Up, Up and Away

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All good things must come to an end. We arrive at the Delhi airport extremely early for our 10:35 PM flight. This airport is huge and also the most secure I’ve ever been in. They had guards at each door. To get in, you had to provide your ticket and passport and it could only be a certain number of hours before your flight. We got in before the ticket counter even opened. My friend had been able to check-in and par for the course; I had an “error” and couldn’t check in. Wonderful.

Checking in was interesting. It ended up taking four or five agents to figure out the issue so I could get my boarding passes. Luckily my luggage was checked all the way home. Winning.

Security was super secure. Ironic I know. We got through, only to learn we were supposed to have these tags on our hand luggage so they could stamp them. There are no signs telling you that, and there also aren’t bins of these tags just around. To make the experience even more special, my backpack was completely unpacked and everything was run through the scanner alone. It was pretty cool. Or whatever the opposite of cool is, yeah it was that.

My main goals were food, shopping and shower. Mind you at this point we had been up since 7AM, slathered in Deet and sunscreen, plus a layer of sweat and dirt. The last thing I wanted was to sit in my own filth for another 25+ hours going home.

Side note: the shopping in the Delhi airport is fantastic! We could have spent hours in those shops!

After our dinner and shopping it was shower time. We didn’t have any kind of lounge pass, but we ended up buying a pass to the Air India lounge. We got three or four hours of access, internet, food, drinks, and nice chairs. For some additional ruperts we got access to showers. All in all it cost about $20 –ish dollars each, Yeah cheap.

I’m not sure what I expected from an airport lounge shower, but I have to say it was one of the nicest showers I have ever been in. We each got our own room with a sink, toilet and shower. They provided anything you could need, which I also didn’t expect. The shower was so great that I washed everything twice. Seriously amazing.

Showered, fed, and happy-ish we had one final Kingfisher in the lounge and said our final farewell to India. It was sad, that is, until this happened.

Last Kingfisher


Be warned, Delhi airport rant about to start…

On our way to the gate, I got two bottles of water from the bookstore. I am all about staying hydrated when I fly and this was going to be 14+ hours in a steal tube up in the air. I needed water to survive. So I was a happy camper. Upon arrival to our gate, we realized there was another security checkpoint. Wait, I already went through all this. In my naive brain, I thought okay no problem, security again but since I got my water IN THE AIRPORT it will be fine. Wrong, I was so wrong. I had to throw BOTH of my brand new, un-opened half liter bottles of water away. To say I was livid would not be saying enough. I’m still pissed about that now almost a year later. I appreciate security yes, but at least warn us. Say that we can’t buy them. Or make us put them in a sealed bag or something. It was ridiculous not to be able to board a 14+hour flight with water. Absolutely ridiculous. Okay, rant end.

This was going to be the longest flight I had been on. My previous record was flying from Fiji to LA in 2007. Luckily I was exhausted and ready for sleep. As the amount of people getting on the plane slowed, I realized I had been given the greatest gift one could ever hope for sitting in coach on a 14+ hour flight. An entire row to myself. Me, just me! Ahhhhhh (angels singing). As a taller person, this was one hell of a win. It would also mean the flight wasn’t full, so there were not as many people up and down and it was just a quieter flight because of that. All good things.

Our plane coming home was an infamous 777. I hadn’t flown on one in years. And this quite possibly could have been one of the oldest planes I’ve been on in a long time. It was totally fine until my headrest actually broke. Eh, I guess I did have three seats so it was alright. But still, it broke! What the what?! The other odd thing was that our flight map didn’t work the entire journey. So we had no idea where we were as we were flying in pitch-black skies all night. Creepy. Overall I expected it to feel like I was flying FOREVER and be so ready to get out of a plane. It turns out I did not feel that way at all. The flight was super easy. So easy that it makes you think about how “close” other destinations are.

We landed in lovely Newark around 4:35 AM and got through customs with no issues to drop our bags and make it through security for our final flights home. Sadly we said goodbye as I headed toward my gate. Luckily I had pre-check because even at 5:45AM on a Monday, Newark was bumping.  Picture this, I’m in the pre-check line in my yoga pants (huge shutout to my first pair of Lululemons. I would totally make that decision again and again. They felt like wearing nothing even after 14 hours), hair in a bun, zero makeup on, henna everywhere and all of the other travelers were completely suited up. I fit right in. Not!

On my last flight I was asleep before they finished the safety demonstration. When I woke up, I wasn’t even sure we were in the air. We were. That flight was easy and getting through the airport to an Uber home was no big deal. The return journey was so easy that it restored my faith in flying. And confirmed my addiction.

I was home again. Though my soul felt like it was still a world away. I wondered when it would return? Until then, food, shower and laundry.

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Something Old and Something New

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The dawn of our last day in Delhi was bittersweet. We were excited to explore, but super sad that at the end of the day we had to leave. Plus we were without our friends and it just wasn’t the same.

Our tour in the morning was a student led subway tour of Old Delhi. We had no idea what to expect, but were excited to see the city like a local.

As it turned out, our guide Arun, had studied in the US and spent a good amount of time in the states. His English was great and he made us feel at ease. Walking into the subway station you would not know you were in India. It was seriously so nice. The only “different” thing was the sign asking people not to spit. Its cool I won’t, promise.

Arun bought our “tickets” for us after explaining how the zone map worked. The map had all these areas with big numbers in them. He explained that the numbers represented how many ruperts (as we so lovingly called the Rupee) it cost to ride. So if you were in a 5 zone, it was 5 ruperts or $0.07 dollars. Yes that math is correct. Or at least it was when this was written! They also don’t have tickets. They use these silly little chip coins. I’ve only ever seen the chip coin one other place in my life and it happens to be in a parking garage where I live. They are literally the dumbest things ever. Arun told us that if we were there longer than a few days, that a metro card would make sense. For this it did not. But you better hold on to that little coin because I’m pretty sure they’d never let you out if you lost it.

Once we made our way to the platform, Arun told us that the first two or three cars in each subway train were for women only. We thought that was really cool. You also had to go through security getting into the station. Again, totally okay with that.

Ascending the staircase into Old Delhi was almost like we had traveled back in time. No, that’s actually exactly what it was like. I don’t know what I thought we would see, but it wasn’t this.

So picture a narrow street lined with light poles or power poles. In a normal city these poles would mainly be for lights and you wouldn’t see any wires or anything attached to them. In Old Delhi, there were wires EVERYWHERE. To the extent that I thought if someone accidentally pushed on one of those poles hard enough, the whole web would come crashing down completely blacking out that part of the city. Like am I the only one seeing this? How is this even working?! The fact that anything has power in Old Delhi is extremely impressive. I’m pretty sure my mouth was hanging wide open for at least the first five minutes we were there. Poor Arun, I have no idea what he was so passionately talking about.

We grabbed a rickshaw and the three of us climbed in. As we slowly made our way through the streets, we passed men getting haircuts, people arranging their produce to sell, shop owners setting up for the day, food being prepared, animals of all kinds, and people, lots of people. It was noisy, smelly, dirty and unbelievably fascinating. We couldn’t get enough.

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How is this working?!

Arun took us to three different temples that morning and each one was so totally different than the other. But one thing was the same. They were all playing super loud music and there were people everywhere. Some places you had to cover your hair, others you didn’t. It was a really cool experience.

We ended the morning with some lunch at a place that had a mixture of northern and southern Indian food and was very good.

That was the end of Old Delhi. Walking back to the subway I could have happily gotten lost in all of the streets and markets. By this time a few hours had passed and the number of people in the area had at least doubled. It was wall to wall. Old Delhi is seriously so captivating. And it’s a photographers dream. We will be back for you.

The last part of our day turned out to be a perfect ending to our trip. We went to Swaminarayan Akshardham, temple (I highly recommend clicking that link, especially since we couldn’t take pictures). So one interesting fact is that if you are Indian you can get into any of the heritage sites in the country for free. It’s really nice. And this one was actually free for us as well. Score!

Right, so this temple. First of all it’s HUGE. Second of all, you couldn’t bring anything in with you. No phone, camera, gum, jewelry, nothing. If you had those items with you, you had to check them. Not happening, I’ll just go with nothing. My friend carried our passports in a money belt and the last of the ruperts we had.

So as we were waiting in line to get in, it became very apparent that we were the ONLY white women around. Both of us realized at the same time that everyone was casually, or not so casually, staring at us. Thank goodness they couldn’t have cameras or we never would have made it. Finally after some more security we made it inside.

The temple itself was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. But since there are no photos of it, or of me there, you’re just going to have to believe me on this.

There was still a lot of day left (well we assumed, not having a phone or watch) so we decided to check out the attractions. Yes there were attractions. The first one was a series of rooms with animatronics telling the story of the temples founder. It felt very Disney. The other “ride” we did was on a boat. You got on and it starting playing “It’s a Small World,” no it didn’t, but it may as well have.

The oddest part was at the end of the ride there was a room full of propaganda to stop eating meat. Like cutouts of animals with speech bubbles saying “we have feelings too” and things of that nature. It was pretty crazy. Not exactly something you’d see in America.

I will say snacks and drinks were silly cheap which was nice because it was about a million degrees out. We also got the most attention of the entire trip this day. It was Sunday, but there were tons of school groups. One group was staring at us (like mouths open, whispering and pointing) so intently that I waived at them. That was all it took for the group to run over to talk to us. They were so sweet and innocent, that it was cute. Again so glad they didn’t have cameras or phones.

After wandering around a little more we deemed it time to leave and headed to the airport. That was one quiet car ride. We were sad.

On the Road Again

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Our last full day together started out with yet another infamous India road trip back to Delhi. I’m not one to stay awake in cars, but there was SO MUCH happening the whole time that I couldn’t fall asleep.

India has the craziest trucks on the road I’ve ever seen. They are kind of like dump trucks, only smaller and they are totally decked out in bright paint, tassels, writing, everything. It’s super cool. And when they honk their horns (just like everyone else does) it plays a fun little song.

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Crazy decorated India truck and of course cows


Traffic on this road trip was literally insane. They diverted the highway onto a dirt road for part of the way and it was like four lanes of traffic all squeezed into one. We were completely surrounded by huge trucks for a vast majority of the time. Our driver got an A++ that day for sure. And some extra Ruperts for his efforts!

Lunch this afternoon was comical. We got delayed by quite a bit getting into Delhi, so I told our bus driver to just find somewhere quick and simple for us to eat. This is a moment where I wish I had spoken the language. We ended up at just the opposite. Walking in the front door of the restaurant where we were dropped off, the servers were in suits boarderinf on tuxes; there were linens on the tables and families all around. We roll up slathered in deet and sunscreen, in clothes that desperately need to be washed, just looking for a sandwich. It was a great lunch actually and the staff did not care at all what we looked like, so it worked out, but it was not a simple place for a sandwich at all.

Because it took longer to get into Delhi than it should have, we ended up having to kind of run through our tour that afternoon.

We saw Qutb Minar and Humayun’s Tomb right at golden hour, which made everything pretty beautiful. Plus they used that red sandstone I enjoy so much. Unfortunately none of us thought our tour guide brought much to the table, but we had fun all the same. After a whirlwind day, we went to check-in to our hotel before our friends had to go to the airport to leave. Insert super sad face here.

What surprised me about driving through Delhi during the daylight was how much traffic there was, yet how organized the city was. It felt very European to me. Come to find out, it was developed by the British, so duh it’s organized. But I had no idea. You can find me living under a giant rock. The one thing that set it apart (okay not the one thing, one of the things) was the fact that you would be driving by the embassies and there would be monkeys ALL around, just running and having a grand ole time. Hey Mr. Monkey!

So our hotel for the night was really adorable. It was an old house that you have a room in, but it has a common room shared with other guests and then a rooftop “restaurant.” More like a kitchen on the roof, but hey a round of Kingfisher was like 600 ruperts or $9, yes $9. I miss you ruperts. I really miss you.

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Last Kingfishers


The only unfortunate thing was saying goodbye to our friends. It was awful. We absolutely did not want them to leave and they didn’t want to leave either. The four of us just got along so well it was perfect. Clearly if we had hated each other at this point we would have been like “okay, bye, see you later (or not).” But that was not the case.

It was an absolute fact that India had stolen our hearts.

Pretty in Pink

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Jaipur was the city I was most looking forward to on our trip to India. Well we were all really looking forward to it, so much so, that we added a day to our itinerary when we were planning. And the legend of the infamous textiles sucked us right in like a drug.

We arrived in Jaipur after a long day in our medium sized van, where we had a sing-along for a few hours that I am sure our driver LOVED (“I feel my heart BEATING, I feel my heart beneath my skin”). After checking in, we got to our rooms to drop our belongings before dinner. It was late-ish, and rather than try and figure out where to go, the hotel buffet had our names on it. Katie and I were led to the first room.

Instantly, when we opened the door I noticed two things. Man it’s hot in here, and hmm those are big…black…ants. You thought I was going to say spiders or snakes didn’t you? No, ants. But really giant ones. And not like 2 or 3. Like 20 or 30. So I called the front desk to ask them to come spray. Our hotel was a Haveli, which is a large house that has courtyards and is split into “hotel” rooms. Because of this and the fact that we were in India, of course there were going to be bugs. What I was not expecting, was to see ants literally crawling in through the phone jack in the wall. Not good. So the front desk sent someone up to address the issue. A nice gentleman came with a broom. No spray, a broom. And not a broom like we have at home, it was like wheat tied together. You hold it in one hand and “sweep” back and fourth. It was all I could do not to bust out laughing. He got all the ants out, but when I tried to show him/tell him about the phone jack situation, that’s where things got lost in translation. At this point I was hangry and just needed to eat. Ants after dinner.

Once dinner was finished and we quickly assessed that the ants had returned (shocking I know). I very politely went to the front desk and asked to be moved. After a couple of tense minutes they got us a new room. Yay ant free! It actually worked out well because we got moved closer to our friends. Woo, friends! Now (more) Beer.

This is when I discovered Kingfisher. At home you probably wouldn’t give it a second glance, but in India it tasted like all of our hopes and dreams. Plus a round of drinks was about $17 USD for large 650 ml beers. Thank you India. We had ours while sitting around the pool even though it was probably close to 10:30 pm. There were no pool hours. Odd, but okay.

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While we sat outside and talked about our trip, the coolest thing started to happen. Obviously there are a fair amount of bugs in India and they have lots of mosquitoes. Hello malaria. Well all of a sudden we started to see these black objects flying straight at the pool and sort of skimming the top as they went by. Almost at the same time we all realized it was bats skimming the mosquitoes off the top of the pool. There was a constant stream of them for a really long time and we all thought it was pretty neat.

Our first morning in Jaipur was when we met our guarding angel, Nidhi. She was our guide for the next two full days and by the end of our time together we didn’t want to say goodbye.

We started the day by visiting the Wind Palace. A really cool building from the front, but come to find out there’s not much inside to see. No need, the front is stunning. You’ve probably seen it before.

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After that we made our way to City Palace. This palace really surprised the hell out of all of us. It was awesome. On the way, we stopped at this huge astrological park that has these gigantic working sundials and there’s all this science involved with the angles of everything, it was so cool. And Nidhi having been a history teacher explained everything so well I was captivated.

Exploring the City Palace was a highlight for so many reasons. The architecture was really interesting, they had a dancing court with four unbelievably decorated doorways that symbolized the four seasons, there was a weapons room, and even a room with some painting demonstrations.

One demonstration we watched was a gentleman who paints elephants and such on really cool old paper. Or so he says. We saw him paint them but the validity of the “old paper” is definitely open for debate. Whatever he said worked, because we all purchased something from him. As we were finishing up our demonstration and making our purchases, my friend quietly comes over to me and says in a whisper “hey, I think that guy is Jason Isaacs.” I’m looking at her sideways “um, who is that?” Through gritted teeth she says, “he plays Luscious Malfoy in Harry Potter.” I’m instantly skeptical because yeah right. Why on earth would he be in India, much less at the City Palace in Jaipur? No way. Some quick Googling, and awkward staring later, I’m completely eating my words. It absolutely is him with his family at the City Palace in Jaipur watching the same demonstration we just sat through. HOLY SHIT ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? THAT DUDE PLAYED LUSCIOUS MALFOY IN HARRY POTTER!?!?!?! LITERLALLY MY FAVORITE THING EVER!!! I am sorry Jason that I didn’t know your name or recognize you. My bad, it will not happen again. After squealing like school children, we promptly exited the area before making complete buffoons out of ourselves. In hindsight we should have stayed to try and ask for a photo. But we absolutely were not going to interrupt him during the demonstration with his family. We learned after the fact that he was filming in India and was on a break, spending time with his family.

Leaving the City Palace on somewhat of a high from our encounter we left to find henna. Nidhi had asked us when we first met if there was anything we really wanted to do while we were in town and henna was what we all said. Because you have to be careful with henna ink, we didn’t want to go somewhere random. But naturally she had the hook up. Everyone got their hand done, and then we arranged for the artists to come to our hotel later that evening to do our feet. Wet henna walking around was not going to work.

Lunch time! We ate at an awesome restaurant, before going to the textile store to spend some Ruperts. Unfortunately, I have a somewhat horrifying story to share before I start talking about our textile experience.

One of our group members had seen these candy bars advertised all over called 5 Star. She had looked for them everywhere but oddly couldn’t find any. Nidhi, our angel, stopped on our way to lunch and bought us a bag of them. So after our lovely meal we decided to dig in.IMG_4421

We sat down in the car and noticed that my friend had gotten pooped on by a bird (most likely a pigeon). Eww. But I had wet ones so she wiped it off. Then I noticed I had some on my foot/toes. Eww. Again, wet one to the rescue. Now it was time for those 5 Stars. It was chocolate and caramel and kind of like a brownie, what’s not to like?! They had been in the car so they were a little melted as we ate them. I was enjoying mine and noticed I had some melted chocolate on my hand and licked it off. No sooner had I swallowed that I realized I had bird poop all down the front of my shirt, on my purse and on my…hand. Yeah, the hand I had just licked the “chocolate” off of. Yes, I ate bird shit. I absolutely ate bird shit. I thought it was odd-looking chocolate. Nope, it was pigeon shit. The good news was that I didn’t immediately throw up, or ever get sick for that matter, but the fact remains, I ate actual shit.

Right so, textiles. I have to say I’m sad I don’t sew. Sorry mom, I know you tried to teach me and I never cared. Well now I do. Maybe it’s not too late? This place was great. (Heritage Textiles). They were so helpful and not overly pushy at all. Everything was fixed price, which helped on that front. I decided to have a salwar (long shirt with two slits, one on each side. Can be short, long or ¾ sleeve) custom made with elephant fabric, and then bought some scarves, pillowcases and a new comforter. It was all super reasonably priced and we got to come back the next day to try everything on to make sure it fit. What’s cool is that Jaipur is known for its stamped fabric (block printing) and after having seen where it was made, I fell in love with all of the patterns.

The last thing on our agenda before dinner was more henna! Our henna artists were waiting for us at the hotel when we got back. It was cool and we definitely felt VIP. I’m pretty sure we got them some more business while we were there since everyone stopped to ask us about it. We had a blast!

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Dinner this night was at Bar Palladio, an Italian restaurant in one of the other nice hotels in Jaipur. I must admit I was disappointed in the food, but we had a super awesome night. The restaurant was decorated in really vibrant colors, awesome fixtures and the perfect blend of traditionally hand stamped local fabric.

Our last day in Jaipur started out at the Amer Fort. I’m going to be real with you. All of us were super disappointed with this Fort. Our recommendation would be to start there if you are going to Jaipur because the City Palace is so awesome that seeing the Amer Fort first would help you like it more. By no means was it bad, just definitely not a fan favorite. We enjoyed our jeep ride to the top, our stop at the textile museum and temple though!

Unfortunately we did not have time for the actual monkey temple, but we saw plenty of monkeys at the temple we stopped at near Amer Fort, so I’m calling that a win. Plus, there are mean monkeys in India and nice monkeys in India. And quite frankly monkeys that close to me actually is not my thing. The ones we did see were luckily the nice ones. Despite that, as we got out of our car, one of them looked right at us and shook his head “no.” I’m not kidding and I have witnesses.

On our way back into the city we stopped quickly at the Jal Mahal. They are actually making it into a hotel, which is really cool and just another excuse for us to go back. Darn.

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Jal Mahal

Before heading out for our safari that evening, we wanted to go to a few “street” shops. Nidhi lead the way and everyone got what they were looking for. She did a great job navigating us to shops that wouldn’t try and take advantage of us, but then she never got involved in the haggling. It was perfect. We adore her and cannot recommend her enough. Tear, we had to say goodbye.

So sad to say goodbye!

Now to get ready for the elephants!

To the Taj!

Grounds at ITC Mughal
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As an addition to our itinerary, we wanted to take the train from Delhi to Agra, instead of driving. We arrived at the train station well before sunrise since our departure was at 6:30 AM (ish). Driving the streets of Delhi at 5 AM was the quietest I would see the city and it was rather peaceful all things considered.

That peace was shattered the second we pulled into the train station parking lot. All of the station porters wanted to help us to the train, and we were pretty well surrounded. We sent our luggage with the van (thankfully) the night before and just had backpacks with us. Bye Porters. Our driver pulled into a spot and made his way with us to the train platform.

There were people everywhere, lots of them asleep amidst the hustle and bustle of the station. Some stared at us a bit, but no one bothered us at all. There was security at the station, which I appreciated. Then we stood on the platform taking it all in. A truly impossible feat at the end of the day.

Once the train arrived, our driver helped us find our seats. Since there were four of us, we fully expected to be in a little carriage or compartment. At the very least, two and two together. Nope, not the case. The seating was three and two. I’ve been on a lot of trains and haven’t seen that before. I sat “alone” with the girls across the aisle. We were also very clearly in the middle of a family, which was rather interesting.

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In our area we were served a giant bottle of water (yes!) and a meal. We had our hotel prepare a takeaway breakfast and ate that instead. Good recommendation travel company, because the train breakfast did not look appealing. Eek.

About ten minutes away from the Agra station people started lining up to get off the train and they were pushy. The train would stop for five minutes. Not a lot of time. In those ten minutes chugging into Agra, we saw everything. There was so much happening that I wasn’t even sure it was real. I will spare you the details, but I think you can use your imagination on this one. And if you can’t, feel free to ask me anything you want to know. Just remember that you can’t un-know it.

The train lurched to a stop, and we hopped off greeted right away by our driver and a liaison from our tour company. Immediately I noticed the much worse air quality in Agra and the smell, an unfortunately common theme throughout our time in the country.

We drove straight to the hotel from the train station.

As the gate to our hotel opened, I had no idea what to expect on the other side. Heaven, it was actually heaven. If I could live in a hotel it would be the ITC Mughal in Agra, India. This place was incredible. Google it, now. Then stay there in Agra. You are welcome.

It was interesting because we did go through security before entering the hotel, but I’m good with security. Super good.

Our rooms were not ready when we arrived, and we didn’t have anything on our dossier until 3 PM, so it was shopping time! We looked up an area to go to and had our driver take us over. As we walked through the streets, nothing was really open yet (it was before 10 AM) and it didn’t seem like we were in the best area. After a few minutes we all decided this wasn’t where we wanted to be and called our driver.

We drove across town and found a little plaza with two stores. Our goal was to find an outfit for our Taj Mahal outing the next morning. The first store we went to was nice and it gave us a good idea of what our options were, but we really wanted to shop at Fab India. And shop we did. I’m pretty sure between us all, we tried on everything in that store. The level of customer service we received was amazing, and everyone bought more than they expected. Fab India, Agra, you rock. Seriously. Beaming from ear to ear, we made our way back to the hotel to check-in.

This is when things went from awesome to amazing. Agra was already killing it and then they kicked it up a notch. We were upgraded to two Junior Suites. Yes, a free upgrade because of a conference that was in town. Thank you super international medical conference, thank you. Our rooms were spectacular. And the hotel staff was amazing. We hit the pool for a little bit, then got ready for our tour.

The first tour we had in Agra was to the Red Fort. I had zero expectation of this fort and was completely blown away. Red sandstone is actually super gorgeous. And we were there around 3PM so we started to get some of the golden hour. It was stunning.

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After the fort, it was to the other side of the river to see the Taj at sunset. It cost something like 100 ruperts ($1.50) to access the “park” where you can view the Taj.

Because we were all so enamored by the Red Fort we didn’t have a ton of time to look at the Taj before they came by and kicked us out. But it was worth the time we did have. It’s seriously so cool.

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First sighting of the Taj!

Back to the hotel for dinner and bed. Another super early morning for the Taj coming up!