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Friday, February 27, 2009

Agra

We arrived in Agra by train from Delhi, around 9 in the morning after a "race" from New Delhi station to Old Delhi Station, on one of those funny vehicles called rickshaws.. in Agra, as usual, harassed by dozens of "horny" indians who wanted to rip us off in taking us to the Taj Mahal for 200 rupees when a few meters ahead there was a pre-paid counter saying 100 rupees for that trip... Since we were told the best view of the Taj was in the early morning and especially since it was Friday and the Taj is closed on Fridays (restoration day), we used that day to see what else Agra had to offer. There was the "baby" Taj, a few mausoleums and we ended up the morning having the first view of the Taj from the back, since the river now has very little water and we can come very close through the sand banks and take nice pictures. After lunch, we headed to Agra Fort, which is a huge building where we found a mix of sandstone structures and marble, which were added by Shah Jahan, the guy that order the Taj. The building is like a labyrinth, many rooms and passages and a very nice view over the river and the Taj. Ironically, Shah Jahan was later imprisoned by his son in the Agra Fort, from where he could see the beautiful masterpiece he had ordered. Later, on "advice" of our rickshaw driver, went to a typical marble factory, where we spent most of the afternoon listening a weasel marble salesman with his very "eloquent" english on how the Taj Mahak was built..it is in fact a very meticulous work, where the marble (white) is first dyed in a special ink so that the contrast is bigger. Then, drawings are made using different stones like tiger-eye, lapis-lazuli, shells, and each stone of the drawing is carefully shaped. After that, the marble is carved, the stone is glued with a special glue, then the marble is washed so that the contrastant dye is washed away, and the final piece is polished... of course we didn´t leave the shop withoutsouvenirs, which took us a considerable time to choose, bargain and pay...

Next day, like crazy tourists, we woke up at 6 am to go to the Taj. It was still dark when we arrived to the ticket office but we found an already considerable queue. Tickets for foreigners cost 750 rupees and included a bottle of water and shoe protection, while indian citizens pay...10 rupees! Of course, it didn´t open in time, but at 7a.m. and we had to first get through the control check where Joao was sent back because he was carrying a... battery charger... The first view of the Taj is truly spectacular...but disappointing at the same time due to the now increasing air pollution which fills the air with smog... At the same time, it borrows a sense of mystery to the structure... maybe because we heard so much about it, saw it in thousands of pictures and postcards, we were not so surprised...took some pictures, walked around... besides, we are not allowed to take pictures from the inside of the Taj, although indian people do it... maybe to scam foreigners so then we pay some huge fine... Historically, it took 22 years, 20000 slaves so that the Taj would be completed..beside, says the legend, their hands were cut off so that no one could be involved in the building of similar masterpiece...Our afternoon destination was a city called Fatehpur Sikri, a ghost city just for the reason it was abandoned after 14 years due to water shortage...however, since its a touristic destination, it´s no longer "ghost"... The most impressive in that was a little boy, in his 13 years old who was selling wood miniatures of chess and gammon, that could engage in an almost correct conversation in either italian or spanish...in the end, he "took" a pen for his effort!

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Fatehpur Sikri was the capital of the Mughal empire for just 14 years. As we arrive we face a huge street market, in the middle of the main road. There's loads and loads of people, so the concept of ghost city is a bit awkward... We walk uphill trying to ignore the guides who want to show us around. They are very pushy in this place according to the lonely planet guide. The mosque on the top of the hill - Jama Masjid - is an impressive structure. There's a huge staircase to access the main entrance. Inside, the same quietness feeling I always feel in mosques. They're quite harmonious structures. Me and Joao lost Tiago in the mosque. We still searched him for half an hour, but as we didn't see a sign of him we decided to move on and visit the old palace which is now part of the UNESCU world heritage sites. The palace is in fact a complex formed of many palaces. It's huge and each palace has it's own particular architectural details. We spent the rest of the free time we had wandering around the complex. Not many people were visiting it, so we finally got the feeling of being in a "ghost city". Around 3.30 pm we moved downhill and met Tiago waiting for the bus. The group was together again and it was now time to catch the bus back to Agra because Joao had to catch the 6 o'clock train to Delhi.

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The trip back to Agra was supposed to be at 16h, since Joao had to take the train back to Delhi... however, we were soon told that contrary to what the guide said, there were no bus schedule from there to Agra... we waited and waited, Joao was getting desperate because time was passing by and we was almost sure to lose the train... we decided to take a rickshaw to the main road where a bus took us after 15 minutes...it was a race against time, with a horn-crazy driver, for 1h20m...as soon as we arrived (5m before the scheduled train departure time), Joao grabbed his suitcase, said goodbye, and went to the station... 10 minutes later, we got an sms saying that he was on the train and that he only had time to throw his bags and jump on it..fortunately, the train was delayed... Later that night we took the train that took us to Varanasi, our last stop in India before Nepal.

Text written by Tiago. Part written in Italic written by me.

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