Into Uttar Pradesh

What a day. Traffic chaos, unplanned stops and a crappy hotel.

Everything started well enough as we woke up, showered and left our nice little guest house in Jaipur. We’d met some nice people there, enjoyed the facilites and the food was great. As ever, our driver was prompt (early, in fact) and we loaded up for the switch to Agra.

We’d decided earlier on that we had to be somewhere “special” for xmas. Why, neither of us can really explain as we couldn’t care less about the date. I guess just to make some of you lot jealous. Regardless, Agra and the Taj Mahal it was to be.

Off we went.

As ever, our driver was a clever mixture of insane, daring, thrilling, careful and relaxed. I don’t know how he does it. After four hours, we came to a grinding halt around 35km from Agra. Traffic was log-jammed and some pedestrians were trying their best to be helpful and shift people around.

Taking a diversion, we followed some other traffic and ended up at another set of palaces with locals trying to convince us to give them 100Rp to be our guide. Only 50Rp each, in case we couldn’t do the maths.

The thing is, we had no idea where we were and – frankly – had no desire to see yet another flipping fort, palace, temple, mosque or whatever. One enterprising lad kept pace with us as we walked across the car park to stretch our legs.

“I am not a guide. I am a student. I will take you around the mosque. Only 20 rupees. 10 rupees each. You have to remove shoes and socks. Bare feet only. Much beautiful work inside. Lovely mosque. You not want guide? OK. You give me 10 rupees?”

Erm. No. And not to the other guy who asked as well.

Quarter of an hour later, limbered up and adept at ignoring cries of “you need guide?” we returned to the car and zoomed downhill. Back into the same traffic jam.

Eventually it cleared, partly due to some great maneuvering on behalf of our gifted pilot. Another hour or so later and Agra came into sight – only about 2 1/2 hours later than we’d anticipated.

Then came the fun bit – locating the hotel we’d been pre-booked by the travel agent. Eventually, a guy from a marble shop helped us. It turns out the “street name” we had was actually an area name. He guided us there, we thanked him and promised to visit his marble shop (yeah, right) and checked in.

What a pit. OK, we’ve stayed in worse, but this is costing us 1500Rp a night each. We were staying in much nicer elsewhere for 450Rp between us. Yeah, we’re close to the Taj Mahal, though you can’t see it from the hotel, but as we’ve got a driver to take us there that’s hardly a concern.

We’re here for two nights and to be honest I hope the time goes quickly so we can get back to Delhi and on a plane to Mumbai. Up till now, India has at the very least been cheap. This is a lot to pay for somewhere this cruddy, and – in honesty – I’m in a pretty poor mood as well. Not helped by the constant stream of party-fied carols belting through the wall at 140dB from the hotel next door. Then the fireworks until 11pm. And the hammering that sounds like building work or decorating that starts at around 6am.

I’m not an xmassy person, but at least in the past I’ve been at home with my cats and stuff. This year, I’m somewhere that’s supposed to be amazing. I’m finding the country as a whole a little unimpressive and for other reasons I had been looking forward to Christmas this year a whole hell of a lot until a few months ago. Between those reasons and things turning out to be a bit crappier than even I’d expected, I’m already ranking this as probably my worst xmas ever.

So there you go. It’s not even the 25th, I’m in a hotel near one of the most wondrous pieces of architecture ever built and I’ve already written the whole thing off. Aren’t you glad it’s Hans who’s stuck with me and not you?

The one bright point in our day was watching a traffic accident on the way back to the hotel from checking out the internet later in the evening. A car overtook a motorbike and winged it. No injuries and the bike stayed upright, but the fight it caused drew quite an impressive crowd. There really is nothing to do round here in an evening.

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