The people at Babylon call me mom (or big momma, when they’re not in a hurry):
First weekend in India. The plans? Agra roadtrip.
I set my alarm at 4:45 am and the minute I’m up, I wake up Ali. He wakes up the guys. I wake up the girls. Then I go around Babylon for round 2, because, let’s face it, no one can wake up this early from the first time.
We squeeze ourselves into an Uber and head towards Shasha homes. This is where the rest of our team are staying. They call us the shower heads because our showers have heads and theirs don’t.
Agra isn’t in Rajahstan. It’s in the West of Uttar Pradesh, near the border separating that state from Rajahstan. Short version: a six-hour bus ride to reach Agra, half a day to be spent on the road in total.
Everyone is falling asleep, snuggling into weird, “exotic” (Talal, this one’s for you) sleeping positions to fit on their seats. A moment of silence for Sherif and Ali, the tallest guys in our group, whose legs turned numb. “Legs? What are legs?”
I’m struggling to stay awake. I have my kindle to keep busy – I just downloaded a book about Hinduism, so I learn more about the culture that got hold of my curiosity. As interesting as the chapter I was reading was, I do nevertheless fall asleep. We sleep most of the way, only waking up when the ride gets too bumpy.
We reach Agra. Even better, we reach Taj Mahal.
The tickets for foreigners are at 750 rupees. They’re almost 200 rupees cheaper for locals. There are two queues for foreigners (women and men), two others for locals (same).
As we’re going inside, Rahma and Amira jumped into my arms.
Then I see them. They look like the ones at the temple except they’re not so nice.
“They took a lady’s bag”
They were just above our heads, running back on forth on the edge of the building, screaming. I took off my hat (I didn’t want the monkeys to get their monkey-hands on it) and rush Rahma and Amira inside.
The security lady is checking my bag.
“What is this?”, she asks as she takes out my mentos chewing gum. “Not allowed”
A teeny tiny white lie so she doesn’t throw away my mentos: “why aren’t they allowed? It’s candy”
– Candy or gum?
Chewing gum IS candy, right? Turned out that my smuggling mentos was a good idea after all because when May felt dizzy and about to faint, the “candy” saved the day.
Giaccomo and I turned into grown-up sitters for the day, running around Babylonians and Shashaians, making sure we didn’t lose anyone – except for the group’s free spirit, Ali, who was probably hanging from one of Taj Mahal’s minaret to take pictures.
Grown-up sitting didn’t make Taj Mahal any less beautiful. I was in awe, speechless, until I remembered that my camera was fully charged and waiting in the backpack.
I adjusted my hat. Showtime.
We moved towards the mosque, pushing away tourist guides and photographers. We stopped several times to take pictures – the Indians seized that opportunity to snap pictures of us as well. I wonder how many of them have our group picture saved on their phones.
We were by the exit when May felt dizzy. Sit down, mentos and water.
We split into 3 groups:
Group 1: walks first in line, finds the bus, get it to come closeruij
Group 2 (the Egyptians group): takes a tuk-tuk and makes sure that May is ok
Group 3: closes the line, keep an eye on the tuk-tuk.
Giaccomo left with the guys to find the bus as I bargained an ok deal with one of the many tuk-tuks that were swarming around us. Mosquitoes. My group made it slowly to the bus as I was (almost) yelling no at every single person approaching us to sell us something. We didn’t want magnets and necklaces, we needed the bus and food – most of us haven’t eaten all day, I just had a Nutella sandwich (<3)
We made it alive. I was so exhausted that I fell asleep on the way to Fatehpur Ikri.
No crowd there but I was still in the grown-up sitting mindset. I was counting my people. A young girl from the temple helped me – she counted all sixteen of us. She welcomed me in Ukrainian, followed us around with stuff to sell, and only disappeared after we offered her some chewing gums. (These mentos came in handy)
One of the merchants walked up to me and asked where I was from.
– Oh? Pah-rlez vous Fran-nsé? (Translation: do you speak French)
I channeled my inner Frenchie even though I was still surprised I found an Indian with an ok French since we usually struggle with their English. He shared with me a couple of facts about the white temple and pointed to some distant scripture, saying that it’s a Coran verse. As I was going back to my group: “Do you have souvenir for me from Lebanon? Like a Euro or a dollar?”
We all left the site and some of the merchants pursued us. And I say pursued because I felt that we were being chased. One of the kids was following Meead, trying to sell her magnets or a photobook (I forgot). She tried to hide around me. If she was on my right, the kid would go to my right and try to talk her into buying the souvenirs. She would then run into my left and the kid would follow her. They kept on twirling around me for two or three minutes. I interfered – I was starting to get dizzy – and the kid finally got the message and went away.
– Guys, look. I got it at 160.
Evvie bought a tiny circular chess board. I recall seeing it inside, the guy was selling it at 500.
Talal walked up to her.
“Really? I got a 150 offer”
He didn’t buy it though.
Evvie look disappointed. She thought she got the cheapest deal. Not ten rupees is a lot.
Barely 20 cents.
Seven hours to get back home.
As exhausting as the day was, I do not regret a single moment.
The highlight of my day was probably the fact that I won my first tuk-tuk bargain. 100 rupees from Mansarovar to Babylon.
“You’re turning Indian”, Talal told me on our way back home.
The tuk-tuk pimp better watch it.