Forts, Elephants, and Trains

Have I mentioned that I love and adore India?  I'm just sayin...

That being said yesterday (July 30) we spent the day in Agra again. After the Taj Mahal we didn’t think anything could be as cool…but we were wrong. Granted the Taj Mahal is most definitely one the most amazing structures, with one of the most beautiful stories, there are still so many other fantastic things in India! I’m not afraid to say it: India does not fail to impress!

We were scheduled to meet up with our tour in the afternoon, but this did not keep us from adventuring ourselves. We felt this was a superb time to simply wander and experience true India. We therefore left the hotel we no agenda other than to adventure, and adventure we did.

There was a man with a took took (which are EVERYWHERE in India) by the entrance of the hotel (By the way, have I mentioned how impressive the security is everywhere in India? They are so thorough. Sorry—random side note). We began chatting with the chap and decided to allow him to take us around Agra for a bit. It was a blast riding around in the took took.

As much as I enjoy air-conditioned cars, I loved being able to feel the thick air and smell the various scents; I felt much more apart of India in the took took than I had before.

First, our new friend drove us to a market—not a tourist market, but a true Indian market. We didn’t go to shop, but to experience India. There were produce stands, clothing shops, cows, and my favorite—flower stands.

A gentleman actually gave us each a free beautiful flower. Bryan got a lot of stares—6’3” and white makes one stand out just a wee bit—but everyone was so kind and cordial. I think one of my absolute favorite parts about India still is the cows and water buffalo which are EVERYWHERE. Literally EVERYWHERE. I certainly made a few folks laugh in the market whenever a cow came out of nowhere; they are huge and I can’t help but keep my distance. It’s really neat, the cows at the top of the caste often even have their horns painted! Very interesting.

As we walked up and down the rows of shops we looked to find an exotic fruit to try. We found one that looked appealing, but the shop keeper gave us a much too high of price. We thought we would be able to find the same fruit at other shops, but failed. Finally we decided to return to the shop to purchase it, only in the short time we had wandered the shop had been taken down. It was the most bizarre experience! We call it The Mystery of the Disappearing Fruit. Too funny!

We had another interestingly comical experience with our took took friend. After the first market he asked if we wanted to go to a handicapped market. Now tell me, if someone asks you if you want to go to a market of handicapped people what do you think? Well, if you’re like Bryan and myself you’re wrong too. We thought it would be a great place to seek out some souvenirs and support people with disabilities, only no one at the shop he took us to had a disability. We were most confused. We did, however, learn that when you shop at stores that are inside it is cultural for them to give you drinks. Love that custom! We felt like we were in Israel or Egypt all over again though; no matter how late in the day we went into a shop we were told “I make you good price; you first customer of the day!” I just can’t believe we were in fact the first customer at every shop… but maybe…

We returned to the hotel early in the afternoon, packed up our bags, and headed out with Nitin again. First stop: Agra Fort. In a nutshell: amazing!

It was huge! It was stifling hot, but so beautiful that it was worth the heat, sweat, and humidity! Much of the structures in India are built from marble and are gorgeous because of it! We thoroughly enjoyed walking for a few hours with our guide throughout the fascinating architecture!

Within the fort there were mosques, a prison, an entire courtyard for concubines (with “a separate palace within the courtyard for the king to make love in with his concubines”…awkward really).

The guard let us go up in this little off limits area.  Muahaha.
We felt cool.

And check out this bookshelf:

And this lovely little parrot we saw:

It was really neat to see the thought that went into building this masterpiece of a fort, especially regarding the heat. Nitin pointed out ventilation systems throughout the entire place; everything was built to allow for movement of air. They even built many of the walls hollow so they could fill with dirt; then in the winter they would poor warm water into the dirt, and in the summer they would poor cold water in providing heating or ac. Brilliant! Too bad there wasn’t any dirt and cold water in the walls today.

Nitin was fantastic! And hysterical! One of our favorite parts about him was that he loved to take my camera and take “the perfect shot” of us. He was a gem. The best moment was when he took my camera, ran ahead, then told us to walk toward him while looking at each other. Engagements? Ha. We were dying of laughter! Oh yes, and as the building was across the river from the Taj Mahal, we again enjoyed further spectacular views of the wonder of the world!

Then again as we left Nitin said, “Don’t feel you have to oblige me if I ask if you want anything, it’s cultural.” What a sweetheart!

Let’s see…after Agra Fort…ELEPHANT RIDE!

Bryan and I decided before we even left the states that we couldn’t leave India without riding an elephant. After all, it’s on my life goals list to ride an elephant in India. Check!

LOVED it! The funniest part about it was that we attracted an audience of nearly 30 people too! Ha!

The rest of the day we spent hanging out with Nitin. He is a real stud—he became more of a friend than a tour guide for sure! He kept joking too that he needed to go to our church so he could find a wife. The truth is his parents keep arranging marriages for him that he does not in the end approve of. He is from a more liberal family so he actually has a say in who he ends up with. I guess to date his parents have arranged three marriages, all of which he has declined. The process for him—again more liberal—is that his parents and the potential bride’s parents meet. Then once they decide it would be a good match Nitin and the potential bride sit down together for 15 minutes; at the end of 15 minutes they decide yay or nay. So far all three have been nay for him. While I’m sure arranged marriages might be nice for some, I’m certainly glad I have a choice.

With Nitin we went to other markets where we found Indian music; Nitin helped us pick out “the good Indian music”. We went by a rug factory—three months to make one rug! Three!

It was amazing to watch them work; they were so fast.

I also got henna!

The man who did my henna was incredible! He whipped out the design honestly in maybe two minutes tops! And that is not an exaggeration! Amazing right?!

We had an overnight train that left at 11:30, so at 8pm we decided to experience another integral part of Indian culture: Baliwood! Ha! SO great! Once it is dark Agra closes down, so seeing a movie was perfect! Nitin also informed us that he sees a movie every Friday night, so we were just helping him keep up his tradition! The experience was phenomenal! Before I describe the actual movie experience, however, I do have a story. We wanted to make certain that the movie we were seeing was clean—less than the equivalent of an “R” for sure—thus Bryan took it upon himself to ask about rating to Nitin. “Are there any naked people in it?” Bryan asked. Talk about a misunderstanding. Nitin looked beyond appalled! Nitin somehow thought that’s what we wanted! I was dying, crying in fact of laughter! It was hysterical! Bryan quickly tried to explain that he really didn’t want naked people in the movie, we more were just looking for a clean, child friendly film. Baliwood movies are relatively clean from what we can tell—they actually won’t even kiss in them as culturally such public displays of affection are inappropriate (thus why Bryan and I haven’t even held hands here). Oh but Bryan will never live that down comment down!

So let’s chat. We arrived at the theater and had two options of seating. First, as Nitin said, “the bad seats” and second the “good seats”. We thought that if Nitin said they were bad, they must really be bad (oh and they’re all assigned seats). He was pushing for the “good seats” and as it was perhaps 50 cents more we decided why not. Upon entering the theater we were rather shocked. The “bad seats” my friends are definitely nicer than any seats in United States theaters! We were guided to our “good seats” at the top of the theater; not going to lie, after traveling incessantly all over India for the past few days I have couldn’t have been more pleased: full out lazy boy recliners! No joke! Best decision of my life! I sunk right into that big fluffy chair and basked in the ac; heaven!

Then there was the actual film. All in Hindi. Well…mostly in Hindi. It was hysterical as we watched the film to hear random English phrases amidst the Hindi. Then there were the dramatic moments emphasized by slow motion and supportive music. Oh yes, and the singing; they sing when they feel strong emotions. Baliwood really is like a musical! We think we got the general idea of the movie…if not we enjoyed the story we invented. And I must add I have never seen such sweet mustaches and finely quaff hair than I did in the film! And please note that movies in India have what they call “Interval” or essentially intermission! I loved it! Oh right, one other fabulous thing about their theaters: they have waiters who bring you concessions. Brilliant! I have never been so pleased with laziness in my life! The one nuisance is that they definitely turn the volume up a whole lot more than we do in the United States; I thought my head was going to pop at times. After seeing the film, however, we believe they do that to drown out all of the talking; which reminds me, talking during films in India is perfectly normal! People chat, answer their phones…it’s all acceptable! I do love their audiences though—they are much more involved—to the point that they clap every time they like something in the flick! Ha! Such a great experience!

After the movie we stopped by good old McDonalds for a quick dinner before heading over to the train station. I was saddened they didn’t have any milkshakes…but I suppose that’s ok. Then to the train station! It was unbelievably crowded. Train is definitely one of the principal means of travel in India. It was amazing, though, to see how many people were just camped out at the station—sleeping and such. Sweet Nitin came with us; he is such a stud! He waited with us until the train came, helped us get situated, then even called us the next day to ensure we were happily situated and safe!

The train:
It was definitely an experience! What an adventure!

We apparently stayed in the nice sleeper car. It was full of bunks, each with a curtain in front of them.

We were given a blanket and a tiny pillow. Oh yes, and there was a toilet...that went directly to the tracks bellow.  I suppose I would suggest never walking on a railroad track in India...
(Can I just say using a squatty potty on a moving train is no easy feat!)

And…I have never had so many bugs—cockroaches and such—crawl all over me in a night. But really can I say that I loved it! Ha! You have to travel by train at least once in India I have decided. True it stunk, was cramped, loud, and warm (though they said it was ac), but it was unbelievably fun! 12 hours! In the morning Bryan and I simply stared out the window as we watched the spectacular countryside of people, animals—cows and monkeys—trees, fields, traffic, etc pass by. So worth it! I would do it again in a heartbeat!

We were nervous we were going to miss our stop though. They don’t announce it really so we asked one of the workers to inform us…which he did about 12 times only to tell us “two minutes” each time we tried to get off. By some miracle we ended up getting off at the right stop.

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