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Everest Gokyo Ri - Getting There is Half the Fun (Click here to skip directly to the trek)
Our route to Nepal was via India, specifically New Delhi. As New Delhi is so close to Agra and the Taj Mahal. I really wanted to see it and didn’t have time on my last trip. Due to my travel companion Chuck’s schedule we were once again pressed for time. We had one day and only one day to see the historic Taj and of course as a photographer I wanted to see it at sunrise, midday, sunset and night if possible. 

I felt the only way to accomplish this was to arrange for a driver ahead of time. If anyone has landed in an airport like Delhi, you know the mayhem that ensues when you land. I for one would not trust someone with all our luggage let alone our lives navigating the insanely-driven roads of India. Therefore, months before the trip I asked my students if anyone knew of a driver I could hire in Delhi. One nice student said we could hire his uncle’s driver. This was perfect.

Although I didn’t notice the sign with my name on it until I was almost out of the reception area of the airport, I did indeed see a Prof. Jeff Salvage sign and felt a sigh of relief. It was actually my student’s uncle who was incredibly kind and generous. He took us to the driver and allowed us to shower at his place. His place was beyond imagination. It turns out our host was a stone exporter and the house was built with granite and marble everywhere. One would never have guessed such a wonderful home was located in the middle of the chaos of Delhi.

Gokyo Ri Trek, Taj Mahal, India

It was about 1:00 AM and we headed out to Arga on streets that were unusually quiet as compared the uncontrolled rampage they see during the day. We slept a good part of the drive as we were tired from the 20 hour journey from Philadelphia to New Delhi. We arrived an hour before it opened and relaxed until we could hire a guide and a little bicycle rickshaw that drove us up to the Taj. They did not want cars to approach as they caused too much pollution. As it was they had to clean the marble every few years to wipe off the grime that built up. They also would not allow tripods because they might damage the stone. This meant no early morning, late evening or night shots, so we had a lot more time to do other things.

We walked around the Taj with our guide who took great care to explain every little detail down to the number of steps, pillars, etc. There was a great symmetry not only in the building itself, but the other buildings around it. In one case there were two buildings on either side of it, each identical to the other. From afar you are taken back by the beauty of the marble structure, however as you get close you realize the incredible detail of inlaid semi precious stones all over the building.

The Taj was like an oasis in the middle of poverty. An fact that probably hadn’t changed much since it was first erected. We were not the only creatures thinking it was an oasis as there was an amazing array of bird life. Kites and a variation of parrot dominated the skies, but many other birds were there as well.

Gokyo Ri Trek, Taj Mahal, India

Gokyo Ri Trek, Parrot near Taj Mahal, India

After spending a few hours walking around, we left the Taj and our guide directed us to a shop. This of course was an important part of the tour. I wasn’t even entertaining the talk of a very special purchase as the store owner wanted to offer us; a great deal of course, a very special deal. Yes, very special for him as he will rip us off. Chuck unfortunately decided to buy something. It was about 3 times the price of the same item at any other place. 

Leaving the shop, we were swarmed by people offering every little thing we didn’t need. They seemed to read my body language and not hassle me too much. However, poor Chuck seemed to say, “Come over here.” It was a pattern that would continue.

Fortunately, our rickshaw driver was waiting for us to save us with stories of how hard he works, how poor he is, and how many children he has. He drove us back to our trusty driver, who then took us to the Agra Fort. Again we were immediately swarmed by people willing to be our guide. We decided to go at it alone and headed over to the fort. If we were Indian, it would have cost us fifty cents, but since we were American it cost five dollars.

The fort was immense. Probably the biggest structure I have ever walked within. While only a small portion was open to the public, it still seemed unending. Built with many styles, each part at a different time, it had been captured, pillaged, and rebuilt many times. In a distance, you could see the Taj. Peering out over the area, a moat surrounded the fort, with many temples housed within you could be taken back in time.

After the fort we went to another palace/temple and while the structure was more of the same, the trip over was quite eventful. We got pulled over by the police. Our driver didn’t speak English, so we couldn’t figure out what was going on. Turns out the cop pulled us over for having windows that were too tinted. We were later told the police are illiterate and corrupt.

After the last stop, we went to lunch. To be safe, we were taken to the Sheraton. Not where I would have chosen, but they didn’t want us to get sick. There were two options, a Western buffet or Indian cuisine. We opted for the latter. While ridiculously expensive, I could eat for a week in Katmandu, the food was incredible. Amongst everything else we ate, we had a cup of lentils that Chuck barely touched. It was similar to the dal baht we would have on the mountain. Should be interesting to see how he would fair with it there.

After lunch we started the long drive back, which seemingly took forever now that there was massive traffic filling the streets. Eventually, we arrived at the hotel. It was nice and not too expensive.

Previously, Chuck and I had agreed on a price to pay the driver, but as we felt so bad he drove all night and all day we decided to give him fifty percent more. Shortly after, we were called by my student’s uncle and invited us to go out for pizza. We didn't want to seem antisocial, but we needed to rest so we politely declined. He then asked to come over to chat and of course couldn't refuse. It turned out the reason for his instance to meet was that he felt we gave way too much money to the driver and gave us back 2/3rds of our tip. It was so refreshing to have honesty and generosity.

The story continues...