New shoes take a few days to feel comfortable. A new country might take a bit longer. It’s been a rough couple days, to say the least. Two nights ago, I fell victim to the infamous “Delhi belly” and spent the night bowing to the porcelain gods (and I don’t mean Vishnu and Shiva). Every 20-30 minutes for about 5-6 hours I raced to the bathroom to pay homage. Gabriella did all she could to help ease the pain. The only thing that worked was a cup of black tea around 7:30am. We cancelled our tour of Jaipur in order to get some sleep during the day. In the evening, we saw a couple of the sights, but focused on getting to the train station to book something out of Varanasi by the weekend. An email from Gabriella’s friend advised us to get out of the cities and head to Rishikesh, a town north of Delhi near the Ganges known for a slew of ashrams. We changed our train from Agra to Varanasi for Agra to Haridwar tomorrow (Rishikesh is a 45 min bus ride north of there). Hopefully, we can find some peace up there.
Since our plans had now changed from leaving tomorrow evening to tomorrow morning, we had to see the Taj Mahal and Agra Fort today. We hit the road from Jaipur at 7am, my stomach still weak from the day before. At a rest stop where Mr. Singh had to pay the state tax, a man came up to my window to sell some jewelry and his monkey jumped up into my window to have a look inside! A bit later, we made a stop at Fatehpur Sikri for a quick tour from one of Mr. Singh’s friends. The old palace was pretty amazing, but not without its share of beggars and schemes to make us part with our money. By now, the midday heat was setting in and my stomach was still uneasy. Our tour was great, but the guide was sketchy (ex. Telling us it’s 260 Rs to enter 5 seconds before passing a sign that says admission is free; charging 30 Rs to get our shoes back after exiting). Afterwards, we finished the journey to Agra.
Mr. Singh had arranged for us a knowledgeable tour guide. We met him about 1km outside of the Taj, then continued on foot (there is a law against motored vehicles within this radius to guard against air pollution). By now it was 2pm and the temperature had reached 39C (104F). Despite the motored vehicle law, the air was thick and harsh. My eyes burned and my throat was coarse from the pollution. All I had eaten was a protein bar and my water was beyond lukewarm to straight up hot. We paid the entrance fees, got a short introduction from our guide, and then it appeared. Through a red stone arch we caught our first glimpse at the incredible palace. When I finally got a full view I could feel the power of this rare world wonder and couldn’t help but feel water swell in my eyes (this time not from the air pollution).
The Taj Mahal is magnificent. It took 22 years to build and was worth every minute. I can’t even begin to describe some of the amazing architecture, intricate designs, and landscaping, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself. I wish we didn’t go during the hottest part of the day, but I’m so glad we got to see it. Afterwards, we went to Agra Fort, another ancient Indian marvel. It reminded me of an old European castle with Eastern décor. The attention to detail and precision it took to make these structures is unfathomable. The sun was setting and our knowledgeable tour guide had completed his duties, so we headed to the hotel.
Tonight in Agra, tomorrow to Haridwar. Our tour of the golden triangle has concluded and not a minute too soon. My stomach is still weak, my eyes burn, and my burps are starting to taste like hard-boiled eggs from the sulfur in the air. We’ve got to get out of the big cities and head for greener pastures. I know it’s only been 5 days, but my patience is wearing thin. Everyone wants to sell you something, the traffic is an obstacle course, and the air is difficult to breathe. I can’t wait for southern India to spend some time on the beach and escape this heat! I feel the trip can only get better from here, so I’ll simply keep calm and carry on.