Mumbai, Delhi, Jaipur and Agra
9.1.14 - 9.7.14 93 °F
Where to begin with India? This country almost didn’t make the list. In the week before I left from JFK, I was doing a last minute review of what I might need. When I was double-checking visa requirements I found out that I needed to get a visa before I got to India and it was a lot more involved than what I did for Turkey (filling out a form online and printing out a piece of paper). India contracts they’re visa administration to a private company. I read online that I could either send my passport to this company and they would get it back to me within 7 business days. Considering that I was leaving in 4 business days, this wasn’t an option. I also read that I could walk in to this company and get the visa at their location. Fortunately, they have a location in Manhattan, so I decided to go down there the next day.
I was told to take a number when I arrived. Not expecting any major delays, I was instead greeted with a pretty large crowd and the current number of the customer being helped was nowhere near mine. To make a long story slightly shorter, I waited about 3-4 hours. After handing over the necessary paperwork to the clerk, he told me that I still needed to leave my passport to get the visa and it would take 3-5 business days, including Saturday. This was Thursday afternoon and I was leaving the next Tuesday. I decided to take a chance, figuring I’d just pay the fee to change the flight if necessary. Miraculously, I received an email on Saturday night that my passport was ready to be picked up the next business day, which was Monday. I left for the airport the next day with my passport and Indian visa (but somehow forgot my Turkish visa, but that wasn’t a problem).
I flew from Abu Dhabi to Mumbai on Monday, September 1. I had booked a hotel with Priceline for $17/night for three nights. Happy to get such a cheap hotel but a little wary because I hadn’t been able to see the hotel before I bought it (part of the Priceline system), I prepaid for a taxi to take me there. I obviously knew that India was going to be nothing like Abu Dhabi or western Europe, but as we drove I couldn’t help but feeling that I might have made a mistake with the hotel. To put it gently, we were driving through areas that weren’t the nicest. Deepening my apprehension, the taxi driver had to keep asking for directions to the hotel. I finally saw it, on a busy and dirty street across from a hospital. I paid the driver and grabbed my bags.
This was the last time I trust “customer favorite” on Priceline. The small lobby was clean enough but the room was pretty bad. Plaster was crumbling off the walls and there was what looked like a lot of mold on the ceiling (I didn’t investigate to thoroughly). At least it had wifi and decent AC. I soon decided that not only was this not a place I was going to spend three nights in, it was also very inconvenient to the downtown part of the city. I booked a night at the Comfort Inn Heritage, a hotel in a better location and with cleaner rooms. I also decided to leave Mumbai a day earlier to go to Delhi.
I moved to the Comfort Inn the next morning after a relatively uncomfortable night. The Comfort Inn was a much nicer place and looked a lot better. I still didn't know what I was going to do to see the tourist sights in the city because public transit in India is much different than anywhere else I had been. Fortunately, the staff at the Comfort Inn hired a taxi to take me to the sights over 4 hours. It was a very good $20. Some pictures from this 4 hour tour:
The next day I flew to Delhi. I arrived in the evening so my plan was to have dinner and then wake up early to get to the train station to buy a ticket to Agra to see the Taj Mahal. I was going to stay 1 night in Agra so I could see the Taj Mahal at both sunset and sunrise. That plan was completely changed when I tried to get my ticket at the station. Apparently as a foreigner, I had to go to the India Tourism Center down the street. Too far to walk, especially since it was raining, I decided to take an auto-rickshaw. It's a three wheeled vehicle with open sides and a soft top. Even though it was only a roughly 10 minute ride to this tourism center, it was a pretty terrifying road. I caught a glimpse of a sign on my last full day in India (today), that read: "Lane driving is sane driving". I've always agreed with that sentiment, which makes a large majority of India drivers insane drivers.
I entered the small tourism office, wary of a scam. It was a clean, well-lit place, which eased my doubts a little, but I was still nervous. After I explained what I was looking for, he quickly rejected it as a waste of time and said he had a better option. This gave me a bad feeling that a scam was coming. He said forget the train, and instead I could get a private car/driver to drive me from Delhi to Jaipur to Agra and finally back to Delhi (known as the Golden Triangle). It would also include three nights in hotels (one each in Jaipur, Agra and Delhi) with breakfast in each. All I had to pay for was any necessary entrance fees to tourist sights. He gave me two options: basic hotels or slightly higher end. I asked for the basic price - about 35,500 rupees. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but when you divide by 60 to get the amount in dollars, it's slightly more manageable: $590. This was still steep for me, but I figured I'd try it so I could see more of India besides airports and the Taj Mahal.
The tour started immediately with a drive around Delhi. The roads were still just as terrifying, with scooters, motorcycles, trucks, buses, scooters, rickshaws, bikes, pedestrians, dogs, horses, camels, and donkeys all in the road. Some people were going the wrong way, animals were sleeping in the middle of the road. It's amazing that there isn't an accident every minute. Photos from this day:
My driver, Ranji, said that 7 am would be a good time to set out the next morning for Jaipur. I agreed, even though it was a little earlier than I had been getting up. I made it out by 7:20 which wasn't too bad. The man who sold me this tour told me the drive would be about 4 and a half hours. It was closer to six and a half, either due to traffic combined with relatively poor road conditions or his rather optimistic estimate. Fortunately, by leaving so early in the morning, there was still time to see some of Jaipur that afternoon.
We didn't have to be in Agra until sunset that night so we went to some more places in Jaipur the next morning.
We left Jaipur right around noon to get to Agra early enough to see the sunset. Another several hour drive, but we had plenty of time and the view was well worth it.
I woke up at 5:30 this morning to see the sunrise at the Taj Mahal and unbelievably, it was even better than sunset. The pictures don't really do it justice.
I'm back in Delhi now for the night. I'm heading to the airport tomorrow morning for a four and a half hour (hopefully it's not actually six and a half hours) flight to Bangkok. I am meeting my cousin Jamie there, and I will be in southeast Asia until the end of September. After that it's down to Australia and New Zealand for a few weeks.