Right now, I’m writing from the bottom bunk of another sleeper train. It has been our last day in Varanasi and after a really nice lie-in, we checked out of the hotel to find that the monsoon had come! In our wet weather ponchos, Mehboob took us to an amazing bead factory with the largest selection of beads and jewellery ever! I nearly cried with happiness! My first basket came to 13,000 rupees, so I had to edit it and after some hard negotiating, spent 4,300! Everyone is so happy because the rain has finally come and now there is a new energy amongst the people. We had lunch and waited to be picked up to catch the train, which was delayed. Once we finally got to the train station, it was smelly and packed. There were even cows on the platform! But now it has become too wobbly to write anymore!
01/07/09: Had a good night’s sleep, surprisingly, on the sleeper train. We weren’t stared at too much. After freshening up at Hotel Ganga Ratan(!) we went to visit Agra Fort. I began to realise how overrated Delhi was; the fort was beautiful, the carvings were so much more intricate than in Delhi, everything was so green and lush, despite the heat. Sellers clung to our bus, waving their hands through the bus windows as the barrage began. Through one side of the fort there were distant views of the Taj Mahal standing like a big, white, marble colossus. Although the heat was deadening, the architecture was so beautiful that it didn’t matter. Afterwards we went for a walk around the local jewellery shops. Big mistake. After much bartering, I came out with a silver and pearl ring and Rob’s wooden elephants! After some more shopping, we made the short bus ride to the Taj Mahal. There were very few tourists and thousands of natives, although I later realised that they were probably tourists from different parts of India. The mausoleum itself is so majestic and stunning, the detail and scripture in the marble beggars belief and the grounds are so well-kept. There are two mosques either side of the tomb and three gateways, which you never see in pictures, so I was quite surprised at how crowded it seemed. However, inside the Taj is tiny, you aren’t allowed to see the actual tomb and it is packed, noisy and dark. We were groped from every angle and it was a relief to get outside again. Despite the building being impressive, my experience of it was horrible as there were groups of young guys who followed us around with their cameras and phones. Whenever we stopped to take pictures of each other, crowds of men took one too. It was like the Red Fort but even worse- so disgusting. I got really angry because I really wanted to enjoy myself but couldn’t whilst being followed and watched from every angle. I was covered from head to toe and was wearing a headscarf for most of the time. The more polite ones asked for photos, to which you have to say no. I cant describe the revolting looks on their faces or the lecherous way in which they sneakily took photos but it was really abhorrent. Some even left their wives and children to follow us. I don’t understand why they think they can treat guests to their country this way- it wasn’t like they didn’t have anything better to look at! Anyway, it tarnished the whole experience, but I suppose that this is what all westerners can expect.