India is a wonderful country, filled with challenges and euphoric moments alike. I have visited a lot of cities and towns during my time here, and even if I didn't love each city, I was able to find at least one charming aspect about each one.
Agra is the exception.
Agra sucks. Don't be fooled by these pictures; they're all from protected monuments which are carefully scrubbed and polished with hundreds of thousands of tourist dollars. I've been doing photography for thirteen years, so I can find a few good angles, but believe me when I say that only the threat of death or extreme dysentery could entice me to return to Agra.
A quick overview of the town: although the Taj Mahal is a place of exceptional beauty, the town beyond its borders is the most dismal, awful, depressing place I've ever been. There is no beauty or charm in the local life, indeed, the people who live there seem exhausted and worn out by their existence there.
My hotel smelled like toilet disinfectant, and it sat in the middle of a wide, dusty thoroughfare which led from nowhere to...nowhere. You couldn't walk anywhere of interest; the only places nearby were dingy mechanic shops and liquor stores. Although foreign pedestrians attract a fair amount of attention in India, here the attention is aggressive and leering - anyone or anything that suggests a life outside of Agra is nearly devoured by unpleasant curiosity.
On my last night in Agra, I was awoken by a strange sound. It sounded like air escaping from a loose metal valve, and it woke me up several times in the early hours of the morning. Every time I rolled over to see what the sound was, however, silence was restored. After being woken up three or four times, I lay very still to see if I could detect the source of the disturbance, and immediately wished that I hadn't.
I suppose it was partly my own fault, because I had bought a bag of pastries the previous afternoon, and left them tied up in a plastic bag on my nightstand. The sound was caused by a rat, squatting on my nightstand, trying to rip open the bag with its tiny, rat teeth. This happened inches from my face.
Welcome to Agra!