India Part 3: To the Taj!

After a glorious week of Pride events in Hyderabad and a weekend soaking in the South India sun, Clem, Sally and I head to North India for the infamous Golden Triangle route. One of the most popular routes for Indian tourism, this triangle covers Delhi, Jaipur, and Agra, home of the Taj Mahal.

We begin by getting picked up by Devinder, our Indian Dad and fearless driver (you really do have to be fearless to drive in India) for the week.

We love you, Devinder!

We commence the 5 hour drive from Delhi to Jaipur. After checking in to our hotel, Devinder takes us to Chokhi Dhani, an ethnic village fair and restaurant. Highlights of the dinner/amusement park include:

  • Getting hit on by a couple of very persistent locals
  • Camel ride! Cost? Priceless. But really, it was only $.25!
  • Food that was so spicy I did my typical Indian move of skipping dinner and going straight for dessert. #I’m5yearsold

The next day, we go outside to meet Devinder, and quickly see he has taken the liberty of hiring a tour guide for us/invited his BFF along for the tour. Upon seeing the new face, our first thought is confusion, “Are you our new Dad?”, then that we’re being swindled, “What the hell Devinder!”, then agreement, “His English is really good.” We decide to keep him around, primarily because kicking him out would have been real awkward.

Our first stop is Amber Fort, where we ride elephants to the top of the fort. Then, our tour guide gives Sally and Clem a tour while I wander off to get lost in the fort’s numerous tunnels and secret rooms.

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Ride to the top in style

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Amber Fort

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I felt I shouldn’t go down there, but did not let that stop me

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Okay forbidden thrill over. Time to get out

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Amber Fort

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They’re turning this water palace into a hotel!

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Put the lime in the coconut!

After the fort, our guide proceeds to take us to his friends’ artistry and jewelry shops. I was frustrated at first, but then I realized playing dress up at the jewelry shop was quite fun.

I'm an Egyptian princess!

I’m an Egyptian princess!

Scratch Princess...Queen.

Scratch Princess…Queen.

Also, I’m going to refer the jewelry shop owner to Google Apps Sales, for the below reason:

Me: “Ya, we’re not going to buy anything.”
Him: “I’m not selling.”
Me: “Great!”
Him: “I’m just showing…maybe you’re buying.”
Me: “Ha! I’m so using that line to sell Google Apps”
Him: “…?”

After not buying any of the jewels I bedazzled myself with, we have an amazing lunch that our tour guide described as “clean and neat”. Which I believed until I saw the rat scurry away.

Post lunch, we go to an Observatory where I once again ditch the tour guide to sit by myself on a bench.

Observatory

I meet up with them a few minutes later to see Sally and Clem sitting under a tree. Sally has a look of horror on her face, and I quickly see some animal (we’re thinking monkey) has pooped all over her. I attempt to help her clean the poop out of her hair, but after a few futile attempts, I tell her  “this is a quintessential Something About Mary moment, if Mary’s gel was green…just own it”.

Such a good sport

The rest of the evening consists of us relaxing at the hotel and calling the staff to fix our internet which magically begins working when they arrive at our room.

The next day is the day we’ve all been waiting for; to see the Taj! We hop in the car with our trusted Indian dad, Devinder, who hauls it to Agra, with a quick break at Fatehpur Sikri Fort. Naturally, Devinder has arranged a tour guide for us; we’ll call him D2. D2 is pretty legit, taking fun photos of us and calling me out for not listening to anything he was saying. Then D2 blew his tip by pulling some weird charity sales pitch on us, where they try to sell us pieces of cloth for 3,000 rupee to feed the hungry/achieve world peace (in comparison, our driver costs about 3,000 rupee for the entire day). Typically I’m the bad cop of the group when it comes to haggling and sales pitches, but Sally finally had enough at this point, and put her foot down at the outrageous pitch and walked us all away. Proud mama moment; go Mustang Sally!

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After our Fort side trip, we have lunch and head to destination: Taj Mahal, one of the great wonders of the world. Then it starts raining. We switch gears and decide to check into our hotel, which turns out to be one of the most beautiful hotels I’ve stayed in. Our suite includes a massage chair and rose petals, y’all.

Continuing with the theme of beauty, the rain finally lets up enough for a trip to the Taj. A few hours earlier, Devinder had asked us if we wanted a guide and I quickly jumped in with “No! No more guides!”.

Waiting for us at the car is a guide. Oh, Devinder. You sly, sly man.

Turns out Devinder knows us better than we know ourselves and the guide is a clutch asset in pulling us ahead of long Taj queues (#efficiency), and yelling at people to get out of our jumping-in-front-of-the-Taj photos. As they say, a picture is worth a 1,000 words:

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Then, the guide pulls a really fast one on us.

While Devinder is waiting outside the Taj for us, the guide pulls us to the right, pretends he is on the phone with Devinder, and then informs us Devinder is fixing a punctured tire and “not to worry, I’ve called my friend to pick us up”. Normally one to perk up at unusual incidents and any mention of the word “friend”, I let this one slide because Devinder did stop to inspect the tires a few hours earlier, as if something was slightly awry. Also, 2 hours earlier I had specifically pulled our guide aside and said “Please don’t try to sell us anything. We’re not going to buy. Just be cool, man”.

When the guide told us his friend would be taking us to a souvenir shop, I think of my roommates asking me “What did you get me??” as soon as I walk in the door, and I decide a few souvenirs is not a bad idea. We tell the guide, “look we want to be in and out in 5 minutes, for a couple inexpensive souvenirs…don’t take us to one of those fancy tourist spots” to which he replies “No no don’t worry” which is Indian speak for “Yea yea whatever, I take you where I want and you will buy or I will get huffy”.

5 minutes later, he takes us to a fancy tourist spot. I immediately tell him we are ready to leave. We head outside, give him a nice tip due to the line-cutting and photo-taking and in spite of his shady behaviors, and hop in the car with Devinder. Heated words are exchanged between the guide and Devinder, and then Devinder tells us he was waiting outside the Taj for us the entire time and there was never a problem with his tires.

“WHAAAT” says Sally.

“Ugh, I knew it!” says Clem.

“THAT BASTARD I AM GOING TO KILL HIM” says me. I hate nothing more than being blinded by the wool over my eyes.

“Bad, bad.” says Devinder.

We decide to let it go, and spend the rest of the evening enjoying gastronomical delights (or so the hotel menu declares) and watching Olympic ice skating, heckling at “how terrible they all are” for falling after attempting a triple axle sow cow over the moon back flip spin around on a tiny blade on their foot.

Clem: “They are all so terrible!”
Sally: “Yea, terrible.”
Me: “Bad. Bad.”

The next day consists of working from the Google Delhi office, and then a series of really long flights from Delhi > Hyderabad and Hyderabad to Hong Kong and Hon Kong to San Francisco. #badbad

On a more serious note, our wonderful trip has come to a bittersweet end. From South to North and work to pleasure, this has been one of the most formative and beautiful trips I’ve ever taken. I’m sad to leave India but holding that 5 year multi-entry Visa in my back pocket.

Til next time, India.

Namaste

Namaste

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