An Unexpected Trip
I’m retired now but I was lucky enough to travel to India twice as part of my job and during one visit, my colleague and I found ourselves with an unexpected free day. We were staying at a posh hotel in New Delhi and looked at the possibility of taking a trip to the Taj Mahal, but the cost of a guided tour at short notice seemed too much.
So we decided to explore Delhi instead. We took our time over breakfast and stepped out into the hazy sunshine after 10am with no particular plan.
Just outside the hotel we were approached by a man who had spoken to us on the day we arrived. He’d told us he worked in the hotel kitchen and he’d found us a tuk tuk and directed us on an early shopping trip. This time we told him we were off to do some sightseeing but he asked if we wanted to visit the Taj Mahal.
We said surely it was too late to make the journey? But he said he knew someone who could get us there and back in the day and show us round. He said it would cost the equivalent of about £80 each.
We Decide to Take a Chance…
We were put on the spot but decided it was worth it for a once in a lifetime trip, so he called his friend. The arrangements were made in such a hurry we agreed to pay on our return to the hotel. A few minutes later a people carrier pulled up and to our amazement it was driven by Bobby, the same man who had taken us shopping in his tuk tuk on day one. We climbed into the taxi and set off on the 200km+ drive to Agra. This was before the opening of the Yamuna Expressway so the journey was not as direct as it would be today.
Soon after we set off my friend began to suffer from car sickness and closed her eyes to try and sleep. Conversation with our driver dried up as he concentrated on the road. I looked out of the windows at the unfamiliar scenery, finally pondering on the wisdom of getting into a stranger’s car in a strange place without even knowing which direction we were going.
After driving for a couple of hours we stopped at a red sandstone dhaba (roadside cafe) where we were able to stretch our legs and get a drink. Otherwise the journey was straightforward until we reached the outskirts of Agra where the traffic slowed to a crawl.
The Adventure Comes with a Great Guide
We were joined by Bobby’s friend who would be our guide at the Taj Mahal. We were dropped off some way from the entrance and we dutifully trotted behind our guide. Sure enough, he took us to the head of a queue and we paid for our tickets. We headed through the red stone gate and along the path to the grand entrance to the Taj Mahal itself.
We See the Taj for the First Time
The first sight of it through the crowds of people was breathtaking. The pearlescent white light seemed to glow from the building which was so familiar and yet even more incredible to be close to. I had never thought for one moment that I would ever stand and see it for myself. We made our way slowly up to the monument, pausing often to take it all in.
Amazingly, some other visitors asked if they could have their photograph taken with us! Just before the final steps, nearly everyone took off their shoes and left them in rows of thousands outside. We put on shoe covers and slithered our way across the vast marble concourse before entering the mausoleum, dwarfed by the sheer scale of the beautifully inscribed arches.
Using a flashlight our guide showed us the wonderful carved semiprecious stones lining the walls. He explained the history and architecture of the building and really gave us a first class experience.
It was hard to tear ourselves away but after returning to the car we were taken to a workshop where stone carvers sat on the ground making souvenirs for tourists, powering rudimentary saws with their feet. We were rather embarrassed that we didn’t have money with us to buy anything or even to give something extra to our guide, who had been so helpful.
My Friend Misses More Excitement
We had managed to text another member of our party and arranged to meet for a meal in the evening so we were under a little time pressure to get back to Delhi. On the return journey once again my friend closed her eyes and slept in the corner of the back seat of the taxi whilst I watched the world go by.
As we approached a road junction on the way back, the police were flagging down random vehicles and our driver was told to pull over. To my surprise he kept rolling forward toward the policeman who was hitting the front of the car with his baton. We slid past him with Bobby pressing money into his hand as we moved quickly away. I had visions of us spending the night in a police cell and all the while my friend slept on, unaware of the action going on around her! I wondered later if the taxi was unlicenced for passengers outside of Delhi.
The journey was much longer than we anticipated and we were too late to meet our other colleagues for dinner but I’m so glad we went. Not that I’d recommend taking the leap of faith (or plain stupidity) that we did. I’m still unsure about whether we were scammed that day. We were pretty naive and were fortunate that our new friends were just that – friendly.