Rising before dawn, we gathered in the hotel foyer in anticipation of greeting the morning sun along with the birds at a nearby sanctuary. Instead of sun, we were met by dense fog and a stench in the air so thick that I pulled out my surgical facemasks and shared my supply with others who joined me in the attempt to avoid damaging our lungs. I also passed out peppermint oil to add to the fabric, bringing a freshness to each inhalation. My oils have come in handy as I they have helped my current tribe relieve nausea, indigestion, headaches, respiratory congestion, insomnia, and the itch of a mosquito bite when the repellant wasn’t applied soon enough. I suggest all travelers carry a small pharmacy of essential oils.
Waiting for the fog to clear, we ate an early breakfast then headed out on our coach (aka big ass bus) before transferring to rickshaws that carried us through the wildlife park. The coolness of the air and the cacophony of birds were welcome as we were carried along a dirt path lined with amazing creatures. Kingfishers, hundreds of herons, numerous flocks of ducks, and antelopes twice the size of our Montana breed flanked us on each side of the path. The return to nature, away from congestion and chaos, reminded me of all I miss about Montana. The air even cleared enough to remove our masks and reveal our smiling faces. Our knowledgeable guide set up his spotting scope bringing a distant eagle into view along with numerous visual delights. After two hours of gawking, the rickshaw pedaler raced with the other carriages for some laughs on the return trip to our coach.
Packing our bags was quick as we stayed just one night in Bharatpur stopping over between Jaipur and Agra. Our primary goal was to reach the Taj Mahal by midday. All plans in India seem to be made in sand as they shift with each wave of action. Timing is not something to be predetermined. As usual our bus ride was twice as long as expected with the delay of the most obscene traffic jam I have ever witnessed. Driving is done in a very organic style here in India with lanes and lights unheeded. Even on the rare occasion that the road is empty, our driver straddles the dividing line, choosing the middle path, I suppose. Passing mere inches from another vehicle is standard, even in head-on scenarios. The lack of emotional response from the locals is evidence that this is simply the way of the road. Meanwhile, the North American travelers were struggling to keep their cool. Closing ones eyes seems to be the best practice in the passenger seat. And then we were stopped in our tracks for some unknown reason. The vehicles around us crowded in so close that we jammed the road in one direction without any room available in opposite direction. No thought was given to the fact that cars, in fact, needed to move in both lanes.
Not being the epicenter of the problem our dedicated guide, Raj and our driver left the bus to survey the scene ahead leaving us all in wonderment. Motorcycles and buses continued to creep closer though there was no true movement, just a tightening of the knot. The driver retuned to inform us that Raj was now directing traffic at the distant 5-way intersection that was completely clogged in the same way our own two-lane highway was snarled. As a tourist bus the size of ours began to creep its way up beside us in the lane meant for opposing traffic, I made hand gestures to communicate the cause of the jam being that there was no room for anyone to move out of the center and somehow he understood and inched his giant ass bus back behind us. Inch by inch was our progression as Raj risked his life painstakingly guiding an endless line of busses and cars through the eye of a needle. He admitted to having jumped out of the way of many a determined driver forcing their way through the mayhem.
When our bus finally reached the epicenter of confusion, Raj parted the sea of traffic like Moses then jumped on our bus leaving the catastrophe behind. Observing it all from the backseat of the bus, Rox and I stared with disbelief at the endless miles of coagulated traffic in all directions. Perplexed by such a performance of unconscious action we wrote it off as the downside of living too fully in the present. Without consideration of how one’s choices were affecting the situation, everyone just forced their way toward the middle of the circle with no way out. Perhaps it’s simple due to their comfort in the chaos. As for making it to the Taj “on time”… that’s a whole different story.