I arrived to the Delhi airport around 10PM on Sunday night and waited about an hour for my cousin Jesse to arrive in the same terminal from Amsterdam. When he walked up, it was rather surreal to see him in a place so unlike our own. The ride from the hotel had been waiting for us, and so we grabbed our stuff and got in. It was funny to watch Jesse’s initial reactions to the small yet significant differences around him. I couldn’t help but think he has no idea what he will see in the next few days.
We got to sleep around 1AM and were awoken by the ring of the hotel phone around 6AM. I don’t think either of us slept much. We had asked for our car to take us to Agra around 7AM, but they were early, an hour at that. We finally got up and went downstairs to find our driver waiting for us. He was an older man of short stature and didn’t speak any English.
It took over 3 hours to arrive in Agra, even with using the new expressway that avoids many of the bumpy and busy local roads. The town of Agra itself was congested, and Jesse could hardly believe his surroundings. We got into a mini accident when our car jammed into a cart carrying a large load of PCP pipes right into the side of my door. The noise was loud and startling, but the damage wasn’t as bad as we thought. Jesse and I both were amazed at the lack of accidents considering the chaos on the road.
Our driver decided to drop us off about a mile from the Taj Mahal and feed us to the hungry tour guides. I figured this out pretty quick, and through a mix of NO’s and other attempts at communication, finally convinced our driver (who we were paying to help us) to drop us off closer and within walking distance to one of the entrances. Of course, as soon as we got out of the car, we were swarmed with people selling every type of Taj Mahal souvenir you can imagine. Pushing our way to through, we finally got on track to reach the ticket window and eventually the entrance to the Taj.
We walked through the West Gate entrance and into a large courtyard surrounded by 4 incredible archway entrances. The craziness outside of the gates subsided and as we turned towards the main archway, the Taj was finally in clear view. It looked a bit like a mirage, so large and looming, the sky full of think smog blending in with the impressive white marble structure. It took my breath away.
Jesse and I enjoyed a leisurely walk around the grounds, checking out the gardens and fountains and impressive architecture of the surrounding buildings and Mosques. We entered the Taj Mahal to see the resting site of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, and the woman for which this structure was built. The interior designs were simple and elegant.
We sat and enjoyed some peace and quiet before exiting back out into the chaos that surrounded this oasis. Jesse was a real trooper on his first day in India. He must have been approached 20 different times to buy a Taj Mahal snow globe key chain and I know it was testing his patience. We finally found our driver and the car, and a little boy wouldn’t let Jesse shut the door as he made one final attempt to sell his snow globes. Overwhelmed and unable to communicate with our driver, we decided to head back to Delhi to eat so that Jesse could see the city a bit before we left the next morning. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before and Jesse was all out of sorts from his long trip over. We both fell sound asleep in the car despite the constant breaking, honking and uncertainty of our surroundings.
Back in Delhi we returned to the hotel and immediately went straight to the only restaurant I knew – the same one I went to with Natasha the week before. We both ordered a Kingfisher beer and a Thali plate. After satisfying our hunger, we walked back through Hauz Khas Village and then back to the car. We asked the driver to stop somewhere that we could buy cold beer. He stopped outside a small market area and led us down some stairs where we bought two beers each to take back to the hotel. As soon as we finally made it to our room, neither of us could actually drink it out of pure exhaustion. We fell asleep by 7:30PM.