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Agra, India

Day 195: Country #20.1

In addition to the sub $5 Delhi Tour, I got a combo discount for a $10 day long Agra tour from Delhi. This time, someone came to the hostel in the early morning to walk me to a gathering point a few blocks away. Again, I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on after the escort abandoned me, but other people slowly trickled in and out, going to various buses, but I was not pulled for a while.

Eventually, someone took me to a big bus and sits me next to another foreign traveler who was a little sick, but forced himself to take the tour since it was his last day in India. Shortly after departing, they ask one of us to switch buses. I opted to go and ended up getting a better vehicle.

Then the bus pulls up to a gas station for a bathroom break. I was glad I switched buses because I got a seat closer to the front, which allowed me to get off and use the bathroom sooner. Shortly after I got back on, the bus honked and started driving away as people ran to catch up and hop on, as if it were some local bus! Indian time didn’t apply today, so I needed to stay on schedule or be left behind.

Our first stop was Agra Fort, a huge palace complex fortified by red brick walls. I deemed the foreigner price a bit too steep and instead explored the surrounding area because the level of poverty seemed unusually extreme given the wealth that should have been generated by Agra’s historic attractions.

For lunch, our next stop, I had a quick buffet meal then took a look around outside and it occurred to me how different maintained building interiors look compared to the outside and streets. I didn’t venture too far, but managed to find a newspaper to stay busy for parts of the bus ride.

After lunch, we were introduced to some sweet desserts at a nearby souvenir shop then headed to the Taj Mahal. What people might not know is that the bus stop is quite far from the Taj Mahal and you have to walk through a gauntlet of shops. There are also other things you can do like visit the Taj Nature Walk, which is a separate park with hiking trail that leads up some hills where you can get a clear view of the Taj Mahal through the tree line.

Once I reached the Taj Mahal entrance, I cut to the right and walked along the exterior walls to the river where I met another tourist that also wasn’t a fan of the 25x foreigner pricing. To be honest, I expect to return to India and visit these attractions in the future and hope they’ll be equitably priced then, so missing Agra Fort and Taj Mahal within the scope of my long adventure wasn’t a big deal.

People slowly trickled back to the bus very late, but this time the bus didn’t try to leave anyone behind. We got on the road toward Delhi, but instead of going back the bus detours on a small road and takes us to dinner outside a small town in the middle of nowhere. I met an old man from Hyderabad at dinner and he offered me some coffee candies, which were useful because after dinner it was already dark outside, but the bus drove into the center of the town and everyone got off. I didn’t expect the tour to continue through the night, but followed the group as we weaved through the narrow streets, stopping at different temples and singing (or chanting).

Our final stop was Sri Krishna Nidhivan, the childhood home of Krishna, a major diety in Hinduism, where I participated in some ceremonies that involved walking around a statue, singing, and giving tithes to priests as they briefly revealed a Krishna statue. It was a really interesting experience, which unfortunately I did not fully comprehend.

After the celebration of sorts, everyone went back to the bus and stood around a bit, buying a milk drink to end the day. It looked really good, but I didn’t want to risk getting sick. Then I noticed that every person threw their terra-cotta cup on the ground to break after finishing their drink. Most, but not all cups broke. Were people being lazy? Were the cups that poor quality? Why not recycle and reuse the cups? It seemed really odd to me, especially after I noticed a young girl intentionally stomp on her cup to break it when it didn’t break upon dropping.

But I guess maybe it’s a tradition that formed around a hygienic behavior because sharing dairy based drinks in hot climates could spread disease quickly.

We returned around 1am, and I didn’t get back to the hostel until past 2am, making it by far my longest tour ever, but totally worth the experience, especially for less than $10.

Tip:

Even if you’ve been exposed to a lot of different pathogens and have a boosted immune system, you can still get sick if you sit next to a sick person. I always carry a small Asian style mask just in case.

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