02.06.2008 - 08.06.2008 77 °F
Since our last posting we have found cooler weather and overall are happier travelers.
We found Agra (home of the Taj Mahal) to be pleasant and cooler. We decided to visit the Taj in the morning. Since the tickets were close to $20 per person to get in and it did not allow re-entry we thought that sunrise was the best bet. Because the Taj is one of the man-made wonders of the world our expectations were set pretty high. I must say....even though there was no water in the fountains and there was construction going on in front.....it was spectacular. It actually exceeded my expectations. I didn't realize how much rock in-lay work there was on the Taj and the perfect symetry, it is amazing that it was man made and over 350 years old. It was nice getting there in the early morning because we beat the rush of Indian tourists...it was just us and about 30 other tourists. By the time we were ready to leave, the Taj Mahal was surrounded by hundreds if not thousands of Indian tourists. Which I think added to the scene with the bright multi-colored saris of the women in front of the pure white Taj Mahal, it was picturesque to say the least.
We also visited the Agra Fort which is about 2km from the Taj Mahal. This is where Emperor Shah Jahan (the man who built the Taj Mahal as a memorial for his 2nd wife who died in labor) was imprisoned by his son. Apparently the son felt his father was spending to much money on temples (yada yada) and he imprisoned his father in the Agra Fort. I'm not sure it is was cruel or a favor that Shah Jahan could look out his prison window and see his treasured Taj Mahal?
After a few days in Agra, we were still eager to hit the hills to we decided to keep going. We headed to Chandigarh which is know as the "green city" of India, because of all the gardens. For an Indian city, Chandigarh was nice. In the few days we were there we worked on getting our fill on western food, news, TV and gardens. The city has a rose garden the size if not larger than Washington Park in Denver (for those of you from CO). Granted the roses looked like they were needing a little TLC, but it was great to get away from traffic, trash, and urine for a while. As we were in the gardens we spotted a pretty water fountain and decided to walk closer to check it out. Already there was a large (30-50) group of people also looking at the water fountain. But as soon as they spotted us white westerners every person in the group turned around and watched us walk up to the fountain. Breezy was ready to turn around and walk away......but I was determined not to let a few gawkers deter us. We soon learned they were all students and teachers and were asked if we would take a group photo with them. So once again the old school 35mm camera (one step above disposable) came out, we were swarmed by Indians and felt famous or maybe it was awkward for the moment
In our research we found that the 2nd most popular tourist destination in India was located in Chandigarh. The Nek Chand Fantasy Rock Garden was a 50 acre park with waterfalls, miniature buildings and sculptures made out of recycled junk. It was quite impressive and felt like we had stepped through the Alice in Wonderland rabbit hole. Especially when we entered the center of the park with carnival rides, giant swings, camel rides and trippy mosaics made from recycled porcelin. It was a nice break from the maddness of India. Even though there must have been thousands of Indians there with us. Some of them observing Breezy taking photos and assuming he must be a professional so asking if he would take their photo with his camera. All and all it was an entertaining afternoon.
After a few days in Chandigarh we were still anxious to get into the mountains. We thought we would give the bus another try. After waiting a couple hours at the station for the bus we wanted, the bus finally arrived. Since they did not offer reservations, I and 20 others got in a piss-poor excuss for a line. I got pushed to the back of the line while others cut in front of me and got their tickets. But the time I got to the front of the line the lady in front of me got the last seat on the bus. As they say with India, expect the unexpected. So we sat and waited a few more hours, finally got on a bus. After a windy ride which would give the strongest mind motion sickness.....we arrive at Shimla.
We have spent the past couple days enjoying the cooler weather here in Shimla. We plan to head further into the Indian Himalayas in a couple days. So hopefully we will be able to stay our full time in India without having to leave the insanity early to protect our own sanity
We will keep you all posted. By the way, I finally had time to update a map of where we have been in India. You should see it below.
Toni and Jason