Agra Blues

It’s Independence day in India, as agreed with the tour operator we arrive at the Gold Regency reception at 6AM, where our Taj bus will pick us up. It’s raining. We wait. Nobody from the tour operator is there. A young German has been waiting here since 05:30 already. At about 07:00 someone apparently associated with the company tells us to go to the top of the road (Main Bazaar) as the bus is waiting there. We were told the bus would pickup at the hotel and stay. A few Indian tourists join our wait. The apparently-tour-guy has made a few phone calls and eventually, signals to follow him to the bus.

It’s pissing cats and dogs, our flops splash in the dirty mud (eeew!), he leads us through the alleys to the other side of PaharGanj and there, next to the main road and slightly sheltered from rain by the building’s projections, we wait for another half hour for the bus to arrive.

The tour bus arrives. It has A/C but the dimensions are such that my knees thrust into the seat ahead. Four hours heach way should be interesting. We leave about 08:00 and following a few pickups in Delhi, mostly local tourists, are on the highway at 08:30, 2 1/2 hours later than we expected. I revise our bike-route and fall asleep and wake up at a lush road-side lay-by to the sound of men changing our bus tyre due to a puncture. I take the opportunity to call Vivien from BulletWallas and Shweta, my friend in Jaipur whom I want to visit: I tell them that we are revising our plan and will keep them informed.

The tour itself consists of a 3-hours-longer than promised drive to Agra, with breakfast stop at a less-than-hygenic road-side stop, a short guided tour of Agra fort, lunch in a middle-class restaurant with no inkling of customer service, a visit to the Taj Mahal and 3 temples including the great Krishna temple, and a road-side dinner stop on the return. Needless to say we won’t be back in Delhi by the stated time of 10/11PM. We pass on the temple visits but get a few good snaps in the towns.

Ebru’s head-gasket has blown. She’s angry, she’s disgusted, she’s started her own little revenge-war on this place. Communication is futile. She is starving but won’t even eat an apple. She’s attracting concerned stares from our fellow Indian tourists and restaurant personnel. Her day-1 idea was for us to write three words in her little diary each day, describing how we feel. On the bus, smiling, I ask her whether she has thought of her 3 words for the day yet. She answers, "Hate, Hate, Hate!". I wonder whether we’ll be staying in India long enough to overcome the Delhi Belly, which surprisingly has not started yet…

During the late-night dinner stop I order some Aloo Paratha and some of their chickpea marsala curry. We sit with a Kashmiri doctor I have come to chat with. It’s delicious and as I squeeze it down, I feel my stomach has shrunk to the size of a golf ball. I offer some to Ebru and she tries it. I think now she has no choice, she has to eat, it’s an instinctive necessity. She has a few more bites and when I ask whether I should order another paratha she says yes. I feel a glimmer of hope that she might come around and give the place a chance eventually.

On the return the night-traffic on the roads is terrible. Trucks, trucks, trucks, driving, parked on the left-hand-lane, jeeps and cars pushing to cut in and overtake… The bus driver spends half his time driving on the wrong side of the highway to keep moving. He always looks irritated and only shouts at people in a rusty growl. He’s got a tough job – he’s been driving for nearly 24 hours in these conditions! We get back to Delhi by 04:30am. We’re hungry and shattered.



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