Today was my first real day to experience India.
I left the Taj Palace ( Upscale hotels are called Palaces in India) . From the security of an Indian hotel for westerners and the well to do to the streets of Old Delhi and Agra.
Now let’s be clear I wasn’t hitch hiking or trying out local traffic. No my trip was arranged by Jennifer Beacon, Mercedeh Sanati’s partner at Quench travel.
So at 7:30 this morning, I was greeted by Ravikant Bura, Tour Executive with ‘An Indian Escape’ . In the lobby he went over my itinerary, presented me with my vouchers for guides, hotels and tours and delivered me safely into the hands of my driver Subessing. He will accompany me for the next several days and deliver me to the airport on Sunday.
So about 8 o’clock, off we went in a very nice air conditioned car, into Friday morning Delhi Traffic. Well now that is an EXPERIENCE!!!!!
I have never seen traffic like it ….for the next four hours as we made our way through the city of Delhi ( 20 million people I think) into the country side and along what is interestingly presented as a scenic drive???? to Agra.
First of all the streets have everything traveling on them, people walking, on bikes, rickshaws, motorcycles ( hundreds of them) the most dilapidated trucks I have ever seen, mototaxis..three person , taxi minitrucks ( we would consider for five ridersàbut in India they fill these little taxi trucks to the brim, people sitting on the top, hanging off the side and perched precariously on the back. And then for good measure we add donkeys, horses pulling carts loaded down with bags and all manner of stuff , cows and water buffalo pulling carts, people pulling or pushing carts, delivery bicycles and for good measure a handful of camels. Everywhere on the sides ..but also in the middle of the road big black or big white COWS.. they and the dogs and pigs have the run of India.
So that’s just the list of vehicles! We then get to the rules of the road….there are NONE!!!!! and I mean it. Traffic lights are few and far between, and where they do exist the teeming traffic pays little attention to it.. I must say generally cars go in the same direction when you have a separated lanes of 2or 3 lanes on each side of the highway…but not necessarily . On numerous occasions we would find on our side of the freeway ( loosely termed) a truck come barreling down the roadà what we would consider the wrong way on the inside lane no less. The outside lanes constantly had scooters, bikes, taxis coming down what we might consider the shoulder lane heading into the traffic.
Every single vehicle beeps or honks their horns constantly …in fact on the back of cars you will see ‘HONK PLEASE’ this lets drivers know that someone is passing or wants to pass them….i didn’t notice a lot of side mirrors so this is the signal to the driver to move over or speed up. I KID YOU NOT> hence the beeping and honking…it is constant.
A small motorbike in India can carry 4 adult males, or a man, his child of 6 in front, a 3-4 year old in the middle, and the mother with her babe in arms. Significantly different safety protocols in India. I even saw a baby of less than one perched in front of his father on the bike.
Young men have helmets, many do not and generally beautifully dressed women in saris do not …because they have been blessed and don’t need a helmet.
And of course the cars whiz along very close to the people who are all over r the place ..they cross in mid traffic ..i am amazed we did not encounter 100s of accidents…but truth I think only one..which we whizzed right by
The second thing of note on the ride thru old Delhi to Agra is the garbage..it is everywhere. In fact one feels as if you are driving through a garbage dump for three hours. You can tell it has been there for a very long time..i think it turns into dirt or road because it certainly doesn’t appear that there is any form of garbage removal system. Amongst the garbage, people , children, goats, pigs, donkeys and of course the sacred cows !!!most of them foraging in the garbage.
I found the men on the streets generally very slovenly in their dress…very different from the immaculately and colourfully garbed hotel attendants. However even in the poorest of areas the saris of the women were gorgeous..every colour of the rainbow and richly embroidered with gold and silver threads and sequins.
I spent 4 hours en route and was mesmerized by the whole of it. I was extremely glad to have an amazing driver with incredible skill, as no one pays any attention to traffic lanes, constantly maneuvered around each other, slow down, speed up… squeeze in..unbelievable!!!! As my guide later said in India you need a good brake, a good horn and good luck. I say don’t drive get a driver!!!!!
Before getting to Agra (home of the Taj Mahal which I will see at sunrise tomorrow) we stopped off to visit two amazing forts …translate well fortified palaces built in the 1500’s by the Mughal dynasties. The first was Fatehpur Sikri , a marvelous example of Moghul architecture.. This particular moghul had three wives, a Hindi, a Christian and a Muslim wife so 4 palaces within the fort ( one for him and one each for his three wives) and of course lots of other space for his many concubines. Beautiful red sandstone…but very hard as it still endures to this day.
The second is the Agra Fort, again home to a moghul, several wives and a multitude of concubines. These palaces had inlaid gold and silver, beautiful craftsmanship of various arts, but over the years all of these appointments on the walls and ceilings have been plundered ..but the original construction gives you a feel for the power and richness of these moghuls.’
Tonight I am safe in another 5-star hotel, the Jaypee Palace and given all the rubbernecking I did today had myself an amazing 60 minute massage..price $45. Then had dinner in the restaurant…it was lovely but sure didn’t feel it was the same deal as it came to $85—and I only had two glasses of wine an appetizer and butter chicken.. but still an experience.
Tomorrow the Taj Mahal