Time is strange here in Agra — that feeling that you just got here but have always been here. We are especially fortunate on this visit, because we are staying with friends. this allows us to experience patterns of regular life in a professional Indian household. The first thing I’ve learned is that the home is a true oasis — a respite from the pulsating life just outside. We have been in Agra for a week. I find the first few days in any new place are a sort of orientation as I seek to set up some sort of pattern for my stay. So, we have been orienting ourselves to the dailiness of life, and learned how the same basic activities – shopping, banking, driving – can be completely different experiences. What with one thing and another, it is amazing how long the simplest task can take.
I am endlessly fascinated by the traffic — an experience of obscurely controlled chaos, the pattern of which can be discerned but not observed. Our host has a small car easily maneuverable in city traffic. It’s a Honda, bright and shiny red when we leave the house; dimmed by dust when return. I think looking out the car windows is possibly the best way to people watch — the entire world passes by. Scooters, bicycles, buses, trucks, piles of people everywhere doing everything.
Shops open by the road. It is a regular sensory explosion. Plus the heat, which even though the car has air conditioning, is pretty intense. Then there are the traffic cops who don’t appear to do anything, the traffic lights that everyone ignores, the crosswalks that people don’t use because they randomly cross wherever, the piles of rubbish, the people and animals who pick through the rubbish. And no sense of personal or vehicular space.
Our first piece of business is to cash some travelers checks (American Express, of course). We have done this basic transaction on previous visits — but we had also been staying at hotels. So, off we go to our host’s business bank. Even though he has an account, we could not cash our travel checks. We went to two more banks – same story. Finally we learn that there has to be a special license to cash travel checks, but the last bank suggests Cox & Kings, so off we go to find the office Yes, they will cash our checks. The process must have taken half an hour on top of the hour we spent going to banks. But OK, we have it.
Next, the Handsome Bloke and I want to purchase a few bottles of Sula Sauvignon Blanc. Many Indians don’t drink, but many do. And Sula is an Indian wine with vineyards and processing in southern India. So, we did not think it would be a difficult to find it. Also, there are numerous liquor stores all over Agra – most often called “English Wine Shop.” Well, yes, but of course not the variety of wine we were seeking. We eventually found what we wanted in the tourist section of town near the Taj Mahal, and had the opportunity to see lots of sights along the way. The unexpected joy of travel.
From there, we went to a store called “Easy Day” to buy soy milk. It is part of Walmart’s global presents in everything but name. Who would expect to go half way around the world to shop at Walmart. There is just no escaping those “roll back prices.”
Just one more task for the day — activate our SIM cards for our mobile phones. From the time of purchase, it takes up to 3 days for the cards to be active, because they must first go through an extensive security check as part of the war against terrorism. Inconvenient but necessary.
Photos by Author. All Rights Reserved.
Sandra Wagner-Wright is the author of Two Coins: A Biographical Novel and Rama's Labyrinth. Both books are available in digital and print editions at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple Books, and Kobo. Rama’s Labyrinth and Two Coins are available as audiobooks.
Sandra blogs weekly about topics related to her travels, writing life, and the incongruities of life in general.