Agra - Varanasi (5/10/2007)
05.10.2007 - 05.10.2007 35 °C
I awake on Friday morning with the intention of visiting Fatehpur Sikri, an abandoned fortified town roughly 40 kilometres from Agra. We missed out on the Agra Fort the previous day due to time constraints and today we hope to make amends. In order to escape the midday heat, which has been relentless throughout the entire trip (35+ degrees C and clear every day), we book an afternoon taxi.
We pass the time by updating our blogs at a local internet cafe. Internet access in India is quite cheap (access rates range from $AU0.60 to $AU3.00 per hour at the good hotels) but the service is unreliable - power outages occur several times per day and the PCs are usually swarming with nasties such as viruses and spyware. Almost every keystroke is interrupted by Microsoft's warnings of impending doom if we don't update our anti-virus software.
Back at the hotel and our driver has arrived. As with everyone we meet in India the introductions go something like this:
"Hello - where are you from?"
"Ahhh...Australia, great country - great cricketers, no?"
...followed by the obligatory querying of age, marital status and profession. Cricket is an automatic conversation starter and it pays to have a favourite player just like everyone we meet. (Even Dean, a hard-core soccer fan who, prior to the trip, would scoff at the idea of following the game, has converted - today he was hounding the security guard at Khajuraho for the latest match results!)
Minutes later, we're off - weaving through village markets, dodging oncoming traffic and swerving to avoid docile cows snoozing in the middle of the road. But pretty soon we've come to a dead halt - roadworks up ahead! The traffic is banked up for miles and pretty soon we turn and head back to Agra. There'll be no fortified ghost towns fleecing US for money today! I content myself with our driver's backup plan - a sunset shot of the Taj Mahal from across the Yamuna river. (HE doesn't care, he gets his 600 rupees regardless of the state of the roads...)
We drown our sorrows with a couple of Kingfishers (the local brew), grab a bite, and once night falls, head to the station to catch the 21:15 overnighter to Varanasi. I contort myself into the upper bunk, throwing a scratchy blanket over myself to protect myself from the arctic blast of the air conditioner, and try to doze off...