put our foot – feet – down; it had been a condition of our booking that they had secure parking). We ’d booked in advance as we needed an address to get our replacement headsets sent to and, to our delight, the package had arrived despite our misgivings (one seasoned traveller had laughed out loud when we said we were getting something mailed to India…) So thanks for sorting that out for us Jess : ) Donato (Harley dude) arrived soon after us, and we were also pleased to discover that Uli and Isabel & Joe, the Germans we’d met in Jaipur, were staying there too. We went out to find something to eat – disappointing fare once again – and finished Uli’s scotch for good this time whilst enjoying Donato’s photos of stunning Ladakh, the remote area of northern India that we had been intending to visit ourselves before reports of snow and mud deterred us. Photos of the boggy roads convinced me that we’d been right to desist in our plans, particularly given that we were three weeks behind Donato; however, if you ever get the chance, Manali and Leh and the surrounding scenery look pretty amazing and the area also boasts the highest motorable road in the world (we’d done the highest paved road crossing from China to Pakistan on the Khunjerab Pass but it would have been cool to go one better!)

Before retiring to bed, we made grand plans to get up at 5am the next morning to see the Taj Mahal in the light of the rising sun…. er, think that might have been the scotch talking as it was more like midday when we made an appearance! We resolved to try again the next day, after getting an earlier night, and instead went to the Red Fort. Out and about in the light of day, it soon became apparent that Agra is even more of a non-descript toilet than most towns but to be fair, the fort was pretty cool (how many forts have we been to now, though?!!) The grounds were well taken care of and bright green parrots flitted about between the fortifications. We also got up close to some of cute little squirrel-like creatures that we’d been seeing all over the country – there was a guy giving out seeds to encourage the little tykes to eat from your hand (for a fee of course) so that was pretty cute (Lizzie, you’d love it!) Still, there’s only so much fort action a person can take (plus the immature men snapping surreptitious photos were once again out in force) so after an hour or so we went to grab a bit of street food, picking out the cleanest of a bad bunch, and it was actually very tasty.

Donato had been to Agra before but, keen photographer that he is, he suffered for his art and made the early morning trip to the Taj Mahal with us the next day (Fabian hadn’t arrived from Jaipur yet as he was still under the weather). It just so happened to be 26th October; six months exactly since we left the UK and marking the half way point of our trip. The time has gone by so quickly! We got a rickshaw in the dark (no hardship, given the ‘scenery’) and braced ourselves for the entry fee – we’d been warned by fellow travellers about the extortion that was about to take place…. 20 rupees for an Indian, 750 for foreigners!!!! Giving concessions to locals is fine by us but charging tourists over 35 times as much? Seriously?! (To go up the steps to the Taj itself, we had to remove our shoes and an attendant had the cheek to try and charge us for looking after them. James just took out his ticket and pointed – “750 rupees!!!!!” I think he took that as a no…!) Anyway, the Taj Mahal is indeed spectacular and James and Donato were in their element snapping away – the pinkish morning light complementing the white marble beautifully. We wandered round for several hours enjoying the fact that, despite the high volume of visitors even at the early hour, it still managed to retain an air of peaceful tranquillity. We were back at the hostel by 9am so had breakfast and went back to bed for a bit of a snooze – it’s a hard life being a motoventurer, ya know!

It was our last evening with Donato – he was leaving for Mumbai the next day – and we tried once again to find somewhere decent to eat. On the way, our rickshaw driver, following a narrow escape with a wayward truck, turned to grin at us, uttering the immortal phase, ‘That’s India!’ Grrrrr!!!! The chosen restaurant did a good curry and got the vote as it was the first place we’d found to offer peshwari naan; my absolute favourite back home! It was a bit pricey but we had plenty of locals dining alongside us (albeit rather well-off locals: ‘the middle caste’ as Donato joked!) which is always a good sign. We decided to walk back (a vain attempt to counter-balance the calories we’d just consumed) and were approached by auto- and cycle-rickshaws the whole way. Our response that we were happy walking was always met with sheer incredulity (and contempt – one old guy called us ‘bastards’ and spat at us as he cycled away! Charming!)

 With Donato on his way, the next afternoon brought the arrival of Fabian, now back to his perky self. We ran out to greet his bike with eager anticipation: after we got our tanks painted in Islamabad, Fabian was inspired to do the same and had gone the whole hog with a professional sticker job. His enormous matt black petrol tank is now a glorious multi-coloured visual feast and looks awesome!! After catching up for a bit, we set about looking online for somewhere to stay in Varanasi, our next (and final!) Indian destination. We’d suddenly realised that accommodation might be a bit thin on the ground what with it being the lead up to Diwali, India’s most holy festival, and Varanasi being India’s most holy city… Indeed, the first few places we tried were full (or too expensive) but we persevered and bagged a bargain. What’s more, we’d be able to ride straight to it now we were travelling with GPS Boy! Oh, how wrong we were on both counts….

8 Responses to “Agra: Taj-tastic!”

  1. Joanna says:

    Cool pics – very atmospheric! All sounds as though you should get out quick! Can only go uphill from now on in! x

  2. Jackson says:

    Good to see you explored the batty boy scene in Agra, didn’t mention that in the blog.
    Liking Fabians bike

  3. Carl & Bene says:

    Absolutely loving those Armani red booties that Donato is sporting next to the Taj, I’m sending that picture to the hardcore Harley Rider magazine.

  4. Jess says:

    You both look so well! Glad you seem to be having fun despite India in general. Our friend Sita is going there twice next year for family weddings and it’s going to cost her £1500 a time (flights, and the fact she has to stay in the palace where the wedding is taking place for multiple nights at £150 per night). Shocking to me, and she can’t not go because she would be frowned upon for life. ‘At least I can explore India as I’ve never been before’ she tells me. Probably best I don’t direct her to your blog at this point!

  5. Martha&Marcus says:

    Thanks for the heads up re India although can’t say it was on our to-do list! Well done you for giving it a good go! At least we can see by your current location that you have made it out alive thank goodness! lots of love from us two xxxx

  6. julian says:

    Hi you two. Will catch up with and print much of your recent blogs once back in UK. Just quickly checking up with you on someone else’s computer here on Batam island across the Straits from Singapore where we go tomorrow.
    CU soon!!
    love from dad X

  7. Cody says:

    Eagerly anticipating your next entry, I’m living vicariously through you guys and one day hoping to do a similiar trip.

  8. Mama/kate says:

    Just had a lovely few days staying with Jackie,aka Mum. Her computer is down at the moment. We both think you two are incredible and are so pleased that you got together as it means that OUR friendship is a wonderful by-product of your relationship. Lotsalove, Mama/Kate xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

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