Our unintentional fast and the Taj Mahal

When our bus pulled away leaving Delhi we felt a sense of relief. Though there were holes and it was not well thought out, we now had a plan. We had only been together for about 24 hours but now Yohann seemed like an old friend. The five-hour bus ride was enjoyable. We had been ushered to the front drivers cabin and though it had no seat belts, we really just wanted to get moving and thought we would not put up a fuss. Plus there was much more room up there.

As we were nearing Agra, we started seeing some signs in English. Agra was the next stop on our list and one of the three major tourist cities in India because it is the home of the Taj Mahal. As usual we had no idea where we would be dropped off, but something different happened. As the bus was going through the busy streets, the bus driver pulls over and tells us to get off. He does not speak English and we do not move because we were not at the station and no one else was moving. The doors open up and a man comes on who does speak English. He tells us that this bus company gives complementary rides to tourists once they reach their destination instead of taking them into the busy and chaotic bus terminals that were outside of town.

The garden restaurant we ate at our first, and only, meal in Agra

The garden restaurant we ate at our first, and only, meal in Agra

off in the distance

off in the distance

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It was our second day in India and we did not understand, but went along as I am guessing many tourists do. There was a tuk-tuk driver who spoke no English and a man with him who spoke it beautifully. Yohann already had a hotel, but we did not. Yohann also had a train ticket for the following evening to Jaipur. We did not. The man told us there was a bus service that could sell us tickets to Jaipur for tomorrow and told us the price. It was cheaper than what Yohann paid but would take longer and be less comfortable, but it would get us to Jaipur. If you remember form our Delhi post, we were broke and waiting on a money transfer that had failed to go through.

I had an email that I had sent my family at this time with exact numbers but I have lost it now so these are the most truthful estimates I can remember. At this time we had around $40 US between Veronica and I, and decided to buy the bus tickets to Jaipur, which took us down to $26. The tuk-tuk driver told us that he would not charge us anything to take us to Yohann’s hotel but just tell us a little about Agra on the way and if we liked his services that we could hire him for the rest of the day to show us around. Sounded fair.

So the three of us walk into Johann’s hotel hoping they may have a room in our price range. False. $20 was their cheapest two-person room. But we were able to check our email and found one from my brother, telling us that he sorted the transfer out with his bank and we would have the money in two days. Though we were very thankful for all the help David did for us on the trip, $26 for two people was not going to work for two days unless we skipped the Taj Mahal or skipped our bus ride to Jaipur.

We had not eaten the day before besides a few bananas, though Veronica does not like bananas and so she had nothing, so we decided to eat. There was a restaurant across the street and the three of us ordered rice, pan (flat bread) and two types of dal (lentils). We now had $23 but were full and needed the food to think. Over lunch we explained our exact situation to Yohann. He knew we were waiting on a transfer but did not know how extreme things were. We told him we had two options. First was that Veronica and I would have to stay in Agra for the next three days and let him go on alone to Jaipur. The two of us would hang out on the cheap, find a hotel that cost closer to $10 and wait for our transfer to go through. Then see the Taj Mahal once we had the funds (it costs about $12 for tourists, or 30 cents for locals).

Option two was that Yohann loan us some money. It might seem strange but being he had just been slightly swindled when he bought his bus/train/hotel combo in Delhi and was also on a shoestring budget, this was asking a lot. Plus Yohann had just met us the day before. What we asked for was 2,800 Rupees, or around $44 US.

Luckily Yohann agreed to loan us the money. It would mean he was tight on cash too until our money came through, but it was worth it to him to have some travel partners.

our driver on the right, our guide on the left

our driver on the right, our guide on the left

cow dung cakes that are shaped, and dried to be used as fuel in stoves

cow dung cakes that are shaped, and dried to be used as fuel in stoves

monkeys

monkeys

The Yamuna River

The Yamuna River

The man that had driven us to the hotel 45 minutes ago was still outside and we told him that Veronica and I were looking for a room for around 600 Rupees, he said that the one across the street would be around 700 and we went to see if we could bargain them down. We failed. But 700 was still around $11-12 US so it was close enough to our $10 goal. Looking at the guest book, we were the only American guests that had stayed here in the last few weeks, it was almost all India and Pakistan written in the COUNTRY section of the school style notebook the owner used to keep records.

I was thrilled to have my pack in a locked room and to have a plan that included staying with our new friend, seeing the Taj Mahal tomorrow morning and making it onward to Jaipur. The three of us agreed that the 500 Rupee fee to take all three of us around Agra for the rest of the day was well worth it, even on our budget. We started by crossing the Yamuna River that divides Agra. This region used to be world famous for its leather, but all of the chemicals used to dye and stain the hides would be poured into the river. Even though this trade is now better regulated for environmental reasons, the river is still not considered clean.

Our first stop was Chini Ka Rauza. It is a tomb that was right on the river and we met a group of young boys playing who tagged along as we explored the grounds. It was free to get in and a lovely first stop. 

The Chini ka Rauza

The Chini ka Rauza

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catching a lift

catching a lift

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Here is what Wikipedia says about Chini Ka Rauza:

Chini ka Rauza is a funerary monument in Agra, India, containing the tomb of Allama Afzal Khan Mullah, a scholar and poet who was the Prime Minister of the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan. The tomb was built in 1635. Chini ka Rauza is situated just 1 kilometer north of Itmad-Ud-Daulah Tomb, on the eastern bank of Yamuna River in Agra.

We then stopped outside the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah, which is often called the jewel box or the baby Taj Mahal. It was getting later in the day and cost money to go inside and so we only looked in from the gate but it looked very beautiful.

on the other side of the river

on the other side of the river

there was a family with their grazing goats on the riverbank, amazing to think

there was a family with their grazing goats on the riverbank, amazing to think

We then drove to the Mehtab Bagh. This is a “moonlight garden”, that is on the opposite side of the Yamuna River from the Taj Mahal. Looking at an aerial map of how the Mehtab Bagh and the Taj Mahal fit together gives a lovely impression that they are meant to be together, forming a symmetric grounds, yet divided by the river. We were told that you can spend hours at the Mehtab Bagh enjoying the natural beauty but there was also a road that you could walk down next to the gardens that would lead you to the river. From there you could have amazing views of the Taj Mahal without the crowds and at no cost. We did not go inside the gardens because they were about to close and once again were on our budget, but we would highly recommend driving across the river to view the Taj from another view.

One the way back to the hotel, our guide offered to take us to a stonecutter, silver worker and fabric house. The stonecutter sounded interesting, and though we knew that we were only going because the drivers get a kick back from any sale made, it still seemed interesting.

Our stonecutter guide

Our stonecutter guide

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It was in fact very informative and interesting. If we had an extra $5 would of bought one of the small pieces. The fabric house was nice too but more a store that could tell us about the different types of fabric from the region, and not so much somewhere they made anything. Veronica really wanted to get a Punjabi suit while in India and they had some that we would latter find out were a good deal, but at that time we did not have the money to buy anything. We talked our way out of the silver smiths because it was not dark and the bugs were out. They took us back to our hotels and we felt bad because the man who was such a wonderful tour guide told us that the 500 Rupee price was for the driver and that he would not see any of it, but that if we enjoyed his services that we could give him a tip. Every dollar left in our pocket had an exact place it would be spent but we gave him 50 Rupees explaining we did not have money. He seemed upset at first because this is an insulting low amount but he eventually said, “If this is truthfully all you can give then I am happy to know I could provide someone who has very little with the chance to see the city I love so much.”

That night Veronica and I hung out in Yohann’s room, talking and using his internet. We introduced him to Couchsurfing and tried to see if we could find a place for us to stay in Jaipur. We actually had luck!  And someone told us they could put all three of us up for two-night. All we had was a phone number though and we could not get a response with the person’s address, but it seemed like it would work out! We were getting up early to be at the Taj Mahal by sunrise, which we were told was one of the best times to see it because of how the light hits the white stone. So Veronica and I traveled back to our bargain hotel room, got into our sleeping bags and tried to go to sleep. It had nothing to do with the hotel, but for some reason there was a pack of dogs that barked all night right outside our room! So we lay awake for a few hours before falling asleep, dogs still barking, from pure exhaustion.

front entrance to the Taj Mahal

front entrance to the Taj Mahal

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The next morning we rose and were more excited than well rested. It was colder than we had expected, and we grabbed sweaters, jackets and light scarves as we headed out the door. We met up with Yohann and walked the ten or so minutes to the Taj Mahal. We waited in line for tickets and were one of the first hundred people into the compound. We will let our pictures, and yes we have a huge amount (IT’S THE TAJ MAHAL, COME ON), do most of the talking but I will give a few facts and things I did not know before visiting.

First thank you Wikipedia for the following:

The Taj Mahal is called the “crown of palaces” and is a white marble mausoleum. It was built by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Taj Mahal is regarded by many as the finest example of Mughal architecture, a style that combines elements from Persian and Indian architectural styles.

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Now for some things I learned first hand.

Though we think of it as white, the tomb is actually ornately decorated. It has very colorful flowers made of precious stones, Arabic writing made from inlaid black marble, and other beautiful patterns.

During the late 19th century the Taj Mahal was in need of repair and had faced a lot of vandalism and neglect. It was restored and brought back to the famous glory it has today.

I did know that the white building in the middle is a tomb but I did not know that there is a red building on the west side that is a mosque and a similar red building on the east called a jawab which is meant as the female version of the mosque that offers symmetry to the compound.

I did not know that during WW2 and again during the India-Pakistan War that scaffolding was erected around the Taj Mahal to protect it from bomber planes with the intention of misleading the pilots. 

We saw men making new stones for the paths on the grounds using hammer and chisel by hand.

There is a military post on the northeast side of the compound right by the river to protect it from any trouble coming from the water.

You cannot take pictures inside the tomb and are not supposed to take video inside the compound at all.

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We spent a few hours walking around the whole area, taking time to sit and breath it all in. There is a small free museum that was very nice and displayed art and historical artifacts. When we left we were not at all let down. The Taj Mahal had completely lived up to the amazing reputation it holds.

We had our bags packed and made it back in time to check out of the hotel around noon. Yohann’s hotel let us leave our bags in their lobby and we spent the next few hours talking with his hotel owner. The man was lovely and told us about his life in Agra and his wedding. My favorite part of his wedding tales was that they had a tub filled with some strange material (I can’t remember exactly), but you could not see through it, it was more sludge or gel like than water. There were things placed inside of the tub and there were three things in particular that you wanted to find. The husband and wife would compete at the same time to see who could find the items first. One was a coin. Who ever found it was said to have control over the family’s money for the rest of the marriage. The other was a ring and I think it meant that when ever there was an argument that they could not settle, who ever found that ring on their wedding day always won, for the rest of their marriage. I cannot remember the third item, just that there was one more. I thought this was such a fun idea.

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Delta Gamma, DG, their the best sorority- India represent

Delta Gamma, DG, their the best sorority- India represent

There was much more in Agra that we could of seen. There is the Agra Fort, which was another huge complex that actually held Shan Jahan (ordered the building of the Taj Mahal) when his son put him under house arrest at the end of his life.

We decided to take our time and walk to the bus station. It would take an hour and a half but we got to walk next to the fort. We had not eaten yet today but had bought another water bottle and had been drinking at least to stay hydrated. Yohann seemed to not want to eat either, maybe because he did not want to be rude eating in front of us, or he was also on an extreme budget because he was helping us out, or maybe he too was not that hungry because of how busy we were staying. We were also hesitant and scared to eat street food at first, being told how many people get sick in India, we did not want to be sick if we were not sure we would have a place to sleep. Yohann bought a bag of chips and shared some with us as we were preparing to depart. Before we left a parade of protesting Lawyers marched down the street our hotel was on. We asked the owner what was happening and he explained that the main court for the region was not in Agra and that lawyers had to travel over an hour away whenever they needed to have a case. The lawyers wanted a new court to be built in Agra because it was a much larger city now and they thought it made more sense.

We left with our bags a few minutes after the parade passed and Yohann walked with us to the station. This was hot and especially a hassle because every tuk-tuk driver stopped to try to get us to let him drive us but could not understand that even if we had money, that we were walking because we wanted to see the city and had time to kill before our bus left. Yohann’s train was not until two hours later but we would arrive only an hour before Yohann because busses are generally slower in India. It would take us 4-5 hours and we would arrive between 8 and 9. Yohann was supposed to arrive in Jaipur just after 9 pm. We would all meet at the train station, call our Couchsurfing host to meet up and explore another city together. That was the plan anyways.

Michael…

Computer Down, Computer Down

Yes we have been much much slower with posts than usual. The trusty computer that made it all around the world (yes it has had multiple problems in many areas such as the cord breaking and needing replaced in Bangkok, the memory often becoming full and needing to buy zip drives to help or the latest issue of the screen not working since Laos, but it made it!). It is now officially down. In fact it has been for about a month and we have been hoping we could repair it but that does not seem to be the case. So posts will have to be postponed. We are not sure when we will be able to replace the computer but I can tell you we very much plan to do it as soon as we can get some extra money together. So movies, pictures and posts will not be able to be updated until we can figure out this situation.

But we do have some amazing footage, stories and photographs that we are excited to share! It just may take a while.

Thank you everyone for the understanding!

Michael and Veronica

Be Prepared when you get to India

We were not prepared.

I would like to post a disclaimer about India so that people do not get the wrong idea. We spent close to six weeks there and it was wild. More drastically different than the United States than anywhere else we went. We had very extreme times, both positive and negative. We found that fellow travelers often LOVED India or felt no need to ever go back, so please understand that we hope our experiences and feelings do not represent everyone and we hope the low points do not cause disrespect to the high.

That being said.

Veronica and I were tired when we arrived in Delhi. The flight was just over three-hours and we lost an hour and a half crossing time zones. And Yes, it is unusual for time zones to differ by 30 minutes. But India is different. The plane ride did have a nice upside, since we accidentally ordered a meal for the flight, not realizing it was optional. But our first taste of Indian food was a plane version and might I say, Spice Jet Airlines did not disappoint, seriously it was pretty good.

Well we land around 4 a.m. and exit the plane and are amazed. The airport is very nice. On par with what you would find in the States and Europe. Walking through until we arrive at customs we had thought India might be different from we expected. I hand the man my passport, he examines my visa, stamps my page and I continue on through to find the bags. Veronica had a little  more questioning, maybe she seems more suspicious but she too is allowed past. We smile and give each other a big hug now that we are both officially in another country.

We find our bags, I change my leftover U.A.E. dirham to Indian rupee and we sit down inside the airport. It is not quite 5 a.m. and we are trying to find the bus or train into the city. I had read online that it was possible and we end up asking some airport employees where we need to go. They were a group of seven men and one spoke some english, explaining to us that the metro train was currently out of service but told us the bus we wanted was easy to find just outside the terminal. We had not reserved a room because we were told by some friends that in India you need to look at a few rooms before you pick a place to stay, to make sure that they are clean and the right price you want to pay.

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Walking outside we stick out and immediately attract a group of men trying to offer us taxi rides into the city. We decline and ask them to point us towards the bus. One man continues talking to us. He explains that the bus location has been changed to the other terminal, a far walk away. We say thank you and start to walk towards where he points. He follows us, still trying to sell us the taxi ride. We say no half a dozen times and he leaves us. The sun has not come up, and it is chilly. Talking about it, we decide to walk back and ask the bus driver what number bus it was, and if it would take us to the central train station. It was the right bus. This was our first lesson, which we still did not learn fully for a few days.

Always get multiple references, the people who offers help the fastest are often the least honest.

Of course this does not go for everyone, but it is often true. The bus driver helps us, is very kind and it cost less than a dollar a piece for the 50-minute ride into town. Veronica is the only women on the bus. This was our first introduction to the driving in India, which compared to the system in western countries, seems crazy, but somehow impressively works. A lot more motorbikes, a lot more three-wheel tuk tuk taxis and a lot more horn honking uncertainty. The traffic was still mild, since it was so early. The pre-dawn also allowed us to see the large amount of people sleeping in tarp made shelters on the side of the road. We arrive outside the busy train station and it is 6 a.m. and the sun, though tempting, has still not risen. However the station is very busy, people everywhere, including people sleeping on most open surfaces once you get inside. Most not homeless, rather they needed to catch a train and did not want to miss it, so they chose to sleep, kids and all, on the floor of the station to make sure this happened.

(Jump five weeks into the future, when we missed a train in the southern part of India and were told we should have shown up 12-hours early, like most locals do. I do not know if this is an actual rule of thumb, we did not use it, but this was coming from a man behind the ticket booth.)

Anyways, back to day one. We are overwhelmed. We are trying to get to the other side of the tracks but can find the method to cross. Outside the station is becoming very crowded and we are walking past piles of trash on the ground. Though it may be rude it is not that uncommon to see someone peeing against a wall in other cities, however that morning in Delhi was the first time I saw multiple people, well pooping, on the side of the street, as people walked past.

The Presidential Palace (Rashtrapati Bhawan)

The Presidential Palace (Rashtrapati Bhawan)

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I had written down four hotel names that were renting rooms in our price range and walking distance from the train station, but they were on the other side of the tracks. We ask many people, they all point us in different directions. All of which seem wrong. We ask a police officer/rail station guard. He speaks little english but the man he is with does. He explains to us why we are having trouble. There is an Indian religious holiday that is going on for the next five days. The district we are trying to get to is closed and the hotels are all full with locals anyways even if we did get there. The guard nods in agreement and they say they will show us where we can get help. A government travel agency that India created to help tourists who do not plan enough before coming into the country. We are taken to a tuk tuk and the man helping us tells the driver something in what I am assuming is Hindi. We pack our bags into the tuk tuk and drive off. The driver tells us about the Indian holiday taking place and in five minutes we pull over and walk into the government travel agency. We are greeted kindly, offered tea and sit down to talk about our options.

Side note- we are still waiting on a money transfer to go through and the only funds we are currently operating with are the roughly $55 US in Indian Ruppees that I had converted at the airport. The man behind the desk draws a wonderful picture of the north, telling us we should get out of the city and see the beautiful land above and that he could get us one a plane later that day. It would cost about $800 US for the flight and lodging for the two of us. I laugh.

We tell him that is out of our budget and he drafts up a new plan, with private cars, arranged hotels, animal safaris and visits to palaces with tour guides included. This is about $350 US a piece. I listen with hopes of finding out some form of knowledge we can use but know that we are not, even if we had to money, buying this all-inclusive trip. Veronica, who is tired of the common uncertainty of our typical travel plan is for a short time on this guys side, hoping to get a little pampering for once. An hour and a half go by and we he has dropped the price by about half and gotten rid of much of the glam. It is still too expensive. He reiterates that we are unable to buy bus and train tickets on our own, they are all sold out. We tell him thank you but we just want to go to the bus station to see for ourselves.

Surprisingly the driver who had dropped us off said he could take us to the bus station for no charge. He was sorry that we did find what we were looking for and wanted to help. He instead took us to another travel agency, who had the same exact shpeal. Offer tea, this time we declined, the same flight to the north option, then the glamorous tour with private cars yadda yadda yadda. We are there for 15 minutes and decide we are just leaving. The same tuk tuk driver offers to take us to another place.

“No thank you, we are going to walk.”

The India Gate which commemerates the Indian solidgers who died in WWI

The India Gate which commemorates the Indian soldiers who died in WWI

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We make it only a block and a half and see another backpacker. His name is Yohaan and he is from Belgium. He too arrived that morning is finding his first day in India challenging and explains that he took a taxi from the airport to his already paid for hotel. The hotel did not exist (or the taxi driver took him somewhere besides where the hotel was) and was then taken to the government travel agency. He was new to speaking English and had trouble understanding what the travel agent was telling him. We were only talking for a minute when another Indian man came up to us, said he heard us complaining and understood why.

The government travel agencies were not government run at all, just normal agencies that tried to get as much money out of foreigners as they could. Sure they would set up the trips for you, but it would cost you 6X the normal price. He said he did not want us to get the wrong idea of India on our first day and pointed to another travel agency across the street that gave much better prices. We tell him that we are only looking to get bus tickets and he assures us that this agency can do just that, Yohaan agrees to come along.

I am a little ashamed to say this, considering we are now great friends with Yohaan but for a split second I wondered if he was working with the travel agency. For I trusted him right way, assuming he was also a traveler in need and in fact more in need than ourselves (traveling alone and speaking less English). But that thought quickly passed.

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The Bahá'í Lotus Temple that we only saw from the outside but which is very beautiful

The Bahá’í Lotus Temple that we only saw from the outside but which is very beautiful

We walk into this smaller shop, we are again offered tea but politely decline and we sit down. We explain what we want, bus tickets to Agra for that very same day. The man asks us why we do not want to spend one day in Delhi and we tell him because of the religious festival.

“There is no religious festival right now, other travel agents always say that, foreigners can not argue because you do not know our holidays. I do not think I can get you a bus ticket for today, but almost for sure tomorrow. I know a few different places you can stay today depending on your budget”

The truth. We are upfront about our money issues. We believe that the money should come in today but do not know. Yohaan is in a different position. He only has 10 days in India. The man sets up the majority of his lodging and transit. Veronica and I only pay for that night and the bus ticket the following day. It comes out to about $50 US for the two of us, he takes $30 in Ruppees and we had a $10 US bill and tells us we can pay him the other $10 tomorrow before we leave. The whole thing also came with a driver for the day that would take us around Delhi for the day and drop us off at the bus tomorrow morning.

The tomb of Mahatma Gandhi. It has an eternal flame as well and is located in a very grassy beautiful park.

The tomb of Mahatma Gandhi. It has an eternal flame as well and is located in a very grassy beautiful park.

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We check into the hotel, it is nice for our standards and has a weak WiFi signal that we use to send home emails. The driver said he would be back in two hours and drive us where ever we wanted to go in Delhi. I ran up the street to a bank to see if the money was through yet. Nope.

I bought a big bottle or water and a few small bananas before going back to our hotel room to rest. Our driver was very nice and took us to many different places. Most of the pictures are from that afternoon of exploring and you can read about each place in their descriptions. We were taken to parks, monuments, Gandhi’s tomb, ancient buildings and government buildings. It was a great day and it is always really nice to explore a new city with another friend.

You can see Yohann reading the sign on the other side of the archway

You can see Yohann reading the sign on the other side of the archway

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We were actually so exhausted and knew we had no money that we truly were not hungry. Veronica passed on the bananas but I had three. Besides the late night meal on the plane, neither us ate anything else that day. We slept well and woke to the hotel’s free breakfast of toast with butter and jam alongside a nice glass of tea. It was early when we were leaving, the sun was still rising and none of us were fully rested. The driver helped us with our bags and drove us to a gas station where a bus was waiting.

“Did you not like my driving?”,the driver asked?

“No we did very much, thank you for telling us all about your city!”

“You are welcome, but why no tip?”

“We were told that the tour was part of the room and bus rate.”

“Yes but it is custom to give a tip as well if the service was good.”

Very well, we gave him a dollar each. That was a lot considering that took Veronica and I below $15 dollars to our name and we did not know when the money would come through. But the driver forgot to take us back to the agency to pay the last $10. I did not feel bad because I looked up the cost of the room and an average bus ticket and the agency had charged us 2X the price instead of 6X like the others. So they were still making money. We load our bags on the bus and get on. It is almost entirely full but we find three seats next to each other in the very last row. They are surprisingly very comfy and we open the window and wait to leave.

We are asked to switch seats. Being told by the driver who spoke very little English that we could not sit where we were. We were instead brought up to inside the drivers compartment. There was a bench that we could sit on and he asked one other man who was Indian to move as well. This actually made for a very fun ride because the front window was so large that the view was wonderful. It was however very unsafe, having no seat belts and only a plate of glass that would provide no protection if we got into an accident. But we did not get into an accident. We just relaxed, talking with our new friend Yohaan as we rode the five hours to Agra.

Michael…

Dubai- Land of Sand and Brunch!

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We were still high on the bliss of our time in Turkey and finding out that we had received our Indian visas when we touched down in Dubai.  Neither of us had ever been in any Middle Eastern countries before so we honestly had no idea what to expect, but we were so excited to find out.  We only had a long weekend to spend with Matt, Michael’s older brother’s friend from the States, but we were thankful to have a friend to spend time with. Matt was working in Dubai and was happy to put us up for a few nights.

We arrived at the airport when it was still dark out and after getting our bearings, we hopped on the very first metro of the day, sometime around 5 am.  We were intrigued to see that all of the signage was in English as well as Arabic, which we were thankful for as we do not speak any Arabic.  We were also happy to find that everything in Dubai is heavily air-conditioned, a welcome respite from the extreme heat outside.

As we rode the train further into town, the sun began to rise over the exceptionally modern city and we began to see the giant skyscrapers Dubai is famous for.  When we reached our stop, we walked through an indoor corridor full of escalators and shops for about twenty minutes before ever taking a step outside.  We wandered around for about 30 minutes before finally finding the gorgeous building Matt lived in, overlooking the water- if you are high enough, his building overlooks one of the famous man-made “Palm Islands.”  Obviously, Michael and I were beside ourselves.  We were so removed from this sort of luxury that the only way we really knew how to cope with it was to both take hour long showers and do massive loads of laundry.  We were so lacking in personal hygiene that we were embarrassed to sit on his furniture when we first arrived.

Our first day we just spent exploring.  We were right on the water and that weekend there happened to be a skydiving tournament, so we walked all around and among the competitors, watching ants fall from the sky until they became men with pillows erupting behind them.  I loved walking down the boardwalk seeing the incredibly glamourous Emiratti women covered in the black abaya from head to toe, and glimpsing their wrists and hands literally dripping in diamonds balancing statuesquely in their Louboutin heels.

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Matt was so kind to us and probably sensed how long it had been since we had had any sort of luxury in our lives and offered to take us to brunch.  Turns out brunch is the best thing is the whole world.  I wish I could do justice to brunch with my words, but I think only photographs can show the splendor and opulence of this amazing adventure.

Tables of treats, unending coconuts filled with rum and plate after plate after plate of nagiri..unreal experience!  Oh, and did I mention?  Just a measly $150 a head!

We were also right next to the famous Sailboat hotel.

That night we went to two fancy “dueling” parties where they hired bartenders to make delicious drinks and we had to judge which one was best.  I naturally became besties with the bartenders and had a smashing time at both.

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Our final day in Dubai we had to see what all the fuss was about at the famous malls and Burj Khalifa, otherwise known as the tallest building in the world.  Our empty wallets couldn’t even afford socks there, but we had a great time people watching and exploring the ice skating rinks, waterfalls, aquariums and myriad food courts. 

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 The next day we would fly into Delhi, which at the time we had no idea how much of an upsetting culture shock that would be.  But that is for another post!

Dubai is a city like no other, truly built out of dreams in the middle of the desert.  It’s a place with few locals where you see just as many white people as sikhs.  It’s all at once disconcerting, comfortable, freezing and sweaty.  I loved it and cannot wait to go back- but only when I’m a millionaire.

xo

V