Driving is a whole other story in India. I simply don’t have words to describe it. The best visual I can give is to imagine four lanes of cars in the space allotted for a two lane road. No one even knows how all the cars fit there, yet somehow it works because we didn’t see a single wreck in all the driving we did (which was quite a lot). People use their horns with reckless abandon, yet there doesn’t seem to be any road rage. My best guess as to why that doesn’t occur is because no one is where they are supposed to be (including police cars), thus nobody can get mad at each other.
The ride to Agra was pretty uneventful, besides the brief stop on the highway for gas and masala chai! I was pretty excited about our first mug of chai, and (especially for a highway store) it was delicious! At this stop we also learned that wash room (more typical word here for bathroom) attendants are common, and tipping them is definitely expected.
We drove through a smaller town called Agra City in order to get to the hotel where we were staying and got a lot of stares through the windows. It had happed a lot in Delhi, but is still a bit startling to get used to– we all just look really out of place here! The hotel we stayed at was most likely the fanciest hotel I have ever seen: extremely nice rooms, the food was fabulous; we were very privileged.
On the agenda was Agra Fort (the other Red Fort). Agra Fort was seriously impressive. It had three mechanisms of defense: a moat, which used to be filled with alligators; a slightly higher moat where wild animals were kept; and high walls with abundant windows for the guards to peek out of, ready to shoot at any minute. Part of the Indian police force still utilizes Agra Fort which is really neat.
Agra Fort was built by Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 1500’s; it was completed after 9 years in 1573. It is almost more of an enclosed town than a traditional fort; it was huge inside. Shah Jahan, Akbar’s grandson, also helped build the fort and is responsible for its final state that we see today. Rumor has it that he died on the back balcony, overlooking the Taj Mahal (which he also built) after he was exiled there by his son. This is where we got our first glimpse of the Taj- so exciting! The Taj is closed on Fridays for restoration and cleaning, so we are seeing it first thing tomorrow morning.
The architecture inside Agra Fort was incredible. There were beautiful archways all lined up perfectly and a beautiful bathing room for the queen decorated with thousands of mirrored tiles. Legend has it that if you lit one candle, the entire room would glow (note for future house buying/planning). The sheer size of these buildings is something I’m having a difficult time comprehending. They are monumental, and to think that all were built without modern tools is simply astounding.
As we were waiting to be picked up by our driver, we stood chatting with our guide and I learned something interesting: I had noticed a lot of babies had what looked like black eyeliner under their eyes. I inquired why this was done and our guide explained that here, some people believe that if someone looks at you while thinking good thoughts, you will absorb those good thoughts. However, if someone looks at you with evil thoughts, it is very bad for you. But the black marks on the faces of the babies prevents absorption of the negativity. And the same is also true for people with black dogs.
After being picked up, our driver and guide took us to a textile shop. In Agra, he explained, there are no factories because the pollution would ruin the Taj (which is a really cool rule), and there is also no tax on anything (aka great for shopping). We had very friendly (and persuasive) salesmen yet again, and I did purchase a kurta (which is a light, long, loose shirt with slits up the side worn over leggings or loose pants). Very comfortable. Travel books say that dressing in traditional, modest clothes will help you fit in better, though I think having blonde hair pretty much cancels that out!
Here are a few more pictures from Agra Fort: