Taj Mahal in Agra
The past week has been a whirlwind as we are traveling our way west through Rajasthan. We stayed a few nights in Agra so we could see the Taj Mahal both in the morning and in the evening. It was quite easy to buy a ticket and walk around the simply stunning palace. We spent hours taking photos and watching the light dance on the marble as the sun moved across the sky. We didn’t take a tour or have a guide, but we did take along a detailed map and book that offered a history of the Taj. I have to admit that I felt uncomfortable leaving my shoes at the door (what if they were stolen?) After an amazing tour of Agra’s Taj Mahal, we hopped on a bus to Fatephur Sirki – a very local bus I might add, complete with chickens, thumping music, and a crazy ride though the twisty roads.
The original city of Fatephur was built around 1571 during the reign of Emperor Akbar. The magnificent city is now a ghost city and lies on the outskirts of the tiny town of the modern Fatephur. We spent the afternoon walking around the beautiful red ruins and exploring the vacated temples, fortresses, and Turkish baths. For some reason, we picked up a local guide somewhere along the path and wound up paying him wayyyy too much. He didn’t really speak great English or seem to know what he was describing most of the time. But…oh well.
Keoladeo National Park
From Fatephur we took another very crowded bus to Bharatphur, where the famous Keoladeo National Park rests along the town’s outskirts. We rented bikes to ride through the park’s 28 k. trails. We took lots of bird photos. This entailed pulling our circa-1940’s bikes to the side of the path, treking through the grassy, snake-infested terrain to get a closer inspection of the half-hidden bird, and then spending 15 min. thumbing through the bird book to find the exact bird that we thought we saw sitting in the tree 1/2 mile in front of us. After our tour, we took a break at the small canteen area near the front gate. There was a fire behind the canteen, and as we sipped our hot chai, we were beckoned closer to the fire by a few men squatting near the flames. We tried to communicate with the kind gentleman, and bought everyone another chai as a thank you.
Our next train trip took us to Sawai Madhopur to see the Ranthambhore Park – home of about 42 tigers (so they say). Our hopes were high the next morning when we woke at dawn to go on a safari. We loaded up in a huge jeep and rushed off through the brush to capture some animals on their early morning prowl.
Alas, our group only saw some cute lil’ monkeys and a few deer. However, our guide did stop the jeep at one point to show us a paw print – a very large paw print.
And off to Jaipur!
Our stay in Sawai was brief and we were soon waiting at the train station for a train to Jaipur. We had several hours to wait at the train and made a few trips back and forth for fresh samosas and lassi’s. I made friends with one of the cows who took an interest in my shoes. After several weeks in India, I’m still amazed to see cows in such a public place – wandering around the train platform, nonetheless. To the locals, they are just another part of the landscape.
Jaipur is another big city, although it does have a certain charm. We were browsing the market yesterday (as any girl would do) and were drawn into a textile stall. Several hours and many chais later, we were happy little travelers. The afternoon was quite fun actually. We wound up spending the entire day with the family that owns the textile store.
One of the cousins grew fond of us and took us on a small tour of the city, his textile factory, and the jewelry shop around the corner. We learned and were able to watch the process of cutting and polishing the stones – – very interesting! Afterwards, we drank more chai with his family, hung out in the little textile store, and ate pakoras and bhajias (vegetable fritters). Everyone has been so friendly and helpful!