If there’s one lesson you should take from my travels, it’s this: plan ahead. And travel in packs. There’s a reason wolves do that. I mean the planning ahead part.
I woke up at 5:30AM. Stupid jetlag. Then I went back to sleep. Then I woke up around 8:15, watched some TV, then decided to get some breakfast. Pappu was already at the counter waiting for me, which was a little unnerving since we had agreed to meet at 10. I guess he really had a lot of time on his hands. I ate a simple breakfast consisting of a piece of toast and some…curry thing with what I think was a chapati. It didn’t really say, so I may never know. I ate, went back to my room, turned on the TV, watched for a bit, then realized I still had a good 45 minutes left. But I didn’t really want to leave early. Then the Bollywood channel that I was watching died, so I took it as a sign to leave early, which Pappu didn’t mind.
First step was Sikandra, tomb of Akbar, depicted by Hrithik Roshan in the 2008 hit Jodhaa Akbar. So whenever someone mentioned Akbar, I smiled and visualized Hrithik Roshan wrestling elephants and doing other Akbar-like things. Shirtless, of course. Because that’s the way the Mughals rolled. I like to keep things historically accurate. On the drive to Sikandra, I saw several animals along the road like dogs, cows, goats, donkeys, and monkeys. Monkeys! I had never seen monkeys in streets before. I mean, in trees or in zoos, yes, but on the streets? Too bad I was in a moving car, or I would’ve tried to get a closer look. Oh well.
I arrived at Sikandra, and as I got off, my glasses fogged up instantly. It was a minor nuisance at the time, but I would find it increasingly infuriating as the day went on. As I paid the overpriced admission ticket, I couldn’t help but admire the entrance-thingy. It was rather interesting. I got a South American or Italian tourist couple (I really don’t know. Seemed European though.) to take my picture, then I proceeded to the actual mausoleum. I was supposed to take off my shoes as I entered, but an old man at the entrance kindly covered my shoes with shoe covers, then ask me to pay him for my services. Crap. I was so good at avoiding these things in Europe. I guess nothing is free in India, as the Indians are far better than Europeans in guilt-tripping tourists. Oh well.
I entered the tomb, unsure if I could take pictures. A man in the main chamber told me that I should pray to Akbar for good luck, then demanded that I make a donation. Much different from European sites of worship, where they don’t really extort money from hapless tourists. I guess it’s because the faithful donate enough money anyway, while places like Sikandra attract mostly tourists. At least he told me I could take pictures. That was nice.
So I took some pictures then went over to one of the side buildings, looking at the deer/antelope thingies grazing and taking pictures of them too. As I came closer to one of the buildings, I noticed that a bunch of monkeys were sitting in front of it. Then they scampered to a tree where a bunch of monkeys were chilling. And there were baby monkeys! I crept a little closer to take better pictures, but not too close to disturb the monkeys. After all, they were pretty big and getting beaten to death by a group of angry monkeys was not the ideal Agra visit. At least, not until you’ve seen the Taj.
I returned to the car with some satisfactory monkey pictures, only to find that Pappu had disappeared. I mean, the car was still there, but I couldn’t see him anywhere. I started panicking, and then I realized that I should try looking inside the car. And there he was, taking a nap with the driver’s seat reclined. You know, I think that I’m a pretty smart individual, but sometimes the depths of my stupidity astound me.
Next stop was the Baby Taj. I forgot its actual name. Actually, I don’t think I ever considered remembering the name in the first place. Eh. It seemed like a relatively minor place. I don’t know why it’s called the Baby Taj, it doesn’t even resemble the actual Taj Mahal.
On closer inspection of my pictures, I see that it does indeed look like the Taj Mahal. Kinda. I got a Japanese fellow to take my picture for me. I think he was a lone traveler, like me. Maybe not. Who knows, I never asked him. I wandered around the entire structure, which was going under partial restoration and was therefore surrounded with scaffolds and workers lounging around. The churrels were especially friendly, and they didn’t run away until I got too close to them. What’s a churrel you ask? I honestly don’t know. It has the body and the stripes of a chipmunk but the long tail of a squirrel. I called my Mumbai friend Shruti and described the appearance of a churrel to her, and she thought it was a squirrel, but I’m not so sure, so I call it a churrel, a combination of a squirrel and a chipmunk. It was either that or squipmunk. Churrel sounds tastier. I made a mental note to classify it when I get a good internet connection and Wikipedia. So yeah, that was the Baby Taj.
Now, while Pappu was driving me, he tried to convince me to hire him to go to Fatehpur Sikri, a ghost city near Agra, and to hire his friend to pick me up in Jaipur and show me around the city. He initially tried to get me to cancel my train reservation and hire him to drive to Jaipur and stop at Fatehpur Sikri along the way, but I was adamant on riding the train. So in the end, he gave me what seemed to be a decent deal of 2000 rupees for the entire thing. Agra AND Jaipur. I asked him to make sure. Then he told me to talk to his friend on the phone to assure me that it was not simply a scam. His friend offered the whole Jaipur package at 1500rps, which meant that Fatehpur Sikri and back was 500rps, a steal indeed. I asked Pappu if this was correct and he frowned and said no, it was 1500rps. What the fuck? In the span of a phone call, the price had jumped 1000rps. That was too much, but he was already acting as if I had agreed to the transaction. I fumed privately and started devising a plan to get me out of this agreement. I was not going to get fleeced again. Or at least this time.