Thursday, October 20, 2011

More From India

After Haridwar we went to Agra for our mandatory Taj visit. I'm sure enough's been said and written about the Taj to make any further comment by me a bit redundant, but I'll just say that they weren't lying. It really is as stunning as everyone says it is. We also visited Agra Fort, which is remarkable in its own way and probably suffers a bit from being the second most popular tourist attraction in the city. This was one time when we hired a guide to take us around a monument and it was really worthwhile. I learned all sorts of stuff about the fort that I would've missed completely otherwise. The fact that I've forgotten almost all of it doesn't dull my enthusiasm.

After Agra we took a very long, very late train across the country to Bikaner in Rajasthan. The town is very pretty and made up of clusters of tumbledown brick and concrete buildings, most three or four stories high but only big enough for two small rooms on each floor. We stayed in one of these at a homestay. We later found out the owner had tricked us into buying some souvenirs at a store where he received a big chunk of their highly inflated prices as commission. Had to happen I guess, but it's a nasty feeling being scammed by someone who seemed very genuine.

After two nights in Bikaner we caught a train across the desert to Jaisalmer. We were dreading this train because we knew we would have to travel second class, which I've heard involves packing people in worse than the Seoul subway's green line (no NZ analogy exists for that much human density, sorry). I've heard people even climb in the windows at stations in a desperate attempt to get seats. Like most things relating to Indian train travel, the names of the different classes is something of a mystery: second class - and its dodgy mate second sleeper - are the lowest of at least six classes. Luckily the train wasn't crowded and we had an interesting time trying to learn some bizzare card game that some locals insisted on teaching us, trying to explain our ipods to them, and watching the desert roll by.

After a pleasant if sandy trip (the windows don't have glass, presumably to speed up boarding) we pulled into Jaisalmer with its stunning golden sandstone fort. The fort is perched on a hill in the centre of the city and is still home to a lot of people and businesses. The idea that historical monuments have people living in them is very strange to me, and Jaisalmer fort actually feels more authentic because of it. I've also seen this in Korean hannok villages, where the houses are both museums and homes. SD card readers are almost non-existent in internet cafes here so I can't upload any pictures, but here's one I put on facebook earlier.

  Next stop, Jodhpur. . .

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