Friday, June 8, 2007

Fatehpur Sikri

After a long, hot, 12-hr bus ride, I arrived in Agra from Khajuraho by cover of darkness. As is often the case when traveling, there is hardly anything good that can come about when arriving between sunset and sunrise-- especially when you arrive alone, there are no tourists on the bus, and the arrival city is known as being a tourist trap.

Luckily, I had already been on the road a while and had just experienced roughly the same in Varanasi. I put on my rucksack and made my way to an autorickshaw. I actually paid a proper rate, even after refusing to tell the driver where I planned on staying.

Note: never tell a driver where you plan on staying, even if you have a reservation-- they get commission and you get the bill; or you are refused admission by the owner. Always have them drop you off at a common point and walk to your intended place of accomodation. Trust me.

I told my driver I was going to the Taj Mahal; he informed me it was closed and that it wasn't open tomorrow too. I told him I knew but to take me there anyway.

We arrived at the West Gate-- I couldn't see anything but he assured me that we were there. (I found out later that the Taj is not illuminated at night for security purposes.) I paid the driver, he asked me again where I was going, I told him I wasn't sure, then casually walked over to the closest convenience shop I could find for a pop.

I knew the driver would follow me, so I struck up a conversation with the owner, told him why I was standing there and then ordered a drink. He flashed his perally whites and let out a chuckle, just then a "friend" approached me-- I could tell he saw $$$ written all over my face. He was saddly mistaken as I struck up a conversation with him, listened to his story, then exposed him. The shop keeper (and my newfound friend) found it a riot. A few minutes later, it was just the shopkeeper and me.

I was in Agra, supposedly one of the worst cities for tourists in all of India, and I had just transitioned myself within an hour of my arrival to feeling as close to a local as a foreigner can feel. I paid for my drink and began my long walk toward finding a place to lay my head.

Nearly two hours, six hotels, a fall in a huge makeshift gutter, and a few friends later, I had found my spot-- Shanti Lodge, which is in the Lonely Planet. It was far nicer than anything at a comparable rate nearby (175 rps/night after a lot of haggling).

Upon closing my door behind me, I put my things down, turned on the ceiling fan, and headed for the shower-- its stream of cold water was calling my name...

The entrance to Jama Masjid. The entrance, called Buland Darwaza (Victory Gate), is one of the largest in Asia and was built to commemorate Akbar the Great's military victory in Gujarat.

This is also the spot where I met Albane, a lovely girl that I had seen on the bus and whom was getting hassled by "guides". I decided to step in and we spent the day together, enjoying the beautiful sites in the serenity of Fatehpur Sikri.

A view of the Jama Masjid wall before entering through the gate.

A courtyard view of the massive Buland Darwaza.

Due to it being a holy place, everyone must walk barefoot inside the complex. The bricks on this sunshiny summer day must have been 115 F... Like asphalt in Phoenix in July.

A view of the mass inside the complex.

This day was Friday, the holy day in the Muslim religion.

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