Friday, I had to get up at 6:00 so I could get ready in time to eat breakfast and check out before we had to leave for the airport. We checked out and left before 7:00.
Hyderabad has a pretty new airport, so the roads to it are under construction, but the airport looks pretty nice. We ended up getting there in plenty of time so we didn't have to rush through like we did the last time. There are always a ton of guys trying to grab your bags and carry them for you to earn a tip. I usually try to avoid them.
One thing that was interesting is that they always have a separate line for the women and the men for security. The women's line has a screen so they have more privacy. I assume this is for the Muslim women that have to keep covered in public. The security people pretty much pat you down every time. I'm a little tired of being touched so much by people I don't know.
We got our bags out to the van and tipped the guys who brought the bags. The driver started the long drive down to Agra. It was an interesting trip, but definitely the cause of lots of anxiety. Tons of close calls. The driver spent a lot of time talking on his cell phone with one hand, while honking with the other and weaving around oncoming tour buses. Here are some shots from the drive, representing a small portion of the different types of vehicles we encountered:
Tons of bicycle rickshaws
Sometimes they fit as many as 15 people in the 4-person auto-taxi.
There were a few camels on the road in Agra
Motorcycles are the most common vehicles on the road. I blogged before about how the guys usually drive and the girls sit on the back. Doesn't seem very comfortable.
Whole families on bicycles too. I bet this guy has a hard time on hills.
Anyway, after 5 brutal hours, with one quick rest stop, we arrived in Agra. We glimpsed a few monkeys running around on the roof of the place we stopped for a bathroom break. Gail took a picture of a monkey that a guy had on a leash while we were stopped for a toll, and the guy made her pay money for taking the picture. People starting gathering around the car and banging on the windows trying to sell stuff. Luckily we took off pretty soon after that.
Right before we got to our hotel, the driver stopped by the side of the road and picked up our guide. We didn't know we were getting guide, but figured it would be good. We checked in to the hotel and then met the guide and driver downstairs.
The first place we went was the Red Fort of Agra, which is all made out of marble and very beautiful. We spent a couple hours there, and took tons of pictures.
The fort was red marble on the outside, but most of the inside was made out of white marble. Tons of really cool engraving and carving on the walls and ceilings. There were also lots of monkeys and parrots inside and climbing all around.
After the fort, the guide took us to a marble place where they showed us how they do the inlay work. I'm sure the guide gets kickbacks from these guys, because they then took us into a shop room to show us stuff for sale. I was a little worried when they shut the door and drew the curtains, but it was just so they could show us how the marble is translucent. The marble was beautiful, and the inlay work is amazing, but no way I was going fork out that much dough for something so impractical.
The guide wanted to take us to some more shops, but we were having none of it and asked to be taken back to the hotel. He had the driver drop us back at the hotel and said he would meet us at 6:15 the next day to go to the sunrise at the Taj Mahal. When we got in the hotel, there was another guy in the lobby that said he was our real guide and had been waiting for us for 3 hours. He showed a UHG business card and had us call our contact there. It was quite an uncomfortable situation. He said he would meet us at 5:45 and take us through the Taj. He looked legit, so we decided to meet him the next day. We finally went to sleep late at around 11:00.