After talking with the front desk this morning about hiring a driver for the day…we realized their prices were so expensive so walked outside to find our own ride. Sitting right outside the gates of the hotel were a couple of tuk-tuks who agreed to a much more reasonable price. Our first stop was to find some food and we had read about a restaurant called, Pinch of Spice (www.pinchofspice.in ).
We ordered 3 dishes and plenty of naan, they were so delicious and layered with spice…not necessarily hot just layers of flavor. We really enjoyed the dal makhani, a creamy dip made with black lentil beans, kidney beans, chickpeas, butter, cream and many spices (not exactly a fat-free dish) which we dipped the naan in. The naan is just so good…for those that skip the bread basket at dinner…it would really be next to impossible to skip the naan. It is cooked in a special oven…a deep hole with charcoal and then once baked to perfection is either served plain or smothered with garlic and butter and even stuffed with goodness. After we ate, they brought out a small bowl of tiny little pastel green pieces with a spoon. We each scooped out some into our hand and put them in our mouth. It tasted like a candied anise seed, their version of an after dinner mint.
After lunch, the tuk-tuk drove us to the Agra Fort…one of the main attractions in the city. The walled city sits on 94 acres and the walls surrounding it are seventy feet high. We walked through one of the four gates and purchased our headsets for a self-guided tour. The walls were made of red sandstone but once we walked through the gate, we saw there were many buildings. Some were palaces and some were mosques and made of both red-sandstone or of pure marble with intricate carvings inlaid in the stone. The Mogul Emperor Shah Jahan who had the Taj Mahal built was actually kept as prisoner in the Red Fort by his son. One of the marble balconies inside the fortress had a spectacular view of the Taj Mahal and between the various buildings were many gardens. It was fun to view the Taj from so far away knowing we will be walking through it tomorrow!
We took our time walking around the complex and listening to its history on our headphones. There were a bunch of monkeys running around inside as well which looked a little bit unhealthy in comparison to the Thai Monkeys. These we had heard are very aggressive and carry diseases. We kept a bit of distance but had fun watching them as they scouted the tourists for food or water…obviously desperate. We continued walking and admired the architecture, it was beautiful with influence both from Islamic and Persian cultures. After spending a couple hours walking the grounds, we walked back towards the exit. We stopped along the way to watch a few more of the monkeys climbing the trees and fighting over scraps of food. Back outside the gate, our tuk-tuk driver was patiently waiting for us…he had refused any kind of pay up to this point…he said we would figure it out at the end of the day which was very trusting of him.
We were ready to go back to our hotel and find some dinner but our driver kept trying to push us towards stopping at one of the “factories” making and selling local goods. We have figured it out by this point…all the drivers try to push you towards specific places to buy these goods because they get a small commission on anything purchased. That means the store itself increases the price to factor in the “finder’s fee”. So…even if you are interested in what is being sold, try to find one of the stores on your own…your price will be better.
Our tuk-tuk driver was really pushing us to go to one of his stores and we tried saying no many times but he still took us to one of the craft stores and told us we didn’t need to buy anything…we agreed to go in for one minute but really we weren’t in the mood to wheel and deal. We looked around for a minute and then got back on the tuk-tuk. We told him we wanted to go to the hotel and again he took us to another store selling jewelry. We were aggravated at how pushy he was being but since it was jewelry and India is known for its gems, we agreed to look inside. The guy who made the jewelry was there and started sharing with us knowledge in regards to the black star gemstone which is local to Agra. It is a solid black stone but when under the light has a bright white star which is very beautiful. We didn’t know anything about these gems yet…so probably should not have made a purchase, but a simple ring with a small black-star stone set in it was fairly cheap so we purchased it. It is also the stone which was used for decoration on the Taj Mahal which we thought was special.
After our jewelry stop, we insisted the driver take us straight back which he did. We had picked up a bottle of wine on the way to our place, so Giff and I ordered some roon-service and settled in for the evening.