A bone bruising bus journey, Jim’s impressive frog impression, and our first sighting of The Big T.

Day 150: Agra, India. We didn’t struggle to wake up this morning, as we’d hardly slept all night.

The ten hour bus journey was torturous. The roads from Mandawa to Agra were filled with potholes and we were shaken and stirred all night, like two big cocktails, only the end result was two badly ruffled people with bleary eyes.

Lil’s journey was particularly arduous as she was right at the back of the bus. Every time the bus drove into a crater or over a rock, the bus suspension bounced her into the air and back onto her metal base with a crash. She ended up with bruised shoulder blades, which is pretty impressive for public transport. She also had to contend with some loud video games being played, and had to push different parts of a guy back out of her bed space during the night when he rolled over (he was lying on the raised aisle area outside Lil’s sleeper).

In the morning, a guy in the aisle decided he was too hot and reached through a gap in the curtain into Lil’s bed space to fiddle with the air conditioning. Lil snapped the curtains tightly shut and turned the aircon back to where it was.

We arrived to a sunny cool morning in Agra. Albeit Jim’s pallor was a little green from travel sickness, a little akin to Kermit the Frog. Move over Ali Baba.

We climbed off the bus to a sea of tuk tuks and their drivers, all a little too much first thing in the morning. We bashed our way through and walked up the street to find the hotel address on our phones, then got a calmer tuk tuk driver to take us there. The driver was lovely and spoke good English, though he wanted a tip for walking us from the tuk tuk to the door of our hotel across the street, which we didn’t ask him to do.

After we’d settled in, Lil called Visa International to try and sort out delivery of her replacement credit card while we’re in Agra. It took ages to try and iron out the delivery address. Visa tend to use the address published on Google, which was different to the address on our hotel booking confirmation, which was different again to the address on the business card we picked up when we arrived at the hotel. While Lil was on the phone, Jim scurried up and down the stairs to try and get the hotel manager to confirm what the address actually is.

Visa’s process includes a call to the delivery address itself, to confirm someone will be there to receive the package, and to double check address details are all correct. Jim was in the reception area when the call came through and was able to listen in to the hilarious exchange. The lady from Visa, with a strong American accent, kept pointing out the address on Google was different to the address the hotel manager was providing. The manager kept repeating “yes but the address on Google is incorrect”. Then, getting a little impatient, he said “just tell the delivery man the hotel is close to west gate of Taj”. Her response was just wonderful: “Taj what?”

We headed out to take a look around the town and visit the Taj Nature Park. We’d only gone 50 metres down the street when a guy came running out of a shop and started jogging next to Jim shouting “only 200 rupees, yes 200 rupees sir, 100 rupees, 100 rupees, only 100 rupees sir, yes 100 rupees!!” while waving a rather hideous looking snow globe at him with a model of the Taj Mahal. We said no thanks repeatedly and eventually managed to shake him off, though he wasn’t happy.

We were bugged constantly to buy stuff as we walked through the town, and were glad to reach the peaceful surrounds of the Taj Nature Park. We bought our tickets and spent a couple of hours wandering up and down paved paths through wooded areas and some open grassland spotting lots of great birdlife along the way, including heaps of peacocks which are India’s national bird. We had a go on the swings in the kids playground (big kids that we are) and also scored our first view of the Taj Mahal, which Jim has now started calling ‘The Big T’.

When we’d finished at the park we walked back through the town to see if we could get down to the banks of the Yamuna river. On the way a young boy tried us to sell us some fridge magnets, which were just as hideous as the snow globe thrust at us earlier in the day. He walked beside us and refused to go away, telling us we really needed to buy fridge magnets. We said we didn’t have a fridge, and he rather cleverly responded we should buy them for our friends. His original price as he chattered away next to us was 100 rupees for one fridge magnet. By the time we eventually managed to get him to go away, his price had dropped rather drastically to 300 rupees for 20 magnets. We still weren’t tempted to buy them for our friends (sorry guys).

As we walked towards the pathway which wound down to the river, an early evening monkey migration was underway. Hundreds of monkeys were scampering along the path and into the local trees. There was no way we were going to risk walking through them (and local sign boards suggest staying well away), so we stood well back and waited until they’d all passed.

We walked through a settlement down by the river – lots of people living in small houses, roughly built huts and under tarpaulins. We stopped to buy chai at a roadside stand, then wandered to a small temple and down to a the river front, where lots of people were gathered and open fires were burning under a huge animal barn.

A local guy asked if we could take a picture of his rather animated friend – so animated that he must have either been having an incredibly good day or was under the influence of something. He jumped up and down like a loon, waving his arms and striking various bizarre poses for photos.

This evening we had dinner at a tiny little restaurant called Joney’s Place. They’re well known for their great cheap food, banana lassi that comes with a ‘money back guarantee’ (we doubt anyone ever asks for their money back, as it tastes sensational) – and all prepared in the tiniest kitchen we’ve ever seen. They serve breakfast every day from 5am for anyone who’s in need of some sustenance before braving the sunrise session at The Big T.

We walked back to our hotel, past a restaurant cooking food in a monster pan that looked liberally laced with chilli. We’d have to build in another ‘stay close to the loo day’ if we braved that one.

And so to bed for a peaceful long night’s sleep without rocks or craters. Tomorrow we’re planning to visit the Taj Mahal, and perhaps we’ll make it to the fort too. Though we’ll skip the offer of breakfast at 5am.

More then.

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