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Around The World, Part Twelve

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Our Round The World Trip home page is here.
Part Eleven is here.

October 15 (Monday, Day 14, Delhi/Agra, continued) –

Taj Mahal lines (women on the left – very short line and men on the right – very long line)

We finally got through the admission gate and spent 45 minutes walking around the grounds of the Taj Mahal before walking ¾ mile to the car and going back to Delhi.  The Taj Mahal was pretty, but it really was not worth the time it took to get there. 

At the Taj Mahal

The guidebooks say to catch the 6 AM train from Delhi for a 2 hour trip and then take the 8 PM train back to Delhi. That would have made more sense, but would have also made for a much longer day.  However, we would have had time to see the Red Fort and other Agra sights besides just the Taj Mahal.  Live and learn… 

The drive to and from Agra wasn’t a complete waste of time since we did see many interesting things.  We saw small one room mud huts with thatched roofs that people live in.  We saw women carrying dung patties that we guessed were going to be used for cooking fires.  We saw women carrying water jugs on their heads.  We saw camels toting huge loads of what looked like fiberfill or cotton. 

Camels hauling cotton

While stopped so our driver could get out and pay the tax for leaving one Indian state and entering another, we saw a man with dancing monkeys.  He wanted people in the cars to give him money and the monkeys even got on our car but we didn’t give him anything. 

Indian shopping mall

We also saw lots of technology universities (full of students) and shopping malls (empty/being built) in the middle of nowhere.  There seemed to be universities all over the place.  We also saw that one side of the national highway was closed due to a protest of dispossessed Indians. 

March of the dispossessed

The amazing thing was that this protest just shut down about 10 kilometers of one side of the national highway so our two lanes all of a sudden became one lane each way.  This type of unannounced/unsigned road alteration/closure seemed to happen a lot in India.

While Filbert was waiting in the men’s entry line (and I was standing next to him although I could have entered at any time since my line had no women in it), several Indian guys would come up to us and tell us to follow them and they would show us the shorter line for 100 rupees.  Yeah, right.  If there was a shorter line, all of the Indians in front of us would know about it.  It was amazing that there were thousands of Indians there and literally only a handful of Caucasians.  We were definitely in the minority.  The Indians also try to cut in front of Filbert but I managed to block them out and we both said “Go to the end of the line”.  That got the attention of a guard who yelled at the Indian guys and as they stalked away, the guard was laughing since he was getting a kick out of a Western woman blocking the barricade from Indian men cutting in line. Indians also came up to us many times asking for them to take their picture with us using their camera which they then would have demanded money from us.  One time Filbert pretended to be the confused tourist and said “OK, I will take your picture” and got his camera ready and they walked off.  So many scams….

It made for a very long day with no lunch break (our choice) and we were thrilled to get back to the Regency Club for some “normal” food.  Whereas we were inundated with lots of ready to eat food choices in Bangkok, there just aren’t many street vendors in India.  The people are too poor to buy ready to eat food.  We do see a lot of stands selling glasses of tap water for ½ rupee (~ one cent), but since we would NEVER drink the water here and have no interest in using a communal glass, those stands are of no interest.

Still at the Taj Mahal

Indian lawnmower outside the Taj Mahal’s walls

October 16 (Tuesday, Day 15, Delhi to Hyderabad) –

Since we were staying on the Regency Club floor, the Hyatt provided free transportation to the airport which was nice.  In India you have your checked bags go through x-ray and then they put a strap around each bag to prevent theft (although Judy said that they can easily cut the strap off in the back and then just put a new strap around it).  Then you take your strapped bags to the check-in counter and get your boarding pass.  Before you go through security, you must make sure each carry-on has a blank name tag on it since when the bag goes through security, a guy takes a stamp and stamps the tag.  I guess this is to give another Indian a job!  Our 2 hour flight left on time and we got great service in coach.  It included a glass of lemonade right at the beginning (which we didn’t drink since we didn’t know the water situation) followed by a small bottle of water which was followed by a wet towel. 

Meal enroute to Hyderabad

Then lunch was served.  We had our choice of veg or non-veg.  (India has a lot of Hindus and they are vegetarian so everything is labeled veg or non-veg.)  It was pretty tasty for airplane food.  As we were getting closer to Hyderabad we noticed how green it was getting and we were getting excited.  Delhi was such a brown, dusty, dirty city that seeing green was great.

Toto, I don’t think we’re in Delhi anymore.  Yay.

Judy and her driver, Akbar, were waiting for us at 1 when we got off the plane and we loaded up the car and took off.  Akbar took Judy to her office and we spent the rest of the day with Akbar seeing Hyderabad.  It was SO much nicer than Delhi.  The traffic wasn’t insane and we saw real stores and other signs of civilization.  We just couldn’t get over how much better it was.  When we were in Delhi I just kept telling Filbert that I had no idea how Judy could put up with the filth and traffic and throngs of people and I was hoping that Hyderabad was better and was pleased it was.

On our tour around town, he stopped and told us to stay in the car.  Then he appeared alongside the car with two styrofoam bowls filled with gray “pudding” with orange grease floating on the top.  We each took one and ate it.  It was haleem which is available only during Ramzan (the month that Muslims fast) but since it is so popular this particular restaurant continued to serve it for 6 more days which is why we were able to have it. 

Haleem is cooked for at least 10 hours in a bhatti (an oven made with mud) and hit with large sticks the entire time until its get its paste-like consistency.  The ingredients are wheat, lentils, lamb, spices and pure ghee (the orange grease floating on the top).  It was pretty tasty and very filling but very unattractive.  Filbert ate his entire bowl and Snookums ate 80% of hers.  Neither wants to eat it again, but it was a nice introduction to Hyderabad.  Filbert also had a cup of very sweet tea (maybe chai??) after his haleem.  While we were eating in the car Akbar was eating his haleem and drinking tea in the tea shop with the other Muslim men.  Our total bill was 160 rupees ($4) which is a lot of money but haleem is a special dish.

Charminar at night

Akbar took us to Charminar which is a monument that was built in 1591 and is in the middle of old Hyderabad and has arches on each side leading out to four thoroughfares.  It is also where a huge open air market is located selling all sorts of bangles, sarees, pearls and wedding items.  We thought it was prettier than the Taj!!  We then walked to Mecca Masjid mosque which is the second largest in India.  (We had already seen the largest one which is in Delhi.)  This mosque had a bombing at it on May 17, 2007 when at least 16 people were killed so we had to walk through metal detectors.  (There are metal detectors and guys with wands all over India, but it doesn’t seem like most of them actually detect anything.)  We got back to Judy’s apartment around 8 PM and went out to dinner with her to celebrate our third anniversary.

The trip continues in Part Thirteen, here.
Part Eleven is here.
Our Round The World Trip home page is here.