>My main problem with our tour guide, aka Fearless Leader, is that he believes that we do not need to know anything about a day's agenda until the very last minute. He hoards information about what we will be doing and when like he's some Congressional aide working on the Gonzales Justice Department scandal. This is a problem because we got itineraries before our trip, and thus I plan what I will be wearing based on the activities listed. If Fearless Leader changes them, it is no problem as long as I know in advance.
For example, today's pre-sent itinerary says
:0800 hours: Depart for Agra
1300 hours: Arrive Agra and check into hotel. Lunch on your own.
1430 hours: Visit the Taj Mahal
Also visit Agra Fort.
Evening at leisure.
Thus I wore a nice white linen skirt since I was told to dress a bit up for the Taj Mahal visit and I didn't want to wear jeans on the bus and then change in a few hours. I got some little Toblerone smudges on my skirt while I was snacking, which was annoying. It might not had been so annoying had Fearless Leader told us there had been a change in plans and I would have worn jeans.
Here is what we actually did:
0800 hours: Depart for Agra
1400 hours: Arrive Agra and check into hotel. Lunch on your own.
1530 hours: Visit Itmad-us-daula, aka the Baby Taj, which was sort of a precursor to the Taj.
Evening enjoy a tonga (a traditional horse-pulled carriage) ride. Pandemonium will ensue. (OK, I added this part myself.)
Fortunately, when we arrived at the hotel I had time to change into jeans because let me assure you that the tonga ride was the wrong activity for a white linen skirt.
The tonga left from our hotel and took a leisurely route down an extremely busy street. Many cars, trucks, scooters, and bicycles honked at us with displeasure. We eventually turned off the main road and went through some back streets of the old part of Agra. This was heinously depressing, as we saw huge families smooshed together in subpar housing, getting water from pumps in the street. I suppose that they are better off than the people living in the filthy tent and shanty towns, but everyone in my tonga felt awkward about invading their space, as well as extremely lucky for what we take for granted.
Our horse, on the other hand, responded by getting extremely testy whenever one of the vehicles pulled to close when they tried to pass. (I can't say I blame her.) It was not until nearly the end of the ride that she finally blew up. A motorcyclist got a bit too far into her personal space, so she decided to run him off the road. When she cornered him against a wall, she attempted to bite him. This was rather scary for us as passengers, although I can totally relate to her feelings. The driver regained some measure of control within a few minutes, and no one was hurt.
At the end of the ride, some of the people in our group showed how utterly unaffected by what we saw.
"Hey guys," he said to the other three people in his tonga as they clambered out, "who wants to take a picture with Paco here?" Paco was his obnoxious term for the driver. Then again, this is the guy who addresses the group over the bus PA system by yelling, "Hey all you knuckleheads!" and then laughing hysterically. He is obviously a moron.
My pal Piggy suggested that the first thing that should be done to address India's poverty problem was to make sure that all dogs had their shots. He also wondered if the Humane Society knew about the tongas.
Fearless Leader then took us to a candy shop to buy a special pumpkin candy (whose name I am forgetting, and I am too tired to look for it – sorry). Since he was obviously getting a huge commission, I decided to eat one of the offered samples and then purchase my candy from the vendor next door. I'll be damned if that arrogant, smug prick is going to continue to make money off of me.
We had an amazing dinner at a local restaurant that was listed in the guidebook I brought with me. It cost me 300 rupees (including tip, which is about $6.50) for egg & veggie biryani, nan, a sweet lassi, and mango ice cream.
Backing up a step, the drive over to Agra from Delhi was fascinating. We stopped part way there at a hotel (although not a convenient stop, clearly Fearless Leader selected it for his commission, as he urged us to shop as much as we wanted in the gift shop) for the bathroom. I bought Rebecca the lovely handmade journal I promised.
Overall, it was another excellent day of new and interesting things. The baby Taj has me very much looking forward to the real thing. We are leaving the hotel early tomorrow morning (5:45 am!) so that we can get there for sunrise. I am very excited. Then after breakfast, we really are going to the fort. In the evening, a local artist has been invited to meet with the ladies on the trip to do henna designs. It should be another fun, chockfull of activity day.