The polar fleece of a very strange man…


Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India

After the marble shop, I asked Khan what his commission was on sales at that place, and with a twinkle in his eye he said 2% – 5% depending on the store and the sale, and there is a set fee for the restaurants (but the restaurants cater to western taste buds and are extra hygienic, no Delhi Belly).

In told him what happened and he said he would take me to a different store where I could browse, but it was a very high end place so it would be more expensive. He also told me about the markings on the back of handicrafts in India and what they mean. “There will be a number on the back of the piece that will indicate how many stones are used, or in a carpet how many hours it took to complete. Then there is either one two or three vertical lines at the bottom indicating an apprentice, journeyman, or master. You take the first number and times it by 5, 10, or 20 accordingly. This is the price that the salesman wants, in rupees. If you get him under that, then you have made a deal”.

Armed with this knowledge, I went into the shop…. And was mesmerized by the beauty of the pieces. I found a few small table tops and a pendant that I got for slightly under the “marked” price.

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Next we went to lunch, but I got Khan to take me to a non-western orientated place to eat and had an awesome kadhai paneer masala that was out of this world. The food in Agra was turning out to be top notch.

Then it was off to the Baby Taj, a smaller building that was built before the Taj and was the first white marble building built by the Mughals and a lot of the the techniques were used on the Taj. The advantage of seeing this place is that it was practically deserted and you could really get up close to the interior to see the brilliance of the buildings.

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The inlay stone work in the Baby Taj uses less precious stones than the big Taj, but it is more delicate than the big Taj.

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So you take some pictures…

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And some more pictures…

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And then you’ve seen that.

Next, I was taken to a Persian carpet store similar to the first marble store where craftspeople showed me how the work was done and then there was a showroom. One piece that was a beautiful tiger design leapt off of the wall at me, and now that I knew the technique, it was GAME ON.

“This piece is very nice, you like? Feel the quality.”

“mmm”

“Or this one. I also have is blue or red”

“mmm” (I look at the tiger)

“You like tiger? Here, come see, come see”

It’s a small three foot by two foot mat, but it’s really beautiful and soft. I flip it over, see that is a journeyman work of 1200 hours which puts it at 12000 rupee or $240.

“Oh yes, we have this one in Canada”

“No sir, no sir. This one is of the highest quality made from pashmina wool, made from the chin hairs of only the baby goat”

“Yes, we do the same in Canada, only we do it with polar bears. The chin hair of the youngest polar bears is used to make carpets and scarves. We call it polar fleece. How much for this piece?”

The very confused salesman says “20000 rupee”.

“Oh no, I can get this in Canada for 3000 rupee”.

“No no, feel the quality”.

“No, I’ll pass thank you” (I start to walk out)

“Ok, Ok, Ok. 17000 rupee”

(I keep walking)

“15000… You will never get this kind of craftsmanship in a Canadian Polar Bear carpet”

After feeling it and rubbing the chin hairs of the JBJ several times, I talk him down to 6000 with delivery.

Then it was off to Akbar’s tomb… Which is a red sandstone mosolium to King Akbar, the greatest of the Mughal kings.

It has many of the same features as the other sites. Inlay stone work, expansive gardens, and huge gates. So I took some pictures…

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And some more pictures…

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And some more pictur…. HEY LOOK! A monkey!

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Then it was off for some dinner of vegetable korma, samosas and naan.

Over dinner I found out that the Taj looks best either at sunrise or sunset and Khan knew a good view of the Taj for sunset that is on a dried up river bed and I wouldn’t have to pay another entrance fee.

So I took a picture of the Taj at sunset.

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Then I asked him if he wouldn’t mind taking a picture of me wit The Taj in the background.

“OK, say cheeses”

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“Why do you make this face?”

“I don’t know, because it’s silly I guess”

“Do people think this one is funny?”

“No, most people think it is stupid”

Khan blinked for a bit to let that information sink in and then said “You are a very very strange man Mr. John”.

The next morning I walked down the street to a quaint little breakfast place about three blocks from the hotel and only got asked for money about a thousand times, and then headed back to the hotel to enquire about a late checkout or luggage storage because my train(s) didn’t leave until 2am.

“Late checkout will incur another days charge, but we can store your luggage for 75 rupees per hour”.

“Oh, well in that case I’ll check out now”

“You are checking out now sir? Well that is an early checkout. 200 rupee service charge”.

I decided to just go to the train station and wait the 14 hours for my train there.

At the station, I found out there are rooms above the station that run 300 rupee for a half day, so I signed up for one of those and they were enormous! With a full bathroom, shower and a/c. So I booked a wake up call and took a nap.

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I’m not sure what to think about Agra. It’s not that I hate it, but it’s definitely the most aggravating of the cities I’ve been to in India. I guess I’m glad I came to see the sights and pick up some souvenirs, but I’m also comfortable in the fact that I never have to come back again.

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