Published: August 20th 2011July 13th 2011
Monday 11th July – Wednesday 13th July
After a brilliant ten days back in the UK with family and friends filled with parties, dinners, lunches, cups of tea and country walks, it was time again to say our sad goodbyes and head off on the last two month leg of our six month adventure, on a one way ticket bound for our new home in Sydney.
As our flight to Bangkok had a stop in Delhi we decided to take a three day glimpse of life in Delhi and Agra, and visit the magnificent Taj Mahal.
Once out of the brand new airport, built specifically for the Commonwealth Games last year, it was incredibly sad to witness the all too evident struggle for life in the overpopulated, poverty stricken capital of Delhi, and its surrounding regions. Worlds away from the peaceful and breath taking Taj Mahal that we would see in the early morning light. The whole three days made for a deeply moving, mixed experience.
Our friendly Indian driver Ajar collected us from the airport and stayed with us for our whole visit. Walking towards the car we chatted along to Ajar trying to figure out
Dodging the traffic!
whether he could actually understand us (still not sure!) and determine the plans for our tour, whilst taking in the surrounding smells and sounds, and adjusting to the oppressing heat and humidity. I think we were both wondering what adventures lay ahead.
The comfortable air-conditioned car was a real relief from the heat and smell of the city and we spent much of the journey out to Agra dozing on and off with jet lag, woken occasionally by street vendors banging on the windows in the hope of making a few rupees. It didn’t take long to realise that Indians will try to sell you anything, anywhere and at any time. At one point along the route, we had only stopped for a few seconds before a man appeared with a monkey doing backflips looking for tips!
The traffic getting out of Delhi was manic due to the fact that traffic lights, where present, were not operational at many major intersections. The general rules of the road appeared to be, to fit where there is a space and beep your horn as much as possible to warn other drivers of your general location. They actually write ‘blow your
Demonstration at the marble factory
horn’ on the back of the trucks. It made some of the chaos in South American cities look tranquillo
There were lorries, cars, motorbikes, horses and carts, bicycles, camels, donkeys, cows and even elephants to contend with. Thank goodness we didn't opt to hire a car, the five hour journey to travel only 200km would have been more than stressful!
I was surprised to see just how green everything was, the views from the car window giving glimpses of lots of trees and birds, which I hadn’t imagined of India. There was also all sorts of livestock grazing on the side of the road; cows, pigs, horses, camels etc. However, it was horrible to see them grazing on endless piles of plastic and household rubbish that lined the streets, a clear indication of the battle that that India’s public services face trying to cope with the dense population in this part of the country. It actually turned my stomach and made me feel for these desperate animals. Unfortunately though, the living conditions of the animals are a product of the lives that some of the people here face - living in small shacks with clothes barely on their
Dancing outside the 'Quality Restaurant'...
backs, lathering up for a wash at the side of the road, low square wood platforms built with babies lying on top with only the shade of a tree to keep them out of the sun, were not uncommon sights.
On arrival in Agra, Ajar was eager to take us to a marble factory so we could see how they make the famous marble tables with precious stones carved into them, using the same methods as the patterns that decorate the Taj Mahal. We were tired and the journey had been long but naturally we were interested to make the most of our experience, so we agreed to get involved.
After an interesting live demonstration showing how they mark out the designs, carve into the marble, shape the stones and fit them in place, we were welcomingly led into a comfortable air conditioned, brightly lit gallery full of marble tables, marble chopping boards, plaques etc. This is when the classic sales chat kicked in and although it was all lovely and the craftsmanship was extraordinary… it just wasn’t our bag – and it was really expensive as well! Every trick in the book was used to keep us
Enjoying a Kingfisher
there, but after some trying, the technique of ‘we must go as we have a dinner reservation, but we might come back later’ got us out of the door. Ajar seemed a little disappointed to see us leave empty handed…..
Next stop on the Ajar tour bus was the ‘Quality Restaurant’ for dinner. Aptly named, we were wary to enter until a young boy in traditional dress and heavy black eyeliner sprang from the bushes, took my hand and started to wiggle his head from side to side and dance with an accompanying musician banging out some tunes. There was no going back.….
The food was ‘quality’ (we stuck with vegetarian options as part of our plan to avoid Delhi Belly) and we enjoyed a nice Kingfisher (easily the best beverage in India) before heading back to the hotel to catch some sleep before the early rise to visit the Taj Mahal for sunrise – the main event!
Along with our guide for the morning, we boarded our horse and carriage (no cars allowed to protect the Taj from pollution) and trotted down the road buzzing with somewhat sleepy anticipation, as we reached the entry gates. As
Taj Mahal, India
Our first glimpse of the Taj
the sun continued to rise, we wandered through the gardens and up to the southern gateway which offered our first glimpse of the Taj in all its glory in the early morning light. We’d seen it so often before on postcards, in books and in picture frames, but here was our moment to see it for real, and from that initial view and for the whole time we were there, we were in awe of its beauty. Afterall, it is a monument of love….
Built by a Mughal emporer, Shah Jahan, in memory of his third wife, the Taj, with her tomb as the centrepiece inside, is symmetrical (Chris was loving that!), except for one small detail that his tomb lies inside next to hers – his attempts to build a black Taj to house his tomb on the opposite side of the river were unsuccessful. Built using white marble and covered in patterns made using precious gemstones, it really is a work of art.
After a few hours wandering through the gardens surrounding the Taj and inside it, we left with ‘happy memories’ – the catch phrase our tour agency used in the narrative of their trips.
View of the Taj from Red Fort
Our stomachs rumbling, we were taken to the ‘Taj Mahal’ restaurant, to grab some breakfast – luckily there was more than Indian food on the menu. A curry for lunch and dinner is manageable but for breakfast as well…..
After resisting attempts by our guide to take us to more marble and carpet factories, we stopped for a wander through the Red Fort in homage to the real home of curry back in Overton. An impressive fort which also offered a great view of the Taj further down the river. However, with the heat of the day becoming more and more intense, and Ajar’s air conditioned tour bus waiting outside, we kept our visit brief.
By late morning we were on the move again, time to take the trip back towards the almighty Delhi. We stopped at a touristy lunch spot along the way for another curry, next to where locals were farming the neighbouring rice paddy fields. As we were lured into the dimly lit cafeteria by a man dressed in full traditional Sikh dress, I asked Ajar ‘what has he come as, a pirate?’ I didn’t mean to be disrespectful, but he had a sword
The entrance to Red Fort
and everything! Chris was in hysterics but luckily Ajar’s English skills didn’t quite extend to the point of understanding, so he just laughed along because we were!
Our second round in Delhi was no less shocking, it just deepened our grasp on the size and reality of the living conditions. Ajar took us to a few tourist places including what I called the ‘Sydney Opera House’ although it was actually a Lotus Temple which was built as a place where anyone could freely visit and enjoy from all religious / non-religious backgrounds. It was a lovely place.
We decided to sit just outside on the benches and read about the temple in the brochure we were given when an Indian couple approached me and asked for a photo. I was a bit disgruntled at first because I thought they were asking us to move off the bench so they could take a picture of their kids on the bench….. then I realised they wanted a picture of ‘the westerners WITH their kids!’. This soon turned into a photo shoot and before we knew it Chris and I had posed for photos with another four families during the ten
Keri on one of her many photo shoots!
minutes that we sat there.
To top it off, Chris was asked to do a 2-3 minute film scene of a random guy using his video camera with instructions to start with a slow pan around the area and then zoom in on the guy who was posed splashing his hand into a pond, before slowing swaggering up the stairs towards the camera with a composed, seductive look. The whole thing was quite surreal but very funny!
After a drive to a few other Delhi sights, and a few more photo stops of teenage lads posing with Keri, we were dropped off at our hotel complete with a pool. Perrrfect! Enough time for a swim and another curry before bed.
Next day being our last, Ajar picked us up and before long we were back at the airport again, saying our goodbyes to our friendly companion for our India experience, and we were off on the plane to Bangkok along with a little reminder of our time in India…..Delhi Belly!
C and K xx
There are more photos below