India Part 5: The Midnight Run to Agra

Sleeping in Disguise

After our semi royal treatment of bunking up in a vacant three story house within the completely hostel booked back alleys of Varanasi, fully equipped with our exclusive body guard who slept outside of our room all night, (while the owners of the mansion spent their vacation in Spain), we figured we’d keep rolling the red carpet onward to Agra.  Salinda, our personal, non English speaking driver,set out to drive us 12 hours to the one and only Taj Mahal.  All trains were booked and we were eager to move on from the Kingdom of Crap, so we splurged a bit.

Salinda and his blue fuzzy sweater

10 pm and we hadn’t even traveled 3 minutes due to the blockades of cows that were preventing us to move onward.  This continued on until we reached the highway, filled with not cows anymore, but big, tacky, colorfully decorated trucks.  We were the only car on the four lane road and also probably the only white people.   The two backbags strapped onto the roof were a dead give away as well.  The flip flap of the straps hitting the roof in the wind, mixed with the repeat of Salinda’s music plus the multi-toned sounds of continual honking horns, combined with our “white girl paranoia” prevented any sort of REM sleep.  “This is not good,” chirped Melissa, as wide-eyed men peered through the window after walking in and out of cattle trucks and oil tanks selling items to the sleepy and dreary drivers.  We all slowly proceeded to hide our Western features by pulling our hoods over our heads, tucking in our golden tinted hair and wrapping our scarves around our faces like middle Eastern women in burqas.  Each time we passed a toll booth, one of us ordered “Get down, everybody down!” like illegal immigrants crossing the border, while Salinda, in his blue, fuzzy, work vest, mysteriously would peer over and into the rear view mirror at us.  Bathroom

Impossible to get a shot!

breaks included stopping at a shady chai stand and popping a squat next to hen houses, each protectively guarding each other from the traffic inching by.  Life in the shadows was not glamorous.  Somewhere along the lines, the red carpet stopped rolling and we were back living the adventure travel again.

Once we reached Agra, we all felt like survivors, gloriously gleeful that the ride was over, intent to find the nearest hotel to wash up and use a non road side bathroom.  We hit the jackpot when we entered a five star hotel with an endless Continental Indian fusion buffet.  The staff had no other choice but to accept four, grimy, sleepless, strung out girls and their driver.  We each took turns cleaning up in the dazzling, dirt less powder room, while the others indulged in freshly made omelets, an array of fresh juices, curries, pastries and other Indian delights.  The manager graciously deducted one of the meals, as an appreciation of including and inviting our driver into our breakfast club, but most likely out of sympathy to our vagabond-ish demeanor.  Feeling fresh and revived, we crunched back into the car, and spend the morning walking around within the gates of the Taj.  Our $12 ticket included a government funded tour guide, who patiently accepted all our picture taking requests.  I did not appreciate the beauty actually until this day.  The crowds, chaos and cluster of people took away from the eminence of this majesty.  I was more concerned with keeping my belongings close to my side, then to marveling at the impeccably perfect detail on the walls, or to the entrancing enormity of this “crown of palaces.”

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Take 5

We then dragged ourselves to the Agra Fort.  It was the site of a battle during the Indian rebellion of 1857 which caused the end of the British East India Company’s rule in India, and led to a century of direct rule of India by Britain.  But our lack of interest due to our lack of energy, lead us to nap on some steps of the courtyard inside until we were rudely awakened by a curious monkey who drove us out of our slumber, running directly out of the Fort.

Salinda patiently drove us around to every ATM in the city, searched for a rooftop cafe while driving around in circles and waited for us at each stop, so we treated Salinda to one last meal, concerned with his plan to drive all the way back to Varanasi that night.  Somehow through the language barrier, he described his family and children and continued on to tell us that his wife had died.  Our hearts went out to him as we sat in silence.  At the train station, we said our goodbyes, generously tipped him, and most likely startled him with the amount of hugs and gratitude we gave him, but were thankful for his calm, protecting, and safe service he contributed to for our Taj experience. Next stop, Jaipur the capital and largest city of  Rajasthan.

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