OK, so there may be questions as to where I’ve been over the last few months – things have been a bit less busy on the travel front and a bit more busy on the life-in-general front. I’ll spill the beans over the next few posts, but first the remainder of the Indian odyssey, back in August…
The Journey to Agra started in the way that all journeys in India seem to start. Chaos. We threaded our way through the maelstrom of Delhi traffic and eventually achieved escape velocity, heading south towards Agra along a very quiet motorway. Because we were there at the tail end of the monsoon season the scenery was very green (almost like the English countryside, with the exception of occasional reed huts) and women working the fields in saris. The miles rolled past and I watched the wildly painted lorries trundling along until the outskirts of Agra provided a new wave of bedlam to replace the gentle countryside.
Half an hour later we were sitting at the gates of the hotel we had booked for the next few days whilst very official looking men with impressive uniforms and moustaches checked around the car for anything suspicious (this, it seemed, was a feature of pretty much every door or gate we went through, including shopping centres. If we had been patted down going in and out of our hotel room I wouldn’t have been surprised…) Our usually taciturn driver looked me in the eye via his mirror and grumbled “They’d check in my bum if they could”. I think my laughing made the security guards more nervous….
Once inside we dropped off our kit in the room and headed up to the fancy rooftop pool for a swim. The view included the Taj Mahal in the distance and I watched it change from a beautiful reddish pink in the evening sun to an almost slate grey as the monsoon clouds rolled overhead. It was breathtaking. Thunder and lightning rolled in and the pool emptied. I got to swim for a while in the monsoon rain before deciding that maybe I shouldn’t be in a large body of water on a rooftop during a particularly lively electrical storm
I decided to go for a walk before dinner and set off towards the main road in search of a few photos. Apparently walking around is not really the done thing – I created quite a lot of interest on my short hike from everyone from the local kids to elderly folks in shops. Bust best of all were the tuktuk drivers. The concept of walking when you could be driven (even if it was to somewhere you didn’t actually want to go) was clearly anathema to them. One guy even offered to let me pay for a ride in his tuktuk without getting in. I laughed a lot at this one.
The next day we were met by our guide for this part of the adventure, and elderly guy with a real schoolmasterly manner and a habit of trailing off mid sentence just long enough for it to become concerning, before snapping back and carrying on. During our time with him Mrs A and I never quite figured out whether it was caused by the heat, translation issues, lack of memory or just boredom. It made us smile though, and our guy knew a huge amount about his subject and really gave some brilliant insight into the mindset of the people that built the structures we were to see.
First stop of the day was the Taj Mahal.
Most people who have actually been there will tell you that it is beyond words to describe the sense of awe and wonder that the place inspires. It’s true. It is beyond doubt one of the most astonishing places I have ever been to, whether because of the incredibly fine detail in every component or the breathtaking scale and grandeur of the place. My advice is to find a way to go, and employ the services of a good guide, there is beauty in the detail of the story that matches the beauty of the building.
After this we headed off to see the Agra fort – it was another tour-de-force of Mughal architecture, mixing Muslim, Hindu and Buddhism designs in every direction. It was, however, the first stop after the Taj Mahal and my head was still swimming. One of the recurring themes was of people wanting to get their photos taken with Mrs A and I, the family in the photo below were dead keen (apart from the young lad, and given what his mum had made him wear, you can’t really blame him, can you?)
After this we headed back to the hotel before heading out to have a meal with ‘a typical Rajhastani family’. Now I’m not sure what constitutes ‘typical’, but when the hosts of the evening come out to meet you, speaking with accents that make Prince Charles sound like Ray Winstone and tell you that they spend the winters at the family fort, I think you’re probably pushing the limits of typical. What followed was the most bonkers evening I’ve had for a while, with flunkies in berets serving dinner, the Matriarch of the family sitting at the table but not actually eating, and the two brothers (who were both in their early twenties at a guess) being made to hand over their phones before being allowed to eat. We had a great conversation about hats (“a beret never looks out of place, whatever the time of day”, or so I was told) and listened to the tales of woe for the Indian aristocracy.
Eventually we headed back to the hotel shellshocked and bemused.
The next day we would head to Jaipur