Mother India - Agra PDF Print E-mail
Written by Peter Smith   
Saturday, 11 April 2009 11:13
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Day 39: Wednesday 31st October - Agra  

Things got worse at the bar, a bottle of Kingfisher beer cost 150 rupees or nearly £2 while Cocola was only 30. Things were beginning to improve as we sat by a roaring fire in its purpose built pit in the middle of the garden. The food when it came was ok consisting of a selection of curries: chicken, veg and a drinkable lentil one along with rice and naans. After dinner we were presented to Lauren's new game called 'ok whose got my wallet'. Then it developed into 'I know someone has it and is playing a game with me'. This was then followed by 'This is no longer funny guys' Instead of letting our food settle everyone, except me and the lads being accused, were scouring the garden area with torches looking for any sign of Lauren's £30 and credit cards. In an attempt to bring things to a head and flush the prankster out I suggested calling the police. By the time they came in the early hours of the morning we had been in bed for hours. This was the earliest night (10.00pm) Anne and myself have had since getting married. Lauren it seems was awoken by the police who had caught the culprit a young Indian lad who we think worked at the camp. After returning the wallet the police proceeded to carry out justice by beating the hand bound, naked lad with a long cane and showing no concern for the lad's screams and crying and the astonishment and disgust of those listening.

Heaven! We stayed in bed till 10.00 for the first time since leaving England. Breakfast was at last night's restaurant and so we decided not to go. I went down to the reception to order two teas and the head waiter from the restaurant was trying to get people to go with him but to no avail: once bitten twice shy. The two cups of sweat, milky, ginger flavoured tea were pretty bad but nothing compared to last night's meal.
After a leisurely morning at the hotel we set off to walk to the Taj Mahal some 600 yards from our hotel. The heat and the distance were not barriers but the people pestering us to buy from them made it akin to walking through treacle. We were pestered all the way.
When we got to the entrance we met Colin and Claire leaving who told us we could do the full tour in probably 20 minutes. It was only 11.30am and they'd done the Agra Fort and the Taj since breakfast. The entrance fee was 1500 rupees for two after the extra costs and taxes were added for being foreign, however, it did include a bottle of iced cold water and shoe covers for inside the mausoleum. Once inside we were nearly trampled to death by an hysterical crowd following two Bollywood stars who'd been filming some advert. Not a good start but things did get better. I had wrongly assumed that the Taj stood in the countryside outside Agra and not surrounded, once again, by the shacks, shops and tents. When you see these icons on the telly they never show the mess that surrounds them. The whole site, however, lived up to its reputation, the gardens and surrounding red sandstone walls and gates were impressive although it was probably the wrong time of the year to see the gardens.
The area leading up to the mausoleum was packed with tourists but surprisingly not foreign ones. The famous marble seat where Princess Diane was photographed was packed with Indians having their own versions created by professional photographers. It's ironical that the very people who supposedly drove her to her death in Paris have their own little niche thanks to just that one picture. Mark asked me later if we'd taken our photos on the seat and seemed a little shocked at my reply. Needless to say we hadn't.
Even the number of tourists couldn't detract from the sheer beauty of the building. The white marble dome and minarets are much bigger than I expected and standing barefoot in their shadow looking out over the river Yamuna was a very pleasant way to spend an hour. What really made the two icons at Amritsar and here in Agra for me is the wildlife. The Taj is constantly being circled by Red Kites while the trees and bushes in the surrounding garden is a haven for green Parrots and what look like little Chipmunks. While the tourists stand in awe at one of man's great monuments they miss the graceful display going on above their heads. Although the size and quality of the craftsmanship displayed in the white marble is magnificent I have to say it is a little extreme for the love of one woman. It was built (between 1631 - 1652AD) by the Emperor Shahjehan for his wife and it took twenty thousand workers over twenty years to complete. I read, later in the day, at Agra Fort that the Moghul Emperors like Shahjehan had an harem of 5000 who were handsomely paid for their services which is something I didn't know. I just wonder what was so special about this one. Anne made the observation 'it must have been a long wait for your turn'.
We left the site at 3.30ish to satisfy our stomachs: not eaten since the night before. Just outside the south gate we found a rooftop restaurant recommended by the Lonely Planet, and a post office that probably hasn't changed since my dad used it in the 1930s; including the same three personnel who showed no interest in the French couple from Paris - returning after backpacking in China and South East Asia - and ourselves both queuing at the little arched window for stamps and talking quite loud. The rooftop restaurant was excellent and a tray of a veg and lentil curry, Nan bread, fried rice, tomato salad, yoghurt, a sweat and a cup of coffee cost 80 rupees or £1. It was worth double just to sit high above the squalor of the street and watch the monkeys stealing food from below and sharing it on the rooftop opposite us. This was the kind of food, service and price I expected but sadly is rare in the parts of India we've traveled through. It is now up to Lucknow and Varanasi to change my view.
After yet another death defying trip round buses, bicycles, oxen, camels, cars and hundreds of rickshaws both manual and motorised we were deposited at the Delhi Gate entrance to Agra Fort. I have to say this is more my type of building, not only does it have the proportions and the quality of craftsmanship of a Taj Mahal but a real purpose for existing. Men should occupy themselves with power and glory and leave love to the women. As I turned, after paying the mad rickshaw man, the shear size of the fort's brilliant red sandstone battlements took my breath away: stretching out on both sides from the main gate into the distance and rising 70 feet above an enormous moat which is now concreted.
Walking round and reading the various plaques it seems the fort and Agra were the centre off the Moghul Empire. I heard an old guide say to his group the fort is the biggest on the Indian Sub Continent and was commissioned by Emperor Akbar the grandfather of Shahjehan in 1565 who spent their time ruling this enormous area from this fort and the one at Lahore which was the last fort we visited in Pakistan and also built from beautiful red sandstone. The enormous site sits glowing red high above the Yamuna River and facing the Taj Mahal which on this occasion was barely visible due to the thick strip of pollution drifting across the middle of the icon. The scene on the river as we stood there has probably not changed since the early 17th Century with young boys wading neck deep into the middle of the river to cast nets. Further down on a bend their peers kept an unwatchful eye on oxen cooling off and a dam made of orange flowers and rubbish discharged further up stream.
The fort had a lovely feel of warmth, security and luxury about it with fountains and gardens consisting of beautiful red flowers in full bloom, neat patterned flower beds like Victorian vegetable patches but containing small coloured plants like radish leaves and all surrounded by rooms, dormitories, mosques and a very large and ornately multi-arched meeting place in the central courtyard. Standing here as the sun went down and the noise of Parakeets was deafening. Again the skies above were full of Red Kites and as the sun set behind the Moti-Masjid, a white marbled mosque resembling a white pearl, a pair of owls silently changed one tree for another above our heads and the biggest bats I've ever seen darted about to feed on insects. As the fort changed from a red glow to a red silhouette the heat from the stone floors and walls rose and quickly became unbearable and we left hurriedly to beat the pending sauna and a large school party making its way to the main gate and who were making more noise than the green feathered occupants. As we came through the gate, sellers of all description descended on us with bat-like accuracy and for a few moments I could empathize with the poor insects inside struggling to survive. As we made a quick get a way in a motorized rickshaw Anne had to throw a small marble elephant, which had come down from 350 to 50 rupees, back into the anonymous hands waiting for money and I tried to explain to another in vain that I didn't want to take a guide book of the fort to Australia with me. The trauma didn't stop there, as the agreed 60 rupee rickshaw ride left the bustle and chaos of the town and took us out into dark suburbs not before seen I began to fear for our safety. Just when I thought he was about to reap revenge on us for the way we handled the beggars earlier the cart bounced up a bank and back onto a main road we recognized. It's hard to image how they can make a profit from a twenty minute ride but 60 he quoted and that is what he asked for. I was so relieved I gave him 100. Inside the hotel Jim related a story how outside the Taj one individual had reduce the price of twelve postcards down to 10 rupees just to make a sale.
We were still stuffed from our rooftop feast and so we went with JonPal and Claire for a drink to a beer restaurant very close to our hotel. Here we found the cheapest beer so far: Kingfisher light 80 and the stronger Kingfisher and Haywoods 5000 at 90 rupees. I took 4 bottles back to the hotel for the pending fancy dress Halloween Party.
Anne did very well to construct a ghost costume for herself and a Batman one for me. A little hot in the gloves and I decided looking in the mirror it was not so much Batman but Delman without that plonker Rodney. The party got going about an half hour before we went to bed at 12.00. The best part about the night was John had arrived at the hotel late. I was remonstrating with Anne about my Batman mask, because the eye slits were too tight and needed enlarging, when I suddenly heard John doing likewise with a porter about the lack of toilet the paper in his room. I took him some from our room as the porter scuttled down the stairs.

Last Updated on Sunday, 19 April 2009 20:05