Fri, Feb 27

The breakfast was excellent at the hotel this morning. There was even something that resembled brown bread! I managed to snag a bun-like thing for lunch as well! Gotta love those buffet breakfasts!
We started off the day by heading to Agra Fort. It looked a lot like the Red fort in Delhi – the red sandstone is pretty common around here! Our guide was the same as yesterday, and I am definitely not a fan of him. He was pretty knowledgeable and spoke English quite fluently, however, only Scott and Dad actually existed. He talked right through us girls, which really frustrated us. It really made me appreciate home, where females exist and actually are capable of thinking and making monetary decisions. Mom and I were joking around as we went through the fort about things we could get away with before he would notice us! I decided I could probably jump over of one of the balconies and he wouldn’t even bat an eyelash.
In any case…The fort was pretty spectacular. It, again, was constructed by Emperor Akbar in 1565 as a military fort. He really seemed to get around and not stay in one place too long! His grandson, Shah Jahan (the man who built the Taj Mahal), later turned it into a palace by adding on marble rooms. Shah Jahan was imprisoned in his own palace by his youngest son (the son killed his older two brothers in order to inherit his father’s wealth) for the last eight years of his life.
The intricate carvings in the red sandstone and the inlay work in the marble are absolutely fascinating. It completely baffles me to think that it was all done by hand (and still is here) and it was done to such scale. There was a table in one of the rooms that is the largest piece of black onyx in the world. During some battle, a cannon ball few up and hit the table. The cannonball ricocheted and went through a wall. The reverberations caused the overhanging canopy to fall and break the piece of onyx in two pieces. It is sill beautiful!
We were done with the guide (thankfully) after the fort and with our handy bus driver, Rajish, we headed over to a shopping mall and “bazzar” for groceries! It was slightly stressful because six people shopping never seems to work. I found a nice scarf for 200 Rs (on sale) and mom bought two Punjabi suits. We bought some groceries and raced around there – Allison managed to find peanut butter when I didn’t, but I think she is going to sell it to me because she likes the Indian food more than I do!!!
I went over to mom and dad’s hotel for the remainder of the day. They were staying in the most magnificent hotel that I have ever seen. All of the staff greeted us with “Namaste” and put their hands together every single time we saw them. There were candies at the front door and rose water on the desks. The floors and walls were marble and there were incense burning in the hallways. There was the most amazing and enormous crystal chandelier hanging in the sitting area in the lobby. There was an astrologer, 2 pools, a relaxation room, a look-out for the Taj Mahal, at least 4 restaurants and acres of gardens and flowers. It was spectacular.
We hung out by the pool for most of the afternoon. It was the perfect temperature and there was no one around. I saw a mongoose! I’d never seen one before, but mom and dad had seen them this morning and the staff told them what they were! They look like a mixture between a ferret and a weasel.
We walked down the road for an excellent picture opportunity and India came to us! I think if we stood there for one hour we could have captured the essence of India! There were children playing on the corrugated aluminum rooftops, clothes drying on lines between houses, open sewage running down the sides of the road, men squatting on top of narrow railings, women carrying bundles of sticks and clothes on their heads…And, at the end of the road stood the Taj Mahal.
We found an internet cafe, so dad and I went to do that for half an hour. In the mean time, mom tried on the two Punjabi suits we bought earlier today only to discover that they were both too small! By the time dad and I got back, mom was quite stressed about it all! It just proves that you can’t shop with six people because mom and I never buy anything that we don’t try on!! Must have been a random blond moment! Anyway, we called up Rajish and he drove us back to the mall, where we tried, in vain, to return the two suits! It didn’t work at all, and both mom and I were quite frustrated about the entire thing.
Back at the hotel, we managed to calm down enough to have a very nice (but very spicy) dinner at this fancy restaurant. It was such good quality, that I actually liked the dal for the first time! Always a bonus when you are paying 700Rs + for the meal!
Mom came up with a brilliant idea to get rid of her outfits! We are in the land of bargaining and negotiating…we should be able to work a deal with someone, somewhere to trade us these very nice (pricier) outfits for scarves, fabric, or an outfit that fits! We decided to start with the scarf store in the hotel. We’d found some nice silk scarves earlier and he had said that he was willing to negotiate, so I decided to take him up on that. I found 4 scarves that I wanted (originally 300 Rs each) and told him my situation. He was very sympathetic, but said that he couldn’t re-sell my outfits because it wasn’t the style that he normally carried! Then, him and the other 3 salesmen proceeded to give us instructions on how we should have gone about returning the outfits! They got very involved in the entire thing and were disgraced that we weren’t able to return them – we should have threatened to call the police and threw our items on the floor and demanded our money – it was almost worth having the sizes too small just to have experienced the outrage of these salesmen! Because of “my” losses, he was more lenient in reducing the prices and I managed to get my 4 scarves for 850 Rs instead of paying the 1200! I was quite happy (thanks to mom’s loss…)!
Rajish came back to pick me up from mom and dad’s hotel and drive me back to mine. We weren’t too far away, but I kind of felt bad that he had to drive me. I guess, he assumes that we will add it onto his tip at the end, which I am sure we will do – and it is better than taking a rickshaw at night, anyway!!

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