So, I decided that to get to Agra to meet the Hanfts (Rikki’s parents who are in India for a month, the coolest parents around besides my own (well, there’s also Bob Schwartz, my email buddy, but I digress. This sidebar is for those who aren’t ‘in the parents-of-my-friends-know’), I’d take a train. Everyone told me that I should hire a car/driver to take me there/back and transport me around Agra, but I deferred. No, no….I want to EXPERIENCE the trains in India. Ok, everyone sighed reluctantly, knowing that an Indian tourist pressed for time shouldn’t be wasting precious hours on the trains, they rarely leave on time, they rarely get where they’re supposed to get in the said amount of hours. It’s fine, I say. MY train will be on time. Morning of, I grab a rickshaw and headed to Nizabuddim train station, filled with people immediately surrounding the rickshaw (before I even step out, and elderly woman hopped in with me, pinned an Indian flag on my shirt, then asked for a “donation.” Uh, donation…right.).
GUESS WHAT? Train is delayed.
GUESS HOW LONG? 4-5 hours. They’re not sure.
They tell me to come back around 6 to see if there’s further delays. REALLY? Is this any way to run a train service? No, it is not. DO THEY CARE? No, they do not. So….beaten, I head back to Matt’s for the “I told you so”s. I call the travel agent that I’ve hooked up with here in Delhi (who has basically in one fell swoop – or is it foul swoop, I never get that right – did the rest of my trip thru coming home) and he tells me he’ll have a car for me in 30 minutes. I really want to meet the Hanfts, I do not want to idle the day away at a train station or Matt’s apartment, so….I take the chauffeured car. I guess I’m starting to cave on my NO HIRED HELP policy I felt weird about , um….YESTERDAY.
The four hour car ride to Agra was uneventful except for the kamikaze driving (130 kms/hour!), traffic weaving around cows, camels and donkeys peeing in the middle of the road, braking for women with bushels of wheat piled high atop their head, staring at the rickshaws PACKED with 20-30 people hanging out in all directions from the roof, back, front, sides (to highlight, me and my luggage are a tight-rickshaw squeeze…20 people is insanity), being ignored by my very sweet, cute driver who balked when I offered him some banana (obv...), then some peanut M&M’s (I wanted to ask if he was allergic to nuts b/c his reaction was THAT severe) then stopped talking to me because seemingly, I offended him by disregarding the caste lines in the vehicle – he’s my DRIVER, not my snacks partner.
Agra itself is a dirty, rundown little town. The streets are a mess, the sewer stench which is omnipresent in India seems worse here, the town lacks character, and the poverty seems intensified because of how unsavory Agra is. I’m disappointed, as in my mind’s eye, Agra – the home of the Taj Mahal – should be lovely. However, the Taj Mahal MORE THAN makes up for it. Magnificent, stunning, breathtaking, inspiring, overpowering, perfect. There’s no way for me to convey with any measure of success just how amazing this work of art is, because that's what it is...a work of art. A mausoleum for Shah Jahan’s second (and favorite wife), I was under the impression that the Taj was a residence, inhabited by the Shah and his wife. But, it’s actually just the tomb that the Shah built after her death to honor her. She never even saw it!!! The whole concept is beyond comprehension when you see the Taj, this massive and shining white marble structure of perfection against a cloudless blue sky. Every movement of the sun creates a new moment. You cannot take your eyes off of it, you cannot stop taking pictures TRYING to capture the beauty, you cannot believe you’re seeing it in person. Seeing the Taj is just one of those life moments. It was utterly unreal.
After seeing the Taj Mahal, Michele, Jeff and I went around Agra in THEIR chauffered car (see, everyone's doing it...) to see various shops that specialize in custom marble pieces. The process is unbelievable, a myriad of working chipping slices of colored marble and hammering them into stenciled designs. Then, to see centuries old embroideries at stores housing centuries old jewels. Michele and I trying everything on, admiring ourselves in mirrors, while Jeff sat back and watched quietly. Such a fun day, so nice to spend the day them. I meet so many people at night, at dinners, or having a cocktail, that it was nice to SIGHTSEE with people I adore, rather than just kick back with other travelers. The parental TLC felt good (and made me miss my own mom and dad, of course … ) Retiring back to our respective hotels (they stayed at the Oberoi which was one of the most amazing hotels I’ve ever seen…), I decided to put myself back into the gym at my hotel to kill an hour, start to run again, make myself presentable for Lukoff’s wedding. And then, the fun really started…
I’m all into my run, it’s 30 minutes in, I’m going, I’m sweating, I’m feeling good. I’m alone in the gym, so I’m just wearing a sports bra and running pants, the treadmill is next to the window overlooking a back garden at my hotel. Along comes an Indian window washer, slowly ‘wax-on, wax-off’-ing the window of the gym. Then, he notices me. As per usual in India re: being a western woman, he stares for a bit, making me uncomfortable circling the window in the same place, then moves on. Great, back to running, focus, keep on pushing. About 5 minutes later, though, he’s back. This time he’s not making any false show of washing the windows, he’s just stuck his face to the glass, with his hands over his forehead to block out the sun, and get a better look. Staring right into my eyes as I notice him, he’s starting to glaze a little and SLOWLY, SLOWLY, one hand disappears below the window sill. I FREAK OUT. So, I put my feet on the side of the treadmill to balance myself and start to pull the blinds closed – reaching and stretching to get the pulley stick – when, one foot goes back onto the moving treadmill, knocking me off balance and into motion, pulling me down down down with it. It was, when I pictured what I must’ve looked like, A Naked Gun movie scene. Fully. But, with much lewder content. I’m splayed out on the floor, bleeding, pissed, sweaty. And, I look up, and see, through the sliver of curtain that didn’t close, Sanjay Sex Fiend still stuck to the glass watching me!!!
Welcome to India, as a Western gal.
I’ve now got a huge bandage on my right knee and have frequent “ow!” moments when I do things that involve … bending my leg. But…I “told on” Sanjay the window washer and didn’t see him working the next day when I checked out. Justice. Hopefully. But, likely not, the rest of the male staff probably patted him on the back.
More from Mumbai…
Hopefully, less lascivious behavior from the locals.