Tuesday, July 10, 2007


We take the five hour train from Delhi, south to Agra, the home of the Taj Mahal. The train is dirty and the weather is cold as we arrive but now it's starting to warm up. This place feels like a city that time has forgotten. The people walk around in filth, going about their day-to-day routine, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. We booked out Guest house from Delhi, yesterday. When I called to check the rates, the clerk told me it was twelve hundred and fifty rupees a night ($45 CAD). "Lonely Planet says it's only 450" I said. Without missing a beat he replied: "yes, all right. We can give you a room for that amount." Everything is negotiable in this country. When we arrive at our Guest house, our driver insists on being our guide for the day. "What should we pay you?" I ask. "As you wish" he replies. "You are my guest." This becomes an ongoing saying in India. When Aw and I hear this, we instinctively lock eyes and give each other a grimace. It's not a good idea in India to leave the negotiations to the end of the Journey. These people were a civilized race when my ancestors were still living in trees and I don't like the odds of me succeeding in the negotiation we will be having at the end of this day.
This thousand year-old city is a noisy, smelly place with garbage in the streets and rusted out vehicles and wagons carrying supplies along the potholed roads. We see pigs eating garbage on the side of the road and emaciated water buffalo with their ribs showing, and carts that look like they have been around since the 1940s. The ancient fortress walls are covered in faded posters from events gone by. We see many poor people here but there are also many who are well dressed, like this man with the red sweater and while slacks. Agra is an eerie place to be in and I'm glad we have our train already booked to leave here tomorrow. But as we barrel along these bumpy broken down roads we keep getting a glimpse of something magnificent in the horizon.

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