Our first full day in India was slated to be an exhausting one but what better way to fight jet-lag than by spending 11+ hours in a car, riding along bumpy roads that don't really allow you to fall asleep too early in the day?
In order to get around northern India, I did some googling a few weeks ago for information on hired car services. One of Matt's coworkers, who happens to be Indian, asked if we were renting a car on our trip. When he said, "yes," apparently she took this to mean we were insane enough to rent a car that we would then drive. No chance. So to clarify, I booked a driver through a guy I found on a forum thread about Indian hired drivers on lonelyplanet.com. How's that for a proverbial stab in the dark?
After some email negotiation (haggling doesn't stop with the street vendors or cab drivers), I had arranged for a three day driver to pick us up in Delhi, drive to Agra so we could see the Taj Mahal, then continue on in the same day to Jaipur. In a place where the roads are covered in a menagerie more varied than your standard American zoo, covering 400 km in a day was a fairly aggressive goal. But we lived to tell the tale.
Anil, our driver, met us at the hotel at 6 am sharp, just as planned. I let out a small sigh of relief, as being stranded would not have been a good start to vacation. Shortly into our drive Anil mentioned that one needs to have three things when driving in India:
1. Good brakes
2. Good horn
3. Good luck
How's that for a word of encouragement from some total internet stranger who now holds your safety and destination in his hands? Anil was actually a wonderful driver who always met us when and where he said he would, was incredibly pleasant, and made sure we didn't starve along the way.
Ok, so we're on the road to Agra for the next 5 hours and regardless of how tired you are, there is so much happening right outside your window that it's hard to shut your eyes. Driving through the rural parts of India was a new experience for both Matt and me and, at the risk of sounding insensitive, the best way I know how to describe the roadside activity is it is as if a natural history museum diorama has sprung to life before your eyes (dust and all). If you think about it, when you travel the interstate in the US, you don't see people washing clothes, cutting wood, hand-smooshing cow patties (yes), or kids running around playing. Heck, you don't really see people except for those in the cars passing by you. Such is not the case in Uttar Pradesh, Agra's state. If you do travel through the Golden Triangle, know that this is one place where the journey is just as fascinating as the destination.
By now you're probably saying, yeah great, where are the pictures? Apologies, but I think I was so captivated by "what's coming next?!" that I failed to get any photos along the way. Well, except one.
Oh yes, that is a monkey hanging out on Matt's window.
When we drove over the state line between Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, Anil had to leave the car to go pay taxes of some sort. Not two seconds later this little guy jumped up on the car window and gave us a good show. Out came the iPhone.
Then pounding on the windows.
For the next five minutes or so, Matt and I were treated to two very large men with very big hands pounding on the windows and demanding money for the monkey photo. For a brief moment it was funny and then both of us were covertly locking car doors with our toes while eagerly scanning the horizon for Anil. As it turns out, it's a lot easier to evade a monkey woman on the street in Mumbai than it is to hide from two dudes in the most crime-ridden state of India.
While we're waiting for these frightening minutes to play out, I take the time to teach Matt an important lesson in India: if you don't like it, ignore it fully rather than say "no." No is acknowledgment and that's almost worse than saying "yes." So, we sat and stared straight ahead. I think we both felt like two bugs under a glass at the hands of a nap-deprived toddler. At least I know I did.
Like I said earlier, Anil proved himself to be a reliable fellow and he soon returned. The monkey men actually got bored with us and left before Anil came back to claim us but nonetheless, we were thrilled to see him. Just before Anil opened his car door, Matt turns to me and says, "Were you trying to give me the full India experience? Because you should know better when it comes to monkey pictures." And he's right, I should. But this is still a pretty awesome vacation picture, no?
IF YOU GO: The driver service we used was www.indiaprivatedriver.com and Bunty is the owner. As mentioned above, our driver was Anil and we highly recommend his services.