Cloudy, fine, cloudy in Jaipur, heavy rain in Agra
Today was our last day in Jaipur as we were heading to Agra by train this afternoon. I have to say I really liked Jaipur, it had a real buzz about it and it's location on the plains surrounded on 3 sides by mountain was pretty cool as well.
We got up at 8:30am and had breakfast upstairs. There were a few decorations up for India Independence Day, but I got the impression it wasn't celebrated with the same enthusiasm as some of the Festivals were. We checked out of the Hotel ( paid 5591R for our 3 nights accommodation including breakfasts ) and left our bags in storage. We also organised a car to take us to the railway station at 1:30pm.
We walked over to Sanganeri Gate and wandered around the shops. Liz bought some enamel earrings ( 200R ) from one shop and some 92.5% silver earrings from another ( 770R for 2 pair ). We kept walking along the Bazaar's and then went down one of the alleys that cut through the main block, and it was a different feel down here to the main streets, a bit more rough and ready.
We popped out near Tripiola Gate and walked through to the Isarlat Sargasooli ( a minaret ) which is 7 storeys high and was built in 1740. Oddly the entrance to the minaret was in a back street parallel to the main bazaar, and was in amongst the local hardware shops which were selling water tanks and taps. I bought a ticket for 200R ( I had to disturb the security guard and ticket seller from their thoughts as I was obviously one of the few people that they had seen today ) and climbed the spiral ramp inside the minaret to get to the top. The view from the top was pretty cool, and so was the nice breeze which I definitely needed after the climb. I stayed up there for a while taking photos ( another foreigner came up while I was there ) and then I came down the 15 rotations of spiral to get back to the bottom.
We popped back out onto Tripolia Bazaar Rd and then walked back to our hotel at 12;30pm. We grabbed a quick bit of lunch upstairs and had a chat to the hotel owner, and he said that he had reorganised the car to take us to the railway station and that the hotel was paying for it. We grabbed our bags at 1:30pm and jumped in the car and headed to the Railway Station.
We headed through the usual security screening ( with the usual queue jumping and pushing ) and made our way over to the platform for our train. Again the display boards and signage was very clear which platform we needed so it was a fairly simple task. We grabbed some packets of biscuits for the trip and waited for our train.
The train pulled in on time at 2:45pm, and of course we had to walk to the far end of it to find our carriage ( we really only had to look for the area of the platform where all the foreigners were standing! ) and jumped on board. This time our train was a sleeper carriage which meant we could lie down if we wanted, and Liz and I were not seated in the same sleeping compartment so I sat by myself and Liz sat with a couple of guys, 1 from Bangladesh who now lived in Canada and had been in India for a visit to a Muslim holy site, and his friend who was from Kolkata.
The train journey was fairly uneventful, I got some 'work' done while watching the scenery wiz by, and Liz chatted. There were the usual Chai Walla's and food sellers but otherwise the carriage was quite quiet. The carriage behind ours ( the last carriage on the train ) was a 'General' carriage which the locals used and as you have probably seen before they were literally packed into this carriage like sardines, with people hanging out the doors for most of the trip, although sitting on the roof was banned so that was a good thing.
We passed through a number of towns and villages on the way, stopping at stations ( one of which appeared to be overrun with monkeys ) and at some stage it started to rain. Again the scenery was nothing spectacular just flat plains with the occasional range of hills, but corn and other crops were starting to appear where previously we had only seen fields for cattle.
We arrived into Agra Fort station at 7:15pm, and we jumped off our carriage ( literally, as we were the 2nd to last carriage we were beyond the end of the platform ) and walked over the over bridge and into the station. We had a quick look around for a prepaid booth for taxi's or auto rickshaws ( AR ) but couldn't see one, so we headed out into the carpark. The rain had eased now but it had obviously been raining heavily here as the carpark was flooded. We got mobbed by the usual throng of AR drivers offering the best prices, so I asked one for a price and he said 200R, I said that was too much and started asking his friends for their prices. Suddenly the first guy came back with 100R, but he didn't look pleased about it, and so we agreed to that and jumped in.
Just a side note: over the last week we had started to realise that the prices we paid for AR rides was a lot more than the locals. We were paying the tourist prices. So a ride that we would get quoted 100R for ( maybe a 10 minute ride ) would only cost the locals 30-40R. So I did't feel bad about haggling to get the best fair.
After whizzing through the wide main roads from the station, occasionally on the wrong side of a dual carriageway to avoid flooding, we turned off into some narrow side streets and stopped at a police barrier in Taj Genj, the area where we were staying, at about 8pm. It appeared that the road to our hotel was permanently closed to traffic as it lead to the main entry to the Taj Mahal.
So we jumped out of the AR, grabbed our bags and I, knowing that there was going to be some kind of argument with the AR driver, gave him 110R ( more than the 100R we had agreed). He started saying how it was a long drive and he wanted 120R etc etc. I just said we agreed 100R, I paid you 110R, and we walked off through the police barriers to our hotel.
We checked in ( at the same time as some other people off our train ) at Hotel Sidartha ( NZ$50 / 2350R for 3 nights, excluding breakfast ) and went to our ground floor room. The rooms have all been recently renovated and were very nice. The AC on the other hand was the usual noisy blowy wall mounted type, but it worked.
We dropped our bags and headed into the main area of Taj Genj to grab some tea. Taj Genj is an interesting little area. Originally it was an area where the people building the Taj lived, but now it is a largely Muslim area ( the Taj still has a working mosque in it's grounds ) with hotels and restaurants. But it has a strange, almost European feel to it with paved streets and a central 'square'. It was also pretty quiet at 8:30pm on a Wednesday. We went to the Taj Cafe for tea ( more curries but no beers this time ( he had run out ) for 300R )
Back to the hotel at 9:30pm and rested.