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Memorable Trip to Agra

By Ian & Trina

Agra : 23rd - 25th January, 2001
Hotel Sidhartha (150 Rp, US$3.49, GB£2.30)

Ian had already booked a room at Hotel Siddhartha (150 Rupees or US$ 3.49) in Taj Ganj, Agra (the area nearest the Taj Mahal with rooftop views), as recommended by another traveler, so it was all very easy when we arrived in Agra. We even got a pre-paid rickshaw, so there would be no haggling over the price, and no worries about commissions. Even so, the driver went for the angle of - "I'll give you a good price for a tour of Agra tomorrow".

Agra has been the worst place for predatory rickshaw wallahs - both auto and cycle. They will follow you and even lie in wait while you do your business - we went on the internet for an hour, then had lunch for 2 hours, and a cyclo guy was still waiting for us, after that! Their ruse is that they will accept an incredibly low price for the journey, 5 rs to go anywhere - wow! The catch is, that you will have to visit 2 or 3 marble, textile or craft shops, from which they get commission just for bringing you there.

They are very clever men who know how to play on tourists' guilt at being wealthy Westerners - "I am an honest family man, with 3 children, if you just look, I will get 30 Rs commission!" One time, coming back from the post office in town, we were offered a cyclo for 5 Rs. There was a young man and a doddery short sighted old man who were together. Ian took pity on the old fella and said we would take a rickshaw each, which would then be 10 Rs.

We also got talked into visiting ONE shop, where we could supposedly just look - but I ended up buying a silk scarf for 100 Rs. We refused to go to anymore shops, but then when we got to our destination, Ian gave each of the drivers 10 Rs each, as a tip. SO when we could have got back to our hotel, in theory for 5rs, we actually spent 120 rupees in all!!!!

All you can do is laugh at yourself! It got to a stage where we would say to the drivers - "NO SHOPS", if they were insistent, we just got out. Usually, they were not bothered about losing our custom, (strange) you'd think a low fare would be better than NO fare. Maybe they are confident that they WILL find a more willing shopper around the corner!

Well, as I say, the main reason for travel to Agra is the world famous Taj Mahal. However, there has been a lot of controversy about it lately, when the government in its wisdom, decided to hike the entry price from 500rs to 2000rs (20 US dollars), AND to abolish 'Free Friday' This has enraged many people, particularly budget travelers and rightly so. Many people we have met, have on principle and in protest boycotted the Taj Mahal - while others say they simply do not think it is worth it.

Though we are on a pretty tight budget, Ian is very good at managing our money - though it drives me crazy at times - so we actually managed to 'save up' over a few days, to be able to afford the entry. I personally don't think the government will even notice that a few backpackers are giving the Taj a miss, not when they are raking in so much money already - so perhaps, those people are merely cutting off their noses to spite their face...contentious issue I know.

Anyway, we spent the 20 dollars each, and spent about 4 hours in the grounds of the monument of love. We went in at about 6am for the sunrise, which was beautiful, with the light changing, and shadows shifting on the white marble, and the reflection in the ponds. It was great because there were relatively few people there.

Ian - It was definitely worth paying the entry fee. The views from the rooftops of the hostels is nothing like walking around the grounds. I know that it is steep, but if there is one monument you should see in India then this is it. If you are strapped for cash, maybe you could just cutback for a few days. This is what we did.

Once inside there is the obligatory "sit where Princess Diana sat" seat. We had our picture taken by a touting photographer, so it may or may not get home ... we shall see. Something that was strange ... though this is India ... is that to use a video you pay a 25 Rs fee and can only go as far as the first steps from the entrance gate. With a still camera you can walk all the way around the Taj Mahal in Agra India. I guess this is in case the video camera lets out harmful "video-rays" and the Taj Mahal falls down. Anyway, feeling rebellious against stupid beaurocracy I snuck my camcorder in and got some great shots ... ha ha ha.

By about 10am the hoards started to arrive, but it wasn't too bad. We enjoyed wandering around ... I can't describe how beautiful it really is. Another great thing worth mentioning was going to the Taj Museum (Rs 5) as it had some of the "blueprints" used in its construction.

Well, after all that excitement we went back to the hostel and spent the day relaxing.

Written By : Ian Trina

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