Making traveling friends in India
Previously, I wrote about touters and haggling over rickshaw prices in Agra, India. It wasn’t always such a hassle to get around and I wasn’t always alone. I made friends with some fellow travelers. Flashback to visiting the Taj Mahal, I had just walked away from a man who was being a big sleazy towards me, when I ran into an Italian man who asked me to take his photograph. He was with his girlfriend from California, they’d been in India for a year and were leaving in two weeks. Before this they had been in Chennai doing an internship at a publishing company. After exchanging a few words, we parted ways and I made myself to the mausoleum.
Once I was at the actual mausoleum, I took a short guided tour of the inside of the building. One of the most surprising things to me was how small the inside was compared to the grandeur of the outside. No photographs are allowed, but there are a lot of people looking around and their mummers echo up into the tall ceiling. The room centers around the tomb of Mumtaz Mahal, the third wife of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan. Mahal passed away in 1631 while giving birth to her and Jahan’s 14th child. The following year the grieving emperor began construction on the site. The mausoleum was completed 16 years later. An arched doorway leads you into the white marble structure. Gemstones decorate the inside, adding to the intricate marble designs, which glisten as you move around the tomb. The center of the symmetrical room is Mumtaz Mahal’s tomb, protected by an ornately carved marble screen. Shah Jahan was buried with his wife in a plain crypt below the inner chamber.
I ran into someone I had seen at the guest house the day before who was on the same tour as me, afterwards we chatted a bit. He was from Israel, 25 years old, and studying to be a physical therapist. He kept calling me “funny girl” because I tend to crack a lot of little jokes and poke fun at myself when meeting new people. He then introduced me to a couple from Europe, a woman from Serbia named Viasta and a man from France named Guy (pronounced Ghee). I walked around the Taj with the three of them until they headed off to do other sightseeing.
I went and sat on a bench in the shade. Another traveler came and sat next to me. He was from Scotland and we chatted for about an hour. He had just been in Varanasi and was off to Delhi that night. He went to school to be a psychologist but couldn’t find work so he retrained as an IT Tech. He hated his job so was traveling the world for a bit.
After spending over half the day exploring I went for lunch. I ate outside at Sheela’s Hotel, which lies right next door to the Eastern Gate of the Taj Mahal. I ordered spaghetti and it was delicious. The hotel has a gorgeous outdoor patio shaded by luscious greenery. I sat there and wrote about the day until the heat got to be too much and I headed back to my hotel.
As I walked into the courtyard of the Tourist House, I saw Viasta and Pokas. It was a pleasant surprise because I didn’t know they were staying there as well. Viasta was a music professor and Pokas was a painter. She had fair skin. Her hair was long, wavy and jet black. Pokas wore his long dirty blond hair in a ponytail and had a scruffy beard that he scratched when there was a break in conversation. I found out that they were headed to Fatehpur Sikri the next day, so I asked to go with them. That night I prepared my things for a day trip and went to bed early so we could leave at 6:30 the next morning.
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Fourteen children. No wonder the poor woman died. She needed a rest!