We were picked up by our driver at just before 9 a.m. for our onward journey to Agra. The road again was not good, still being under construction in many places. Despite this we were pleased we were not flying between our destinations as we got to see so much more of 'real life'.
We never sussed out what the school hours were, but all morning there was a steady flow of children in school uniforms walking on the roadside to/from the villages. At one point there was a large group of them who decided to play chicken with our car. Our driver ended up having to stop, and I am guessing some choice Hindustani was shouted at them through the window...
We are not sure quite what was happening regarded our scheduled stop at Fatehpur Sikri on the way in to Agra - there was a sequence of phone calls to our driver. He then asked us whether we wanted to stop at a bird sanctuary as we were ahead of schedule -okay. We pulled in at the Keoladeo Ghana National Park. We had an hour. We hired a bicycle rickshaw and a guide, but with only an hour to spare we couldn't get far into the park. We did get to see an eagle owl and a few water birds. We then had to insist that we needed to get back to the car. As it was we were about an hour and a quarter. We then asked our guide/rickshaw man how much, and got the very annoying 'whatever you want' response. We paid them for 2 hours but they were obviously hoping for more...
We carried on to Fatehpur Sikri. We actually picked up our guide a little way out and drove to the car park, and then had to walk a little way to where we were supposed to get an eco bus to the actual site. We had been waiting quite a while and no sign of a bus. It was getting a little late by now so our guide decided we should walk to the main road and take a tuktuk, which we did. There then appeared to be a bit of an argument between our guide and the ticket desk - I guess they were saying it was too late for us to get in but eventually they relented.
However, our tour around was relatively rushed and by the time we got to Jami Masjid it was starting to get dark.
By the time we got back to our car it was very dark. The rest of the journey to Agra was a little scary. Visibility was dreadful with either smog or dust, and there were still a lot of unlit bicycles, scooters and carts on the road.
It appeared to be a very popular day for weddings - we were held up in several towns where the wedding appeared to be using the road for its guest overspill. We were actually getting very good at spotting weddings by the time we got to our hotel, the Clark Shiraz, in Agra - band, loud speakers and groom on a horse.
We ate in the hotel and got an early night.
We were up before the crack of dawn the next morning to go to see the sun rise over the Taj Mahal. Our guide rather spoiled the 'wow' moment for me of seeing it for the first time as you walked through the gates, by rushing us on up to his favoured viewing spot.
The sunrise was a little disappointing as it was a bit smoggy so it was hard to tell when sunrise had actually happened.
The good thing about going so early was that there were not too many other tourists there at that time.
Although the decorative panels and calligraphy are very impressive, we thought it was most beautiful when viewed from a distance.
I didn't quite manage the full reflection in this classic view, but I was vying with other tourists by this time.
Back to the hotel and breakfast before setting out again for our city tour. Agra Fort was well worth the visit.
We then had great fun crossing the river, against most other traffic coming towards us. There is a new bridge a little further up which we used to get back which was a lot better - dual-carriage way that appeared to be adhered to.
We went on to Itimad-ud-Daulah's Tomb, set in well maintained gardens.
This was very beautiful, with lovely mosaics, marble screens and the very impressive dome-shaped roof/ceiling of the tomb chamber itself.
And then onto a demonstration of the inlaid marble work (Pietra dura/pachikari). It was actually quite fascinating to see how it was done, but then we were inevitably ushered in to the attached shop. There were some beautiful pieces but they were not cheap, and we were all shopped out by this point. Unfortunately I have too good taste and was not prepared to pay the price for it or settle on something cheaper...
Back to the hotel. Our driver took us out to a couple more shops in the late afternoon, but again we did not succumb.
We ate in the hotel again in the evening. Paul was getting blase, and had some spicy soup. This was a big mistake - half-way through the main course and he had to make a hasty trip to the loo.
We were picked up the next morning after breakfast (Paul sticking to cereal) to go back to Delhi. We had decided to cancel our rearranged Old Delhi trip - we were tired and had seen enough forts and tombs. We arrived back at the Connaught mid-afternoon. We had thought about going to the Railway Museum, but decided it was a little late and Paul was still feeling a little dodgy. We did venture down to the coffee shop late afternoon but this set Paul off again shortly afterwards. Fruit and buscuits had appeared in our room when we got back upstairs, and this sustained me until we were picked up late in the evening for our transfer to the airport.
Other than one dash to the loo while we were queuing to get through security Paul was okay. I spent our last remaining rupees on coffee and biscuits. Our flight was on time, 3.25 a.m., and we slept most of the way home.
It was as much a shock returning home to around zero temperatures as it had been the reverse on our way out. The airport parking firm we used was very good, and our car was waiting for us when we got off the transfer bus. We got home just after midday to find our boiler had broken down - the house was freezing. We got the dogs back in the afternoon. The electric fire was kept on full in the lounge and we put the dogs coats on at night until the boiler was fixed a couple of days later. Hot water bottles are wonderful things...
The trials and tribulations of a life of leisure...
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