Every mode of transport conceivable is used in India, everything from bicycles to pushcarts to motorbikes to motorbike taxis to bicycle rickshaws to trucks, cars, buses, ox-drawn carts, horse-drawn carts, elephants, and so on. All of these could be present on a single road at any time. Lanes are optional, and generally ignored. Horn honking is an art. Cows randomly block the road. I have no idea how people ever learn to drive here, because it looks pretty damn intimidating.
Only in India have I ever seen a motorcycle carrying a family of five: Father driving, with a child in front of him, another child behind, mother sitting sidesaddle (always), beautiful saree flowing behind her, with an infant in her arms. On a motorcycle. With no helmets. Given the way we practically bubble-wrap our children for car rides in the US, you'll forgive me for finding this a bit bewildering.
We flew from Goa to Delhi, spent a night in Delhi, and then hired a car and headed to Agra. 15 years ago Doug and I took the train, but it actually wasn't all that much more expensive to hire a car and driver for the entire time we'd be in Agra. There is even a new freeway between Delhi and Agra, so the drive was incredibly easy -- between the cities, at least. Within the cities is a whole other story.
As soon as we hit Agra, it was chaos on the roads once more. People herd their buffalo from the river down the street to their homes, which only adds to the traffic.
This is what it looks like most of the time. Note that there aren't really any lanes; people just move forward as there is space available.
Our room was lovely, and it had a balcony looking out over the hotel grounds with the Taj Mahal in the distance.
We walked the gauntlet of souvenir vendors, showed our tickets at the gate, and then made our way in. This is the view you come here for:
Here we're looking back at the entryway to the grounds from the mausoleum, with the reflecting pool in the background.
On the other mornings we were in Agra, we went to see a few other important sites. When Doug and I were here 15 years ago, we spent the entire time cooped up in our hotel room with food poisoning, and we only ventured out to see the Taj Mahal on the way to the train station to go back to Delhi. And even that was almost too much. This time, we did much better and were able to see a few other things!
We went to the "baby Taj", the mausoleum of Etimad-ud-Daula, which predates the Taj Mahal by a century and is apparently considered to be its inspiration. It does indeed look like a smaller version of the Taj Majal, with a similar layout and white marble structure.
We also visited the Agra Fort, a 1000-year-old structure that was the 16th century stronghold of Ackbar when he ruled the area. The complex is huge, and the outer walls are made of red stone.
There were more monkeys hanging around outside, to our delight. I'm sure the people here consider them pests, but they are still so freaking cute!
We're now in Kathmandu, Nepal, which was a new country for all of us. Lots of pictures and stories from here in the next post.