The Road to Agra

Travel books often speak of the “road” to this or that destination as if the road itself is part of the journey. Most of my travel has been in the U.S. where there’s really not much difference, aside from where you end up, between I-5, I-15 or the many other highways one can take. What you experience along the way is largely the same erector set-experience no matter the road. You’ll find a motel, gas station, fastfood joint and the rest that’s become U.S. freeway standard.
On Saturday 12/3 we took the road to Agra and experience highway travel Indian style. Let me tell you it is a vastly different experience. You share the road with horse and ox carts, camel caravans, auto rickshaws, pedestrians, motorcycles, trucks and more. And of course cattle always have the right of way and make frequent appearances on the road. And in typical fashion, if the vehicle has a horn you can be certain you’ll hear it almost endlessly.
Scenery along the way included people gathering cow dung for fuel, slums where people live in little more than dirt, individuals toileting themselves in full view, and fields where crops such as mustard and potatoes are grown.
One minute you can be moving at 55 MPH and the next in a virtual stall as you wait for a cow to leave the road. The amount of dust is really unbelieveable. By the end of a four hour trip, you are coated in a thin layer of it.
So too the quality of roads varies greatly. The main highway is paved and as smooth as anything you’d find in the U.S. But we also ended up driving on roads that were barely gravel through the middle of small Indian villages.
Agra is home to the Taj Mahul and this was the main reason we went to the city. Some experiences are really visual in nature. Words simply can not describe them and I think the Taj is one such experience. Aside from being able to say I’ve been there, I personally didn’t find the Taj Mahul interesting in the least. True there were many carvings in the stone and the Amervilas hotel where we stayed was first class by any standard.
Yet Aimee found the Taj experience more than worth the hastle of getting there. She used words like ethereal, magestic and breath taking.
I think had there not been thousands of tourists streaming up and down the steps to the monument I would have gained more of a sense of the Taj. As it was, my experience was more like being in a current of people just going with the flow.
As an interesting side note, our trip also included our first experience with what I’d term low level corruption here in India. We were heading back to Delhi when our driver Sudama pulled over and got out of the car without an explanation. Shortly after he got back in moved the car off the main road and got out and started having heated words with a police official.
The net result according to Sudama was that the police official demanded 100 Rupees (about $2.25) or else he, Sudama, would have been ticketed for a manufactured traffic violation that would have cost about 700 rupees. Sudama indicated this sort of thing was a regular happening in his travels.
India is a very different place from the U.S.–some parts better, some worse but all colorful and interesting.