Today we were supposed to go to Hairdwar. Unfortunately our driver spoke almost no English and ended up taking us to Agra instead. At first we were going to take a train as a day trip to both destinations, but a private car sounded much nicer for our fancy free "go when we want to" attitude.
All told it was to be a 5+ hour drive (each way). A tad long in the tooth. We stopped at a hotel/restaurant to get some breakfast. After eating we then headed on the road again, but before pulling out of the parking lot we noticed a snake charmer on the side of the road with a very long snake.
When we stopped to pay a toll tax we saw a bear being led around on a rope to dance for rupees. I cannot stress this enough: do not pay the man as it only lets the animal cruelty continue! We actually saw a European tourist get out of his tour group van and sit on top of the bear to get his picture taken.
Our plans for Agra included spending most of the day at Fatehpur Sikri . This is a palace an hour or so outside of Agra. It was built and then lived in for about 16 years and then abandoned. We really did not have any interest in the Taj Mahal, but figured we would catch the Taj if there was time after Fatehpur Sikri.
Along the way our driver picked up our guide for the day. We told our guide what we wanted to do and he seemed to understand. Shortly after we ended up at the Taj Mahal.
It has ot be said, and understood, that guides have an agenda. They want to take you on things their way so they can get you to go shopping so they make a commission. Our guide took us to a marble store and jewelry store even though we said "No." repeatedly. We finally all but got into an argument to make him understand at the end of the day, that we were not going to look at oriental carpets and we were going back to Delhi.
Stand firm! If you don't want to shop make sure they know and understand and you don't bend. Our guide claimed it was his duty to tell us of all these stores.
The sellers on the road leading up to the Taj are persistent and can get annoying when it's obvious they do not take no for an answer. The Taj Mahal itself wasn't impressive to me. My Husband seemed to like it well enough. It was very crowded and difficult to get photographs.
The ride back was uneventful. The sun set and it grew darker and darker. We saw some small shrines along the side of the road and drove through many towns which were nothing more than stone shacks. As Sivaratri was occurring soon occasionally you'd find some people dancing, singing or bringing out their "ritual" supplies. We did see a small process which was being lit by long florescent lights being charged by large batteries.
All in all I would say the ride back was the most enjoyable part. Agra is very much a "tourist trap".
Hawkins was too scared to come out, he just knew he couldn't say no to all the vendors wanted to sell him small trinkets of the Taj.