Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Jaipur (Again) and Agra

Jaipur -- again, March 31st
Next morning, finally feeling a little better but the only thing I wanted was... oddly enough.. white bread and bologna -- or something like that. No curry, no grease, nothing fried, no rice, no toast. Then I remembered -- SUBWAY. It was ten in the morning but I walked down the street and was elated to find that I was very close. I ordered my sandwich and couldn't wait to eat it. Brought it back to the hotel and chowed down in my room. It was perfect. A semi-cold coke to go with it and I felt great! However it was later when I noticed the "No non-veg allowed in hotel" sign at the desk. Oops.

Next, I contacted Amit again -- our guy in Jaipur who I worked with doing invoices at MTV. I had a tshirt to give him and wanted to meet the guy who really put up with a lot we threw at him. He said he'd meet me in 45 minutes at the hotel so I decided it was a good time to run to the post office.
However, I didn't' realize the headache involved with sending a package. My rickshaw driver offered to go in with me and help me navigate the process. On the way there, he told me the first thing I had to do was ask "how much" when they're preparing my package. When we got there, I had to first go and get my package sewn up in muslin and waxed shut. As the man pondered my package, the rickshaw driver pressed his foot down on my foot. Oh yes! "how much?" I asked -- I didn't realize this was when I was supposed to ask. 80 rupees. I looked at the driver and he shrugged, so I had no idea if this was right. The man who had looked at my package was seated at the desk. He put the package down and nodded at the man standing by the desk who then started measuring my box and started sewing up a pillow-case like covering while the man at the desk read and picked his nose deeply. There's really a rush to get things done in this country. ::sigh::
Finally, that part was done and now I had to go stand in line and get the package out. Suddenly, a young man appeared next to me and said my name. I was startled but he introduced himself as Amit! I guess my hotel had told him where I'd gone. He offered to help me the rest of the way (I released the rickshaw driver) which involved basically butting in front of a huge line of men (which is okay for a woman to do). Next we attempted to go to the train station (with my stomach, I'm afraid of night buses for long distances and trains have bathrooms) but the trains were full and then we went to lunch.
Amit is about to be a father and is very excited. We chatted a bit. He's also going to Miami soon and I hope he's not away when his child is born. He took me to the bus stop and we only had a moment to take his picture with the tshirt before I had to jump on a bus.

Agra - April 1st
Bus ride wasn't too bad. There was some sort of festival going on so the roads were crazy with young people walking down the side of the road -- hundreds of them. Carrying red glittering flags and backpacks, etc. My hotel in Agra was quite the backpacker scene. I was grateful for a very comfortable bed, a hot shower and a TV! I had a small bite to eat and tuned out. As in Udaipur, there were really only 2 stations in english. Well, three including a business channel -- but watching the market plummet is depressing so I stuck to the movie channels. On one channel, "Black Hawk Down" was playing. About a year ago, I got to know a very talented musician and all around good guy, Keni Thomas when I was on the Lynyrd Skynyrd cruise (he was also there performing with his band). We've stayed in touch since then and this was the second time I've seen BHD but the 1st time I've seen it since meeting someone who was actually there -- and is even portrayed by an actor in the movie. I found it difficult to watch after awhile and changed the channel. The other movie channel was showing "Urban Legend: Final Cut" and suddenly I found myself watching another friend, Anson Mount, on the screen! Very strange to be in India and the only two English channels are showing films that I have connections to.
The next morning, I prepared for the Taj. On the way there, we passed through an intersection that was incredibly busy and everyone was swerving around a very large cow/bull that was idly sitting in the middle, chewing its cud. This, I realized, was the Gramercy (my huge fat cat) of cows. Finds the highest trafficked area and sits there. Yes, you WILL go around me.

The Taj was incredible -- obviously. Tons of people were there and I could have spent hours wandering around. And I did.
At the back of the Taj, there is a river -- I'm sure it was once beautiful, but like much of India, was strewn with garbage. Very sad. As I stood there and watched, a man next to me finished his water bottle and heaved it, quarterback style, out into the river. I just glared at him and shook my head. He noticed. "What's your problem," he asked in English. "Show some respect for your country," I growled and walked away. Disgusting.
When I rounded the front of the Taj, a young father approached me with his infant daughter, like many infant daughters, dressed in a terrible, flouncy, tulle dress. He wanted to take a picture. I was confused and thought he meant he wanted me to take his picture. No, he wanted his picture taken with me. Okay.
Next thing I knew, I was inundated by people, mostly young men, who all wanted their picture with me. I was like a celebrity. I'd finally get away, only for it to happen again. They'd line up. Then they'd start to get cheeky -- maybe putting an arm on my shoulder.. then one around my waist. One tried to give me a kiss and I firmly pushed him away and the photo session was over.
I was told later the young men like to take their picture with white girls and then show their friends as "their girlfriend."

After the Taj, I headed back to the hotel. There wasn't much I wanted to see in Agra. Mostly I wanted to catch a train out to Varanasi. Then I realized I had forgotten to book the train. By that time it was too late, the train was full. I could take a 14 hour bus, but I really didn't want to. I was stuck for another day in Agra. I decided to catch up on uploading photos and watching movies and relaxing. It was actually not too bad. My train was at 8 p.m. At 7, I caught a rickshaw and asked to be taken to the train station. At 8:05, I stood waiting for the train to come. I did notice that I didn't see any other white people around, which I thought was strange considering how full the train was supposed to be and what a touristy destination Varanasi is. An Indian gentleman took notice of me and came over to ask what train I was waiting for. I showed him my ticket and he grimaced. "You're at the wrong train station," he said. Oh NO! I thanked him and rushed out of the station. A fleet of young men surrounded me, "where do you want to go?" I told them and they all jostled to get my business. I didn't even try to haggle the price. "I don't care who takes me, they just have to be FAST!" I went with the guy whose rickshaw was closest and he was fantastic! He was very young but he drove like a madman -- like a getaway driver! I knew I was going to be stuck in Agra again because the Indian Railways are pretty darn efficient but I had a faint glimmer of hope since the other station was only 2 miles away. We bumped and careened there and I threw him a tip and raced onto the platform. THE TRAIN WAS LATE! Hurray!!!! I gasped for breath and dropped my stuff near a bunch of Israeli guys I recognized from my hotel. The train showed up 2 minutes later. I found my bunk and went to sleep pretty quickly.

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