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Round the World Journey

India - Delhi and Agra

INDIA | Friday, 15 September 2017 | Views [355]

The 8 hour flight to Delhi from London arrived at 11.30 so by the time we had cleared immigration which took 40 minutes or so and got a taxi to the hotel, it was 1.30am. I bullishly told Andy my travel buddy for this leg of the journey that I would be waiting for him at 7am in the lobby since we might as well bite the bullet. forget the jetlag and make the most of our short time in Delhi.  I must have turned the alarm off since reception called me at 7.30 to say that Andy was waiting for me outside. When i did make it outside I was surprised to discover that he was holding a tiny puppy that was about to be abandoned at the side of the road. This is India and I didn't think it was the most sensible thing to do although I admired his compassion.  Andy headed off to find an animal hospital and I set off towards the Red Fort. This is perhaps Delhi's most iconic site.  It was still well before 9 and most of the buildings were shut but there was a lovely sunrise glow over the walls.  It was too hot already really to want to look at the museums as fascinating as i am sure they are. The outer gate is where the declaration of Indian Independence was made.

From the fort, I succumbed to the charms of a bicycle rickshaw driver who assured me I could pay whatever I liked although in the end he demanded an extortionate 2000 ruppees. It should have cost about 200 rupees but due to lack of change I settled for 500. We stopped to look at a couple of temples, the most interesting one a millenimum old Jain temple tucked away along the market streets. It was the sort of place that you could never find on your own.  Some of the art work was delightful merging Mughal with pre Mughal, Budhist and colonial influences. There were Victorian tiles for example and a frieze depicting steam trains alpongside Jani saints in Buddha like poses. Having been told that I could (read should) give an entrance donation to the temple, the monk guide who had insisted that i join his mini tour, also told me that foreign tourists sometimes tipped him...From ther the rickshaw driver took me to the roof of an old British or Mughal fort that is now occupied bu thousands of inhabitants. The corridors were dark and filthy but the view of the architecture and surrounding markets was superb.  We made our way to the Jamal Mosque which was busy with worshippers and tourists. As with the Fautehaur Mosque which was miuch quieter, I had to take my shoes off on entry even to the exterbal courtyard and not just to the inner building.  

Delhi has much stronger Muslim influence than i was expecting although it makes sense given the Mughal history.  I was also pleased to see a central Baptist Church and the Catholic Cathedral. The police presence is pervasive everywhere - not surprising given the tourist threat, and great posters advertise the threat from Pakistan.  

The drivers are as mad as I had heard.  Tuk tuks whcih offer litte protection toot and hoot all the way, sometimes veering onto the wrong side of the road without warning. The best analogy i can think of is of the dodgems.  The tuk tuk drivers also generally offer to show you a bazar or shop. It transpires that they get a few pounds for petriol for bringing a tourist.

En route back to the hotel, we saw the presidential palace which is a great colonial building and Delhi Gate.  From there  we went on to the .... Tombs which were a precursor to the Taj Mahal. The shape seemed very similar although the Delhi Tombs were constructred from sandstone and redstone.

We learnt a lesson at 5am at the railway station.  An officious looking guy demanded to see our tickets and insisted that they were no good. We would have to visit a ticket counter and get them for international travel.  The train had been cancelled as well.  He seemed to be in authority and marched over to the ticket office to pick up a form and then dispatched us off in a taxi several miles away.  Once there the puzzled look on the agent's face gave the game away. This was a scam so we quickly drove back to the station and checked out stuff in. The tickets were fine. The guy was obviously on a commission scam. How irriitating it would have been to have missed the one train from New Delhi Station.

The 2 hour journey to Agra was a pleasure.  We were served coffee, refreshments and breakfast before arriving in Agra. We negotiated a price for a rickshaw for the day with Ali who took us to see the Tak Mahal from across the river. The views were spectacular as was the sister mausoleeum know as Little Taj close by.  This mausoleum is not so well known but also stunning and a worthy precursor to the main attraciton which we are saving for sun rise tomorrow.  We ummed and aajhed about paying 500 rupees (about £6) to visit Agra Fort. I had seen the fort in Delhi and ALi thought we would see better in Jaipur. In the end we decided to visit on the basis that we might not visit Agra again. I am glad that we did - the complex with mosques, courtyards and audience rooms was truly staggering. The views over to the Taj Mahal were also excellent. Just as well really given that the founder of the Taj was imprisoned here for 8 years. I could think of worst places to be imprisoned!  

Ali inisted on taking us to a variety of craft shops - stone cutting, carpets, cloths and clothes and handicrafts. Given that it was hot and we had exhausted the best known sights, we did not put up too much of a fight.  At least we were served a lovely cold drink in the carpet factory.  But the views of animails and of street scenes were much better really. Cows on the railway platform, bufallo in the river, monkeys crossing a bridge, cows asleep on the roads.  From the railway carriage we passed through central towns with modern buidlings to the slums and beautiful countryside which was surprisingly green. Green no doubt since the monsoon has just finised. It was a particular treat to see a wild peacock.  India assails and assualts all of the scences. If you can close your eyes ot the poverty and suffering it is a beautiful place.  There is also a peculiar mix of gods on display - and many adherents and men striving for holiness.  This adds to the colour and in some places confusion.

Getting up at 4.30 to see sunrise over the Taj Mahal was worth it despite the frustration of bureacracy that stopped us getting inside the ground until 6am. A guide showed me (for a tip) some good places to take photos and i found the experience of wandering the extensive grounds before the crowds got too oppressive meditative and enjoyable. The views the previous day were impressive but there is nothing quite like your first glimpse of the front of the Taj in the early morning light. Truly moving and memorable.  I came across a bat or flying squirrel and inadvertedly saved it from the ravens by disturbing them just as they viciously stabbed at it.  Thankfully it managed to escape again into the darkness. 

There is nothing dark about the Taj - built over 22 years from gleaming white marble and recently cleaned.  The work is delicate and beautifully crafted. On both sides of the Taj are mosques built in red stone whcih seem to help focus your sight on the mausoleum.

It was hard to drag ourselves away from the Taj but we did so in the end after light breakfast at a newly opened cafe - an extended family enterprise covering cafe, restaurant and crafts. It was so new that we were the first to use the menus that had just been delivered.  

We took the public bus at the princely sum of 40 rupees to the abandoned palace complex of Fateh Sikar - 40 kms away. The ride was bumpy and hot with the temperature rising to 38 degrees. The bus weaved its way out of town, through markets, a cacophony of noise as tuktuks, cars, buffalo, horses, lorries, donkeys and pedestrains competed for the road, and it didn't seem to matter which side of the road the cars went on.  A true free for all.

But it was worth it. The palace complex built in red stone had commanding views of the countryside and contained a large mosque and madrasssam and palaces with audience rooms, stables and gardens.  This included a hareem and garden viewing platform with passageway - strangely reminsicent in shape of a Chinese of Japanese temple but with strong Mughal and Islamic overlay. All that is left now is the exquisite stonework but the palacesa were no doubt full of silks, carpets and handicrafts. The gardens green and tendered. Unsurprisingly the complex was eventually abandoned due to lack of water which has probably helped preserve it.

 

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