We attempt to attend the Taj, even though we doubt weíll be allowed anywhere near it. With our doubts confirmed, we stall out repeatedly as we drive to Fatehpur Sikri (pronounced something like fah taper sea cree, but say it fast). Along the way, I see vehicles that you wouldnít think would turn on, let alone run. Not only do they move, but theyíre functioning loaded with an amazing number of people. Motorcycles with a mom, dad, and kid on them are common (for back passengers: the woman sits with both feet to one side, as straddling the man would be ďimmodestĒ, but guys put a leg on each side); in fact, we just passed 10 people stuffed into/onto a motorized rickshaw ( = 3-wheeled car usually for hire, maybe half as big as an NYC cab at most).
We see Fatehpur Sikri via a rip-off of a tour. It starts out cheap: 150 INR ( = Indian rupees, ~ $3.50) total. This quickly more than doubles, as itís supposedly an important sign of respect to buy strings and a cloth from a buddy of the tour guide and place these on the tomb thatís the centerpiece of the attraction. The architectureís neat, as the dude who ordered the place built incorporated Christian, Muslim, and Hindu styles into his construction to match the ingredients of the melting pot of a religion he tried to found. Unfortunately, the tour guideís English is so incomprehensible that this is basically all I learn about the place from him. Exploring yields some more coolness: as we walk over large squares of varying colors in a courtyard, someone realizes that weíre on a giant Parcheesi board!
After fighting our way through a throng selling trinkets and into the car, we see men walking down the road with sticks in one hand and large, furry animals next to them. Pulling over, I see that the stick is attached to a rope that connects to a nozzle on the bearís nose. Yeah, bears: dudes were walking down the roads with bears. Donít know how or why there are bears in India, but Iím glad there were; the guy made it dance on 2 paws for us by moving the stick around. Sensing the action, other bear guys bring their beasts over and we get to see 2 dance together! Last Communitech trip I took entailed sitting on a crocodile, and now Iíve also sat on a bear. However, the neatness then ends and sketchiness ensues: the owner of the second bear demands moolah for his petís fancy footwork. Weíd agreed to a deal only with the first owner, so Sameer says things in Hindi that I guess were something like ďno way are you getting any of our money.Ē What I do know is what the effect was: the guy follows us across the road back to our car, yelling the whole time, bear in tow. We all get in the car and heís still yelling, standing so close to my door that I canít shut it. Weíre literally starting to move and this guy is walking along with us; weíre arguing with somebody that has a very scary animal as a pet, and Iím closest to its jaws! Fortunately, I donít become a snack: we drive faster, I shut the door, and he yells as we escape.
Cinema gains a whole different meaning for me with my first Bollywood film. ďMain Hoon NaĒ is a teenybopper action musical, with an actor whoís the Indian version of ĎN Sync playing an army general disguised as a high school student dodging his physics teacherís spit Matrix-style in between song and dance numbers. I didnít understand much of it, but a former Miss Universe playing the chemistry teacher love interest definitely made the experience worthwhile.
Turns out we donít keep luxury another night: we downgrade the hotel drastically, but the new place would be cheaper to stay in for a week (~500 INR / $10 per night) than the Sheraton was for one night (~4000 INR / $80). Just hope the air-conditioning doesnít kick out halfway through the night, or Iíll be more than a bit bathing in sweat.
Iíd complain that we go to Pizza Hut for lunch and dinner, but itís an amazing magical Pizza Hut from heaven: the pizzas are Indianized! This is 2 of my favorite things mated together: pizza meets curry, and their baby is oh so tasty: my lamb korma pizza is a spicy party in my mouth.
We end the evening exploring the neighborhood near the hotel, including a rickshaw ride. Itís like riding a bike, but slower and without control over the speed. Iím gonna have to try pedaling one: seems like a good safety job for me:) Loud drums and a guy on a horse mean an Indian wedding, or at least the start of one: Anahita explains that itís a 6-hour affair, and we just saw the groom leaving his house to ride to his brideís, along with a procession of drums, horns, and dancers. Following the romance topic, I learn that the Muslim outlook on romance is pretty much the polar opposite of mine: lots of input from both families, very short courtships, and *ahem* signing the lease without test-driving the car or even so much as kissing it! Full of culture shock and constantly dripping sweat, I pass out, hoping to dream of leasing the Bollywood Miss Universe.