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WELCOME TO NEW DELHI?

Impressively organised scam - that was the first thing to greet us after landing in New Delhi. Although we read about it, it does not prepare you for the level and intensity of it. They everywhere, they appear out of nowhere. Like ninjas - just the wrong type.

They full of shit and have no scrupulous. Pests that tarnish the first impression of the country. And although you quickly learn how to fend them off - just like flies, they constantly around and annoying...

It goes well beyond trying to sell you some cheap trinkets. Full scale scam: fake officials, fake official Taxis, fake official Tourist Information Centres. Yhe Police officers seem to be blind. Oh no - they not blind. Watch them for a while and there is a good chance you will see why they blind...


AGRA - THE CITY OF CONTRASTS?


Most visitors make Taj Mahal  a must stop on their itinerary when visiting India.

The  marble wonder, changing its look as the light changes. A monument of love and devotion, of power and of wealth. Symmetry, manicured gardens, fragile marble screens carved with precision. As the light changes, so does the look and feel of the place.

In the early hours you might be lucky and experience relative peace without selfie-crazy crowds. But it does not take long for bus-loads of visitors to completely fill the place.


Most visitors, it seems, do not linger around Agra. Agra, or rather Taj, is a half-day stop on their itinerary. Drive down, see the marvel and two hours later they off to another destination, only experiencing the wide, relatively quiet (plenty of police checkpoints and no beeping zone), clean road leading to the Taj and the Taj itself.

Some might stop at the Mehtab Bagh - a beautiful gardens on the other side of the river, with magnificent views of the Taj. Compared with Taj, the place is an oasis with few people.

And you can catch some more unusual views of the grand monument which, as it seems, also needs some sweeping when the spring arrives :-)



Completely different in style, but less crowded and equally impressive is the Akbar's Tomb in Sikandara. After an exhilarating ride in a TukTuk we found ourselves in a peaceful, expansive gardens of the mausoleum. The monument is magnificent: symmetry and exquisite detail of the buildings that are not overrun with visitors.

Our TukTuk driver mentioned that most visitors miss the treat - they do the Taj, maybe the Fort and head to the next destination.

Nothing wrong with that - simply enjoy yourself!


As for the Agra Fort it did not disappoint either - despite the TukTuk driver claiming it's a waste of money and time (indicating we will be better off spending the money in what seemed to be a fake marble manufacturer that he insisted on showing us).

The Fort is quite a different beast in comparison to the Taj or the Akbar's Tomb. It feels more military, more solid - but  at the same time still has a note of intrinsic beauty and lightness. Quite some contrast when you think that there is a group of soldiers stationed in the building...


Just round the corner from the Taj, the gardens or the Fort a very different world exists. Not far from the fragile marble screens and carvings, much more vibrant scenes unfold. 

Streets filled with local vendors, families, kids frolicking around. At first, it might feel unsafe but, once your senses adjust, you note that people smile at you and act friendly. They are curious but at the same time busy with their daily grind. No hustlers swarming around here, instead people pose for a photo when they see you. They don’t ask you for money because you took a photo, although they seem a little puzzled by your presence.

Those street are filled with photo opportunities: colourful dresses, vendors making living, elderly lounging in the sun. The slightly hazy light makes colour come to life.


But there is a downside to this. A big one. It is taxing. Those are extremely photogenic scenes, which at the same time are very hard to take photos of. The unease grows as you walk along the narrow streets filled with poverty: people are living in tiny shacks with no water or electricity. They prepare their food or make their living side by side to the sewage. They are friendly. They offer you a smile for nothing (unlike the scammers). No underage girls with babies asking for money. It’s hard to reconcile in the head the majesty of the Taj, just a few meters away, with the conditions of people living here. The excitement of taking photos is slowly overtaken by the feelings of sadness and desperation: why nobody is doing anything to make things better here?


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And then there is the food of course. Can you safely enjoy street food in India? With so many vendors and so many dishes emanating incredible aromas it is hard to resist . And at the same time, after hearing or reading all the Delhi-belly stories, so hard to feel confident about it.

We did not want only to eat in posh hotels of tourist places. And so we quickly developed some epicurean heuristics: if the pace is busy with locals, if the whole process can be see, if the food is fried and there is no fresh produce or water - we should be good.

The first street-stall samosa in Agra was just perfect proof of the rule: the place always had a queue, the menu changed as the day progressed. On the second visit, the owner already recognised us. Good sign, which we added to our rulebook.
It was like letting a Genie out of the bottle: an endless discovery of paratha, chai and piri followed...


When our new friends from Mumbai heard that we stayed in Agra for 4 days, with a rather surprised expression, they asked us what did we think of the city. Before I managed to find a description that would be both true and not too offensive, he jumped in with a descriptor: "dirty and noisy?"

Yeap. that captured it well.Agra, beyond the few well-known tourist spots is desperately dirty and noisy. Potholes, dust and constant beeping. Just a few hundred meters from some of the most celebrated monuments, people living in desperate conditions. 

It certainly was worth to see both sides of the city.

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