The train was at 6:00 AM to Agra. It was the first time we would be traveling on Shatabdi Express and were very keen to experience the fastest train in India. There was a new kind of excitement as the train went from 30kmph to 40kmph…50kmph…60kmph. After that it never went faster than 40kmph, the reason being fog. Plus, the train lines are so congested there that our train had to stop every 15 minutes or so for other trains to pass. As soon as we changed tracks another train passed on the other one within minutes. I found it extremely dangerous. Imagine the consequence if someone on one train pulls the chain? The supposedly 3 hour journey took six. What made us feel worse was that the groom, Ayush (we fondly call him Sethji), whose wedding we were attending was waiting for us for more than an hour at Agra station. He wouldn’t listen to us when we said we would take care of ourselves.
Agra, the town, is real dirty. The roads are wide and clean from the railway station to until after the Red Fort. After that the roads get narrow and littered. If you have seen KR Market in Bangalore, you don’t need to see Agra. Add to it irresponsibly riding/driving motorists and the driving experience can’t get worse. It seems a deep ditch on the main road under a bridge has remained so from the last 10 years or so !!
We did nothing much today except eat. Once at the brunch session, another at lunch (with generous second and third helpings) and once again at Ayush’s Teeka ceremony. Do I need mention the food was awesome??
The next morning we visited the Red Fort. For me the most interesting part of visiting a place is the visitor entry fees. See for yourself what I mean
We did not bother to hire a guide here, partly because neither of us is much interested in history. Perhaps a good history teacher in school would have helped otherwise. Anyway, the guides charge Rs. 300 or so. I suppose you can bargain with them too. It is a huge land and can easily take 2 – 3 hours to go around each of the palaces and places of importance there.
What I loved most was “feeding the squirrel” experience (and no, I haven’t colored my hair ).
I learnt some shocking things when having lunch at a dhaba outside Red Fort. There was this kid who was selling glass molded earrings (set of 12) for Rs. 35 a pair. They looked nice. Thought I’ll buy them and started bargaining at Rs. 120 for the whole set. As I was bargaining with this kid, an older boy came and started to sell his set. “Buy 2 sets for 250… You can gift it to your friends.. blah blah blah..” I finally bargained and brought one set for Rs. 120. Satisfied that I had made a good deal, I turned to see that the first kid was still there. Can you guess what he said? “Buy this for Rs. 60.” :-O Rs. 60!! After that I scolded the kid right left and center… “You made me lose 60 rupees. Couldn’t you have spoken before? You were here when the whole drama was going on and now is the time you choose to talk? Blah..blah..blah..” The reply was, “He is first in line. When he talks, no one else is to talk. We can do business after he is done with his.” OMG!! I did not say anything after that. What could I? Got me thinking – How many such “business models” still exist and how many of it we still do not know? I buried the earrings deep in my bag. I did not want to be constantly reminded of the Rs. 60 loss just then.
The next stop was Taj Mahal. We went in a cycle rickshaw. Bargained for Rs. 20 when he asked Rs. 30. Halfway through neither of us could enjoy the experience of the ride as we saw how exhausted the cyclist was. When we landed at the Taj, we gladly gave him Rs. 50 and walked away. He returned Rs. 20 without asking.
I had been to the Taj previously but Ashwin hadn’t. I never felt the “ooh.. aah” that most people claim to feel when they see the Taj and Ashwin wouldn’t believe it when I said so. So I let him decide on his own. The Taj is definitely HUGE. But I still could not feel any awe about it. Many things have changed in the Taj, as in previously they allowed to touch the tomb. Now it has a metal wall around it and too far to touch. Even the walls cannot be touched now in the tomb room. We were done watching and going around the Taj in less than half an hour but had to spend at least another 2 hours waiting for our friend Akshay who was to meet us there. He too was in Agra for Ayush’s wedding. After he came we did some photo shoot and went back to the hotel with an hour to spare before the baraat started.
I always wanted to be part of a North Indian wedding. The pomp n show, the grandeur, the customs and rituals, and most of all the music and dance, all so very different from ours, always awed me. And so in this trip another “first” was realized and another dream fulfilled.
At 7:00 PM, Ayush’s brother, Rishabh, himself came to pick us up from the hotel. Two of us, Akshay and two of Ayush’s room mates (now ex ) were driven to the venue. It was 7:00 PM but the cold was biting the bones already. It was almost 9:00 PM when the baraat actually started. The music and the lighting created the aura and we go to see some of the heartiest dances from the groom’s family members. I loved it. Every house on the way to the wedding hall witnessed the king on the horse
Once at the Mandap, I was shocked (read culture shock) to see everyone eating :-O. I mean the baraat had just reached and the wedding was not over yet and already everyone was eating. Nice, eh? We too joined the party after a while. The food was arranged in different counters/kiosks kinda fashion, each counter served something different. There was awesome panipuri (drooooool, yumm), other types of chaats, dosa/idli with chutney/sambar, mini pizzas, three-four types of sweets, fruits and so many other things. This sumptuous spread apart from “dinner”. Dinner itself was four types of curries (chhole, paneer, potato, mixed veg), biryani, rotis/naans/kulchas, plus dessert (I skipped) including ice cream. If you feel I’ve put on after the trip, you know why. In between all this we had to run inside to see the garland exchange and come out again and resume eating
By the time we finished, most of them had finished too. The hall was almost empty. Only a handful remained. When the couple of the day had their dinner we gulped down two cups of hot coffee. It was after midnight that the holy fire was started and other rituals were started. I wanted to sit through the wedding so much but my eyes drooped and an hour later I was dozing off right there. Maybe the exhaustion of the entire trip or the dinner, I don’t know. The guys continued chatting and most of the “jokes” revolved around “marriage” and “shrewd wife” and “poor husband”.
Ashwin too felt sleepy after a while. Rishab offered to drop us again even though we said we would walk. One step outside the hall and we were grateful for the drop – it was sooo foggy and the temperature felt like it was below 0 degrees. It was 2:00 AM when we slept and had a train to catch at 4:30 AM. Our flight to Bangalore was at 3:30 PM and we would be home by 6:30 PM max, or so we thought.
At 4:30 AM, our “problems” started. Our train was canceled due to fog and this we came to know after waiting half an hour. The inter-city train that plies between Agra and Delhi was canceled. The only train available was a Howrah-Delhi train at 6:30 AM, which for the time being was converted to a local. People were still sleeping when we got in. Akshay and Ashwin adjusted in the seats with the crowd while I got on an upper berth (the side one) which for my height felt cramped but I slept away to glory nevertheless. The train moved slower than a snail at 15 kmph with stops ranging from 15 – 45 minutes for every 15 minute journey. So this time the 3 hour journey took us 12 hours and in the process making a BIG hole to our pocket. Our flight that was at 3:30 PM had to be canceled. Thankfully for Akshay his flight too got canceled due to fog and the amount fully refunded. When we reached Delhi, Akshay parted to stay at his aunt’s overnight since the only available flights were for the next day. We decided to push our luck and try to find 2 seats to Bangalore somehow within the night.
The airport was crowded and already in a state of havoc with people fighting with the desk attendants regarding their canceled flight. From 7:00 PM to 7:30 PM all we did was go around the counters asking for tickets to Bangalore . When everyone had declined we checked the e-booking kiosk as well . No luck. Waited another hour and went over the desks again. Same story. The only available flight was at 6:30 the next morning and the cost of the ticket was double than our earlier ticket. If I reached home by 9:00 AM I could still make it to office (waaah :’( ). So thinking we booked it. At 6:00 we were tucked into the flight. Thankfully ours was the only flight that did not get canceled. But wait, it did not take off at 6:30 as expected. We were all kinda “locked up” inside the aircraft till 10:30 AM. With all the passengers getting fussy, the flight attendants served us cold flight-food, free. Informed my manager about not being able to make it to office that day and went back to sleep. Did I tell you where we spent the night earlier? It was on the hard chairs at the airport. With so many people stranded there, there was a shortage of chairs as well – couldn’t even join 2 chairs to stretch my legs on. Back home at noon, we slept from 3:00 PM in the afternoon to 8:00 AM the next day
In short, except for the last 2 days, the entire holiday was awesome and rejuvenating. Some of the “firsts” realized and a “Must do” fulfilled. I’m already thinking where to go next