So Agra wasn’t quite as nice as I made it out to be in my last blog post.
The Taj Mahal was absolutely stunning but the city was pretty unappealing as a tourist. The haggling was out of control versus other cities and it felt a bit unsafe in general.
But, it was worth the visit for this view:
I was unaware of the history behind the Taj Mahal until I visited it. Its construction was commissioned by Moghul emperor Shahjahan following the death of his wife. He wanted to build her something breathtaking. He became fairly obsessive about the building during its construction.
Apparently he had cut off the thumbs of his construction workers after they built it to make sure they couldn’t recreate the architecture elsewhere.
Within the Taj Mahal, there were two tombs cemented next to each other – those of Moghul emperor Shahjahan and his wife. Aside from the thumb amputations, it was a pretty romantic historical sight.
We returned to our hostel after the Taj Mahal and discovered that we had cockroaches in our room. “I love Agra,” I thought.
This discovery prompted us to evacuate the city earlier than planned. It was about 9:00pm and we decided to hop on a bus at 3:00am. (In retrospect, bad decision – I wouldn’t recommend anyone to loiter around a bus station in Agra at this hour of the morning.)
Just when we thought Agra couldn’t possibly treat us any better, our bus failed to show up. We waited 20 minutes beyond its scheduled arrival time – no luck.
Finally, we cut our losses and hired a driver to take us to Jaipur.
After an uneventful 4-hour drive, we arrived safely in Jaipur.
We were staying in a hostel called Zostel. It was super welcoming and clean.
Jaipur is known as “the pink city” for its pink-colored buildings. Spoiler alert: it ain’t very pink. I’d argue it should be called “the orange city” but I’ll be generous and give it “the salmon city”.
In any case, it was quite beautiful. We visited a palace that had a lovely garden attached. Check it out below.
We also visited a monkey temple and met two English guys who fed the monkeys peanuts. They had a lot of nerve. Take a look at the photo below.
We stayed one night in Jaipur and went to the train station the following day to catch our train to Pushkar at 4:00pm. We learned that our train was delayed by 4 hours. No biggie.
We killed time at a nearby café and returned to the station to find that our train had been delayed by yet another 4 hours. At this point it was scheduled to leave at about midnight.
Time for a drink, we decided.
We splurged and took an uber to a nearby fancy bar called Jaipour (clever branding). Our priority was safety so we didn’t mind spending a premium to lounge in a nice establishment for a few hours.
We got back to the station and it was looking good: our train hadn’t been further delayed. We eagerly boarded the train and settled in to our sleeper bunks. The wheels started gliding along the tracks. We were on our way. Nothing could stop us now…
And then we fell asleep and missed our stop.
At this point, our bad luck was just comical. We all laughed and shook our heads and got out at the next stop. Luckily, there was a train arriving in 10 minutes that could bring us back to the city that we had overshot. We booked it and arrived once and for all in Pushkar.
Pushkar turned out to be one of my favorite cities of the entire trip. It’s tied with Amritsar for my favorite city in India.
It was a relatively small town with few tourists and a calming ambiance. It felt rural. The city featured a beautiful lake in the center of town which was comprised of holy water.
We relaxed for our first night in town. We woke up the next day and took a cable car up a hill to visit a Hindu temple. Unfortunately, the temple was locked so we didn’t go inside it. We did, however, have the honor of getting hissed away by a pack of monkeys perched in front of the temple!
We were scheduled to leave our hostel at 5:00pm for an overnight camel trek into the desert. A friend of ours named Alex that we had met at the Madpacker’s Hostel in Delhi was also in Pushkar so we invited him along for the trek.
We had a few hours to spare before our camel trek departure. Avi and I visited a local music store selling traditional Indian instruments. I wanted to try playing a certain bowed 2-string instrument that I had seen many local buskers playing (I can’t remember the name of it).
I tried it out and the shop owner went on to show me a bunch of Indian drums. He demonstrated how to play each drum and explained the traditional rhythm patterns. I was pretty hopeless at the hand-drumming techniques but it was an amazing cultural experience.
I plan on returning to this music shop for a formal drum lesson when Avi and I return to Pushkar later in our journey (we decided that two days wasn’t enough!)
The four of us left our hostel at 5:00pm for the camel trek. Two tour guides brought us to the camel pick-up station and helped us onto our camels. The camels were elegantly decorated with vibrant-colored saddles and flowers on their heads.
One camel wore bracelets on his two front legs that jingled with every step. We nicknamed him Arnold Schwarzenegger after “Jingle All The Way”.
A team of four young men led us and the camels into the desert. This was not your average desert; due to the monsoon season, it was lush with greenery. And thorn trees. Damn, those hurt a lot when you brushed past them.
We rode through picturesque landscapes for 2.5 hours and finally arrived at our campsite. Take a look at the site below.
There were about 8 local gentlemen waiting for us at the camp grounds. These men were friends of our tour guides. They went out to fetch us firewood and proceeded to make a couple of bonfires.
Within moments, the whole entourage of men started preparing pots, pans, spices and vegetables for cooking. They worked tirelessly for what felt like about two hours to prepare our food. I caught peripheral glimpses of curry powder being poured onto pieces of paper and funneled into vats of all different sizes.
Finally, the men plated our meals and presented each of us with a hefty serving of dal, mixed vegetable curry, rice and bread. It was ridiculously good. We savored every bite of our meals.
I would have been impressed if this meal had been cooked in a professional restaurant, let alone in the middle of the desert!
We placed a large blanket on the desert sand and fell asleep under the stars. It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The memory will be etched in my mind forever!
Fortunately, I don’t need to rely on memory because we captured a flattering shot of the sleeping arrangement:
We rode back to town the following morning and checked out of our hostel. We went to the train station as we were departing for Jodhpur and luckily our train was right on time.
I’m currently writing this blog post on the train. We should be in Jodhpur in about an hour or so. Jodhpur is dubbed “the blue city”… let’s hope it indeed turns out to be blue.
Life is good overall. I’m excited to get back to Canada soon. This trip has put many things into perspective for me. But that’s a subject for a separate blog post.
Thanks for checking in. Have a great weekend!