Rajasthan Road Trip – Day Two of our Two Week Driving Itinerary
We awoke refreshed and exhilarated after our one night stop and driving tour of Agra. The second day started with something of a storm. Not the weather but a man made one created by John. The evening before our driver told us that the driver dormitory at the hotel (lots of hotels will provide food and lodging for the drivers, plus a healthy commission, if they steer customers their way) ‘smelled bad’ and he would not be sleeping there. As it was so late there was little we could do, and he informed us he would be paying for accommodation out of his own pocket, we were a little sceptical but still felt bad, so gave him a bottle of whisky from the temporary bar we’d set-up in the boot of the car before leaving Delhi and said we’d discuss it with him in the morning. As far as we were concerned the hotel was good value, especially as we’d negotiated a good room rate on our arrival, after threatening to look elsewhere.
Agra Hotel Drivers Accommodation: Getting To Know Your Driver!
He said the food was good but the accommodation was pitiful. John took this up with the hotel management the next morning and as is John’s way it wasn’t a quiet word with one member of staff he involved everyone who would listen and even some who didn’t want to. In the end we left under a little cloud of frenzied shouting between the drivers and the hotel staff. Anyway perhaps this little storm may encourage them to improve it a bit. Whilst all this was taking place, our driver disappeared and could not be found and the hotel offered to show us the driver accommodation, which to us seemed more than adequate.
On departing the hotel, to continue our Rajasthan road trip, John tries to get to the bottom of what our drivers issues are. It appears he is only used to staying in 3-5 star accommodation, and not the ‘flashpacking’ budget accommodation we plan in staying at for the rest of our tour. John reiterates how before hiring him we clearly explained that our budget for accommodation was a maximum of 1000 rupee per night. Alarm bells start to ring, as we want our driver to be happy but we’re not a cash cow with unlimited funds to keep our driver rich in commissions for the next two weeks. The conversation ends well, although it is clear that we’re going to have to work more closely together to ensure we get what we want. We ask our driver for some suggestions of where he would recommend that we stay that evening, so we can check these places out on the internet before our arrival at our next destination later that afternoon.
The Ghost Town of Fatehpur Sikri
Our first stop on day two was a visit to Fatehpur Sikri a fascinating ‘ghost town’ on the edge of the border between Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan.
The town is a relic of the moghul empire, Emperor Akbar ruled here from 1571 to 1585. The short lived nature of this place was due to the water shortages which led to the movement of the empire when the water ran out after Akbar’s death.The entrance ticket here will costs you 260 Rp. and its worth every penny.
The relics are immaculately preserved and the red sandstone buildings retain all of their original intricate carving and relief work. Perhaps the most impressive of the structures are the pillared towers and courtyards that surround the site of the old seat of power. You could almost imagine the emperor sat atop one of these storied towers watching the performances playing out beneath him wondering where all the water was going to.
At the back of the heritage site you will find the old mosque, Jama Masjid which is impressive Persian Indo design that sprawls across the top of the hill. At the centre is a white marble tomb, Shaikh Salim Chishti. Here’s childless women can be found tying coloured yarn to the lattice marble interior in the hope of producing that reluctant offspring.
Like other good Indian tourist attractions this place is not only awash with history, but also the tourist touts. Here they will try to convince your driver there is a fee to pay to enter the old town (our driver was too clever for that one), the fake guides hounding you from the car park will tell you how big and complex the site is (it isn’t) and in the mosque you will be offered high fees to donate to buy a prayer shawl for the poor. When you go it will be returned to the shop to be recycled to the next tourist.
From here you pass many farmland and mustard fields. The yellow colours of the mustard plants filling the fields are a restful interval before you hit the next small town or village when the chaos of Indian life resurfaces. Seeing camels walking along the road as the agricultural community pull huge loads of rice and grain whilst peacocks dot the roadside. Rajasthan is known as the state of colour, and watching from our car window as the locals go about their daily lives is wonderful. The kaleidoscopic sights of women dressed in brightly coloured saris and men’s turbans are eye catching. At the moment we’re so glad we’ve opted to take a road trip to explore Rajasthan.
Our driver seems very happy today as he approved of John telling off the hotel, or it just maybe the fact we gave him a bottle of whisky we he enjoyed sharing with his friends.
We stopped at a local village which hosts a magnificent piece of 10th century architecture and engineering. I have never heard of a step well (Chand Baori in Hindi) before and I don’t think I will ever see one again. The structure is square with an arched corridor surrounding the edge at ground level. The most astonishing element of this structure is a well that is formed at the bottom of what I can only describe as an upturned pyramid shape. Huge stone blocks are arranged in a stepped configuration to create the 20 metre deep well.
The weather was a bit overcast, but we had chance to see a centuries old Hindu temple beside it which is under restoration. By the time we had a quick look at that the sun had poked its head out so I went back to see how the shadows played on the steps. It was worth a revisit.
There are also chunks of the stone carvings and relief work stored in the well under the arched corridor awaiting placement back into the temple. It was striking as we examined these how many resembled structures we had witnessed on our visit to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Many of those temples were built in the same period and you can see the Indian influence there. The only difference here though is that we were the only tourists.
Agra Highway Detour
These two hidden monuments sit in a tiny little village called Abhaneri about half way between Agra and Jaipur and are well worth a mini detour off the main highway. You also get the chance to have a close look at the village life, the children will come running for pens and if you don’t have any of these will ask for 10 rupees or a cigarette instead.
We also watched an old potter at work making the basic chai cups, incense holders and his Christmas special item, clay piggy banks. His potters wheel consisted of a huge round stone centred on a pivot with a hole in one side. He would poke a stick in the hole, get the stone spinning and within the space of a minute would have produced two oil burning cups, two chai cups, an incense burner and a money box. Some he made earlier were for sale so we bought a couple of incense holders we didn’t need, just for the brilliant show of his craft.
In the village the driver introduced us to the Rajasthani Jugar, a vehicle manufactured locally that does not have to pay any road tax or get registration papers. It consists of any old bits of cars, vans lorries and is powered by an old generator engine for the traction. They finish them off with a flourish of tinsel and brightly coloured streamers and garlands in lieu of a body shell and doors.
Next Stop Jaipur
From there we headed the final 80km to Jaipur as the sun set and the evening turned cool. A day that started with a storm and ended with a beautiful sunset and a warm bed in a new city. The pink city of Jaipur.