Chugging along one side of the golden triangle we make our last stop in Rajasthan, before heading to India’s number one tourist attraction …162 days in.
One of the many lessons we’ve learned while traveling in Asia is that if something initially appears not to be possible, then there is often a way to make it happen. We had tried to book a morning train to Jaipur only to be told there were no seats left – we’re getting better at booking trains, we can now get to the counter and fill out the appropriate forms, ignoring all requests of ‘help’ from locals. After resigning ourselves to another dusty journey on a sleeper bus, the owner of the guesthouse we were staying at said why not pay a tuk tuk driver, the equivalent of £1.50 to get the tickets for us on the day as they release extra at 5 am. True to his word we had three tickets for the morning train, the driver successfully pushed his way into the queue which being British we hadn’t quite perfected the art of yet.
Arriving in Jaipur and ignoring all offers to be taken to other guesthouses as apparently the one we wanted to go to was too dirty, in a bad location or closed, we were ready to explore the flamboyant pink city. Taking in the sights on an early evening walk to the old city, we passed the Albert Hall (it looked nothing like its London name sake) and were disappointed to find the pink city distictly terracotta in colour and to us, not as pretty as Jodhpur. Seeing versions of the same attraction in different cities often means you lose the wow factor and it feels boring in comparison to the first one, so we decided to skip the fort and headed instead to Jantar Mantar, a collection of astronomical instruments from the 18th century. For two chemists and a physicist to see the precision with which the instruments were built was a fascinating couple of hours but as for using the measurements to predict the future, nah.
After consulting TripAdvisor as to what other sights were worth a visit in the city, we decided on the monkey temple on the outskirts. Remembering our experience with orangutans in Borneo, I hoped this one wouldn’t be so close! We survived unscathed although relieved of some rupees as Mike and Dan entered the temple and were blessed, only to discover the deity demanded donations in hundred rupees notes, you gotta love (or hate) Indians and their way to get money out of you at every step.
Another day another journey on public transport, this time it was the train to Agra. We tried to cram as much as we could into the three weeks that Dan had in India, this meant only 24 hours in Agra before leaving on an overnight train the next day. Although we were only interested in seeing one sight, described by poet Rabindranath Tagore as”the teardrop on the cheek of eternity” – the Taj Mahal. What would we make of the famous building? Would it live up to our expectations even though as a foreigner our entrance ticket was 25 times the price an Indian pays? For myself and Dan it did meet our expectations but Mike a little less so, he was expecting better craftsmanship on the inlay he says! We didn’t quite manage to take ‘the’ photo à la Princess Diana, but did take a couple leaping in the air before being told no jumping, no yoga photos by a security guard and having to delete them, a couple survived obviously!
I’m sure there have been many before us that have commented on the rest of the city outside the walls of the Taj Mahal but we saw the signs of improvement, many stonemasons chipping away at flagstones on the roadside and paved roads being laid, although with a growing population and the millions of tourists that visit each year, the strain on the city’s electricity supply meant no sleep for us until the early hours due to the racket from the hotel back-up generator.
Killing time in our previous night’s hotel restaurant before our overnight train, I remembered a story a friend told us about a train they took in India; it being delayed for 12 hours before they even boarded. Wondering if we would suffer a similar fate, I looked online for a live status of the train, India seems to be embracing the age of the internet, only to discover our train was running 5 hours late, eugh and a 14 hour train journey meant we would hopefully arrive in time for dinner the next evening. Being a little apprehensive about turning up at the station 4 or 5 hours after our train was scheduled to depart as we were unsure of the accuracy of the online information and our hotel restaurant closing at 11 pm we made our way to the station, hoping that the journey to Varanasi wouldn’t be too arduous and we would get some sleep somewhere that night, goodnight!