It’s a Thursday afternoon, and I am in Agra, India. I am sitting in a hotel room, working on my laptop. Kara is lying in bed beside me, sleeping. Yesterday, she was sicker than I have ever seen her before, or – for that matter – anyone else I have ever seen who wasn’t facing death. We called a doctor, who administered a drug cocktail that seems to have turned things around, so now she sleeps, and we wait. But for what?
At least, we’re waiting to leave Agra. We’re in a nice enough hotel; they upgraded us to their nicest room because Kara was sick and they had some all-night construction work going on adjacent to our room that was keeping us up at night. But, once you’ve seen the Taj Mahal and the four other beautiful Mughal sites here, there’s not too much to do here. And I can’t leave the hotel without being harassed by rickshaw drivers and shopkeepers. “Need rickshaw?” “10 rupees, really cheap, anywhere you want!” “What country you from?” The one that annoys me the most is, “Where are you going?” I always have to suppress the extremely strong urge to respond, “None of your G.d. business,” and come up with something marginally more polite to say. On our first day here, I had a rickshaw driver follow me for three blocks trying to get me to book a tour with him. He made a u-turn to catch up with me when I shook him once. He waited outside for me while I used an ATM. He even grabbed my arm when I turned to walk away from him.
India has been hard on us. Being out of the hotel can often be intense. Usually, every day, you will be approached many, many times by people directly or indirectly seeking something from you. Tourist touts are all over the place, especially in Agra, since everyone comes here to see the Taj Mahal. Then, you often run into street kids asking for money. In Delhi, we had a kid board our train, wipe down the floor of our berth and then demand a tip. People aren’t shy about asking for tips, even for things you never asked them to do. Sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference between people that are just trying to be nice and touts. At least a couple of times, we’ve had people accuse us of being rude for blowing them off on the street. We went back to talk to them and had to explain that we just can’t strike up conversations with people on the street or we’ll spend our lives going in and out of shops instead of doing the things we want to do.
It took us about 22 hours to get from Jaipur to Agra. Fog and some rail accidents had snarled rail traffic through one of the busiest corridors in the country. Our train was supposed to leave 14-and-a-half hours late, but we don’t know if it ever made it. In Agra, we saw in the newspaper that many people traveling to the Taj Mahal have had to abandon their plans because of interminable train delays. We decided just to take the bus. Unfortunately, we waited too long to make that decision, missed the last bus, and had to spend the night at the Jaipur bus station. That was a hell of an experience. While Kara tried to sleep in a molded plastic chair with her head on a cafe table, I sat up drinking chai and reading while the waiters watched old Bollywood flicks on TV. Thankfully, when we finally got to Agra, we found our pretty decent hotel and a really nice rickshaw driver to take us around to the Taj Mahal and the other sites. But we only had a good 24 hours in Agra before Kara got sick.
I had been thinking about writing about travel sickness before Kara got sick. Getting sick is a reality of traveling. Between us, Kara usually caught colds and I usually got the gastrointestinal bugs. Believe it or not, I think I got the better deal. Colds stick around for weeks, while I can usually knock out the intestinal bugs with two or three doses of a broad-spectrum antibiotic. The symptoms suck — especially since in many Asian countries there are not proper Western toilets outside of hotels — but you’re usually only off your feet for a day or two.
Whatever Kara got in Agra is the worst travel bug either of us have had on the trip. As I said, I have never seen her so sick in nearly six years together. So, it has us here waiting for her to get strong enough to travel again. And although Agra is probably not the best place to hold up for a few days, we have a comfortable room in a hotel with satellite TV, a good room service and internet access. So, we are watching English movies, reading, and working on the blog. But the 200-ton elephant in the hotel room with us is the question, “What next?” At this point, do we have it in us to take on Varanasi and Kolkata when we’re already feeling sick, tired and a bit overwhelmed by our experience in India? Or, are our minds and bodies telling us we should head back to Delhi and get on the next plane to Thailand? We sit here and wait, and hopefully soon, we’ll figure our the answer.