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Fear and Loathing in Kanpur
By Mikey
Monday, 29th November 2004 11:09

Our taxi driver was exactly the same young chap as yesterday and like yesterday he played the same music. I am now more familiar with the works of the Backstreet Boys than I'd care to be but it could have been worse. Not much though.

Despite not having any heating the car wasn't cold. It was 8am when we were picked up and the sun did a pretty good job of warming things up. By the time we got down to the flat bits between the mountains and NJP we were quite warm. The music had changed to some odd, instrumental, Indian stuff by this point and we were just enjoying the scenery. Our driver had taken a slightly different route down than we were expecting but we weren't worried by that. If anything the route he took was nicer. However, when he turned into an airport we got a little worried. We shared bemused glances as the security guards waved us through and we hoped that this was just a short cut. It wasn't though and we then had to break the news to our driver that we needed the railway station at NJP and not this airport. He took it well and blamed our Tibetan friend at the hotel for giving him the wrong destination. I felt a bit sorry for him though as he had to drive through heavy traffic to get us to the station. Fortunately we'd left ourselves lots and lots of time.

Our train, the Rajdhani Express, arrived exactly on time. It is supposed to be one of the best trains running on the Indian rail network. The accommodation was the same as the other trains that we've had but we were given free drinking water and food at regular intervals. That sort of made our packed lunch a bit redundant but it was nice to be able to pick and choose. I spent most of the evening losing at solitaire while Claire tried to sleep. The train rattled on reaching each station at exactly the time stated in the train guide that we had. If only British trains could work even half as efficiently as that...

I didn't sleep much at all that night though, the train was just too bumpy and people kept brushing past my berth and having conversations at stupid times in the morning. At 4.30 we woke up and got ready to leave the train at Kanpur. If we'd thought about it beforehand, the best way to get to Agra, our final destination for the day, would have been to stay on until Delhi and go from Delhi to Agra. But instead we had to get off at Kanpur and try to get to Agra from there. For some reason the man who had booked our tickets had suggested taking a train from Kanpur to Tundla, just outside Agra, instead of the one we had picked. I think he didn't want us to travel second class or something. It was kind of him to look after us like that but the train he had picked instead didn't leave until midnight! We didn't really want to stay in Kanpur for the day as our guidebook didn't even mention it so we tried to find a different train that we could take.

One nice railway worker suggested a train that was running late that we could get on and he sent me to buy tickets for it. The people in the ticket office were much less helpful though and it took me several attempts to get tickets and they weren't in the slightest bit bothered about our rail passes. In the end I paid 142 rupees for the ticket and we went to the platform. Unfortunately the ticket was an unconfirmed one and we had to find out from a man on the platform where we should sit. He told us the train was full and we went back to the waiting room feeling tired and grumpy. Claire suggested getting a taxi to Agra (over 250 km according to our train ticket) and went to try and find out some prices. She came back with offers of 2000 rupees to get us to Agra and we decided that it was worth that to avoid waiting in Kanpur all day and arriving in Agra at 3 am the following morning.

By the time we got out there with our bags though the prices seemed to have changed to 3000 rupees. A nice man nearby though negotiated it down to 2300 for us and, after a bump start for the taxi we ended up in, we were off. The taxi was one of those Ambassador cars that we've seen a lot of in India. They're made in the style of older 1950s cars but they're only a few years old in fact. Our one might have been up to 20 years old judging by the condition it was in. So we just sat back and let our driver take us to Agra. It was at times a bit of a scary ride with a few dubious overtaking maneuvers but on the whole it was ok. It did take a while though. We left Kanpur at 6.30 and didn't get to Agra until 2.30. The only time we stopped during the whole journey was right at the end. Our driver spent 20 minutes cleaning the thick layer of dust from the car while we had a drink and watched an old man wash himself by the road. It's not that we like to watch old men cleaning themselves, we just didn't have anywhere else to look! It did remind me how dirty I was feeling though, it had been over 24 hours since my last shower and we were as dusty as the car.

Our driver dumped us at a random hotel because he didn't want to take us anywhere specific and, as he pointed out, he'd done his part by getting us to Agra (he didn't get a tip). We dashed away from the hotel before they tried to check us in (actually it was as they tried to check us in) and found a rickshaw. The young rickshaw wallah's eyes bulged a bit when we told him where we wanted to go but to his credit he then just tried to arrange our bags on the back of his tiny rickshaw and we climbed on top. Fortunately Agra is quite flat otherwise he would have struggled much more than he did. As it was he had to push at one point when there was a very slight gradient. It was on this entertaining and squished ride that we caught our first glimpse of the Taj Mahal in the murky distance. Even through the smog it looked amazing.

Our rickshaw wallah was just a bit sweaty when he pulled up at the west gate of the Taj complex. He asked for "what ever you wish" as payment and although that annoys me because they usually have a price in mind anyway, I was more than happy to give him a very good price for his work. He seemed happy anyway. It was at this point that agoraphobics of the world would feel calm as hordes of other rickshaw wallahs, guides and people trying to sell postcards descended on us. We walked off and tried to leave them behind but that's easier said than done with the heavy bags we were carrying. We had to ignore all sorts of offers for the next three or four hundred metres until we reached our hotel. The man there was helpful seeing as we were over twelve hours early and hence were staying an extra night.

After settling in we walked 500m or so up to the sister hotel of our one as it apparently had a good view of the Taj Mahal. It wasn't that good really but we stayed and had some supper there. While we were waiting to for it to arrive we chatted to some Canadians, who were just leaving for Pushkar, about what they had seen and enjoyed. As it turns out, I might have seen them earlier in the day on our way from Kanpur to Agra as they visited a glass blowing factory that I noticed through the dusty windows of our taxi.

On our way back to our hotel the manager of the sister hotel offered to organise a taxi to take us to a couple of sights that we were interested in the following morning. We thought it sounded like a good deal so we decided to come back for breakfast. Back in our hotel room, I put up our mosquito nets for only the second time this trip as there were quite a few of the annoying little insects in our room. Too many to squash really. Instead we just thwarted them, it's so satisfying!

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