Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Agra & more

We headed out from Jaipur after catching this amazing sunrise over the mountains from our hotel:

We were on the road to Agra and had a few cool stops along the way. This was a good thing because it was the longest ride we had by bus our whole trip. First, we had a surprise stop at this ridiculously huge stepwell in an obscure little village way off the beaten path and down several dirt roads. This structure was unbelievable.

You can get a better idea on the size by seeing that Jason is across the well from me waving his hands...soooo far away!
We then went into the village to see a local potter do some work on his wheel. He whipped out little cups and bowls in 10 seconds flat. I was very impressed!

This was the first stop on our journey to a much poorer area of India. The children were everywhere asking for food and for money. The heads of the villages do not want visitors giving kids anything in an effort to get them to stop begging and start going to school. I felt really sad walking away from them...they are all such gorgeous children!

The fresh fruits and vegetable stands are's like a farmers market everyday all the time...yum yum!
We were told we need to be extra careful with our belongings in these poorer areas and there were definitely older kids who followed us really closely while we walked to the bus but they really just seemed enamored by the size of the bus and by how different we looked from them. These boys were all so cute and had blue eyes which I found to be so awesome. And as far as I know, all our belongings are still with us.
Next we were on the road to Fatehpur abandoned city. But we saw some fun sites along the way...

The camel drawn cart of course (these babies were everywhere!)
The Indian version of Paul Bunyan (It's actually a hindu idol but it totally reminded me of Paul):
More fruits and veggies:
Indian men being awesome:
Boys riding on buses in a frugal way (if ride on the roof it's free):
And then we reached Fatehpur Sikri. An old king had this remote city built several hundred years ago. It took them 5 years to build it and they only ended up living in it for 9 years. They realized that being so far away from a river was not good for their hydration status...yeah, so true. The "ruins" are still in pristine condition and the complex was enormous, each doorway seemed to lead to another courtyard and another courtyard. It was pretty cool.

After the completion of that super long bus ride we finally arrived at our hotel in Agra that night.
 Jason being Jason:

We had to hit the hay early because the next morning we had to be up before 5 to head to the thing we'd all been waiting for....the Taj Mahal!

Now, as I said, we had entered a much poorer area of India so beggars both young and old were constantly in our face asking us to buy things. It was rather overwhelming. More intense than any place we have ever traveled. But the morning we went to the Taj Mahal, no salesman could penetrate our excitement. We B lined for the entrance.

After waiting in line we entered the courtyard pre-Taj...that was gorgeous in and of itself.
 If you look closely you can see the white doors of the Taj through the archway:
And then we went inside....
Our first look at the Taj Mahal:
It is hard to describe how it felt to be there. It felt totally and completely surreal. The Taj Mahal looked almost fake to us. It wasn't until we laid our feet on that marble that it really looked solid and real. It just kind of looks like it's painted on the sky from far away. It was so big and so very awesome.

 Notice the reflection....looked so cool!!! Glad we caught it before the fountains came on.
 We then headed for the entrance. It is impossible to describe the size and grandeur. It took 25,000 men 22 years to complete this work of art. For those of you who don't know, the Maharaja had this built as a tomb for his most beloved wife. What a grand gesture!

All of the marble was carved and inlayed with the black or colored marble anywhere you see a design. I just can't even fathom how much artistic talent that takes. This is the entrance:
We took off our shoes to feel the cold marble on our feet the whole time we explored the area and it really helped me feel extra connected to the experience. The air was hot, but the marble was was so awesome.

We weren't allowed to take picture inside the Taj but I will say it was a lot darker inside than I expected. I thought by the brightness and beauty of the outside that the inside would be similar. But it was in fact very tomb like which makes sense. Only a single faint light hung from the ceiling and it was very somber inside.

We then made our way to what was BY FAR our favorite part of the Taj, the back patio (for lack of a better term). It was right along the river bank and the mist made it incredibly gorgeous. Jason and I both decided that it would be the perfect place for happy hour ; )

We sat in the sun in one of these giant window wells for almost an hour just enjoying the view and watching people from all over the world enjoy the view as well.

There were people from all over the globe which was so cool:

We ended our stay at the Taj by marveling a while longer at it's incredible size.

We made our way back and I got a few more shots from afar:
And Jason meanwhile got adopted by a group of guys who wanted a picture with a white guy...haha:
We then bid farewell to the Taj, I walked backwards through the exit doors because I didn't want to say goodbye, I was still in awe:
We went back to the hotel and had a big breakfast and lots of coffee...both the omelets (I ate two) and the coffee (2-3 cups) were divine. Jason and I then made the obvious choice to skip the afternoon tour to do something relaxing. Our hotel just happened to have the largest spa in India and I felt that it would be a crime if I didn't partake. Jason enjoyed his free time sitting by the pool reading the news and I enjoyed some Indian Ayurvedic spa treatments.

One of the guys in our group described the spa as being out of Arabian Nights. It was so awesome and that is a perfect description. It had a huge private outdoor pool and hot tub which I enjoyed before my treatment. There was calming music playing everywhere and there were flowers and it was just happy all around. I started my treatments with a nice steam and then got to experience the spa treatments in the most ornate room I have ever seen in a spa. It was lovely. They had me fill out a questionnaire about my personality and habits before the treatment and that's how they picked the herbs. After I was finished I ended up in a meditation room with some lemon tea and enjoyed that equally as much! I was so glad I made the decision to skip out on one tour and go to the spa. It was cool to experience an Indian founded medicinal spa treatment IN India!

That afternoon we headed out and had a very memorable experience. We got to go into an Indian family's home, have tea and snacks with them and talk to them about their life in India. It was so great. It really helped bridge the divide between all the poverty, noise, and chaos we kept seeing because we were then able to connect a family to this incredible country. They were very open about their life, their routines, and their beliefs. It was an experience I will never forget. They host people in their home as a bed and breakfast so if anyone is interested in visiting, I will give you their info!

After tea we headed out for a "Bollywood" musical (India's version of Hollywood) that Praveen was raving about. Let's just say it was an experience we will never forget and it was not what we were expecting at all. It was suuuuuper cheesy and all the actors lip synched both songs and the spoken word. It was so odd. I wouldn't say I loved it but it was so funny and different that I almost did love it.
After the show we braved the streets of Agra (just went across one street...haha) to go out to dinner. Our tour guide told us not to venture out but many couples had gone out the night before and had a great experience at this particular restaurant so a group of us decided to go out. It was literally across the street so getting there was no big deal. The food was amazingly delicious and Jason and I both enjoyed a cocktail.

Agra was great....unforgettable!

We headed to bed and had to be up early the next morning to board the train to Jhansi. Stay tuned for more.... : )

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