Jun 30, 2011

Agra, or Arrrgh-gra

Posted by Mary |

Agra is a great and noble city. It is home to the Taj Mahal, one of the most famous monuments in the world. Nearly everybody who goes to India will visit Agra. And I am here to tell you the truth: Agra kind of sucked a lot.

It's not really Agra's fault. It can't help being the biggest tourist trap in the country. And we only planned to spend two days there. But as John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans." And so it was that when we got to Agra, we found out that the Gujjars had gone on strike and closed down all transport into and around Rajasthan. They were literally sitting on the roads and the train tracks. Our plans to go to Ranthambhore? Train was canceled. Our hastily concocted backup plans to leave the day after we were supposed to leave? Train was canceled. Our harrowing escape came at great personal, karmic expense. More on that later.

We arrived in the evening and made our way to the hotel. Tourists Rest House. Good place. I highly recommend it. The next day, we met our rickshaw driver from the previous evening. We had agreed on a set price to hire him for the day to take us to various places in Agra. And thus I present the Agra picture porn:

The Taj Mahal. Rs750 each to get in. Overpriced.
Our hotel was less than that. Go EARLY to avoid the massive crowds.

Pretty Taj bits.

Agra Fort self portrait.

Cool carved screens.

This is what you call "finding the light."

Faded beauty (the building, not me).

This was an off-the-beaten-track place Manish brought us.

Overall, I was pleased with hiring him for the day. Until the end of the day, when we suddenly found ourselves being brought to shops. Beau quickly learned to follow my lead when I started begging poor and heading for the door. Manish earned his commissions, but lost any tip that we may have been inclined to give.

The next day, we checked out of the hotel and went to the Taj Nature Walk for the afternoon. Naturally we saw Manish as we passed the Taj entrance.

For Rs100 each, the Taj Nature Walk was a good way to pass the time. Sure, you only saw the Taj in the distance, but there were no crowds of people. The few kids that bothered us there quickly figured out that I really wasn't going to give them chocolate or money, and they left us alone. We spent a few hours wandering the paths and startling large, hooved animals.

Then we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags and went to the train station for our journey to Ranthambhore and tigers! Except remember that little Gujjar strike? No trains were running. Back to the hotel, check into another room, find some tatkal tickets for the next day, with a new plan to skip Ranthambhore and head straight to Udaipur.

The next day we woke up, checked out of the hotel and decided to kill some time by taking a cycle rickshaw around the city. Pedal power is not only cheaper, but slower. We stopped at a travel agent to inquire about bus tickets to Udaipur. These were normally around Rs300. They quoted us Rs600 for a seat and Rs800 for a sleeper. Since we had the tatkal tickets, we went back to the hotel, grabbed our bags, and went to the train station. No trains were running. We hopped a rickshaw back to the travel agent, but they told us the bus was full. Back to the hotel, check into another room, have a small fit.

The next morning, Beau went back to the travel agent, who quoted him Rs1000 for a seat. He got it down to Rs900, then bought two tickets. We had time to kill, so we went to Pizza Hut for lunch. We also documented some hideous wiring.

Overhead wires. I kind of expected them to look this way.

The open box of shitty connections did not look very safe.

On the way out, we ran into Manish again. Small town. And then we got into the rickshaw of destiny.

Up next: The Great Escape, Or How We Got To Udaipur

Jun 13, 2011

an update

Posted by Mary |

Things have been busy since the wedding! Beau and I had less than two weeks together before we headed down to Anchorage. His best friend was getting married at the end of May, so I took an extra-long weekend from work and we drove down. At the end of the weekend, I flew back to Fairbanks, leaving Beau to work down there all summer.

And me? I plan on keeping busy at home and traveling. I already have two trips to Anchorage scheduled for the summer, and Beau came up for a visit last weekend too. I am trying to schedule a time for someone to come out and install the rest of my windows. Once that is done, I need to have him resolve the bathroom window situation, then the bathroom remodeling odyssey will begin. I'm tearing the room down to the studs and starting over again. Also on the plate for this summer: a simple wall project. I just need to tear down the interior walls, rewire, reinsulate and hang new walls. Easy, right?

One good thing about all these plans is that it supports my love of buying power tools. My parents got me a drywall screwgun for my birthday, and I picked up a double bevel miter saw (with laser marker) last week. I've had my eye on another set of tools as well. I keep hoping it will go on sale for Father's Day. Home Depot must hate dads, though, because it's still full price.

To add to the summer of madness, I will be busy with monthly dance workshops, up to 5 hourlong dance classes each week, plus regular rehearsals and performances. I've been asked to take part in another burlesque show this summer, but I honestly don't see how I'm supposed to fit it all in.

Oh yeah, I also need to plan our wedding reception and honeymoon. The reception is in September, and the honeymoon will be in December.