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Published: November 15th 2018
Two thirds of the way there, and what exactly was 'just around the corner'? - the city of Agra and The Taj Mahal, in all its elemental splendour, surely a travel experience which should at very least be on every traveller's bucket list, if not already ticked off that list. The choice of hotel, the Seven Hills Tower, proved to be a fine strategy, given that the location was safe and tranquil, easily accessible to main sights and eateries, and the hotel itself ranks above par when it comes to overall facilities. A walk from the hotel to the Taj Mahal, with GPS leading the way, led this traveller through a labyrinth of run-down residential areas with one or two commercial options, which became a more frequent sighting the more one approached India's most revered building. The formalities and security involved in visiting the Taj Mahal is as one might expect, and the admission fee for a foreigner clocks in at 20 times the price an Indian national would pay. The Taj Mahal itself is as you would have recognized it from photos you have seen in books, and imagery from TV, films, and the like, but it appeared to be
the case that anyone and everyone who was photographing the building seemed to treat it as their 'very own Taj', so the advice here is 'obscure their attempted photo shot at your peril!' Closer up to the Taj Mahal, the imagery takes on board a somewhat different allure, and then you realize as you make your way into the queue for entry to the building itself that you'll not only be penetrating the heart of the world's most famous building, you'll also be discovering that the interior is dimly-lit marble-laden comparative nothingness which certainly does not disappoint, simply because of your precise location. Prise yourself away from the Taj Mahal, and work towards Agra (red) fort, the city's bona fide 2nd most visited attraction, and a commendable building worthy of exploration where a view of the Taj Mahal from a short distance reminds you of your place in this universe. A couple of other subsidiary attractions in Agra, and you're left with a city, the infrastructure of which appears to be somewhat poor given the fact that the Indian authorities have not really spruced up the city to give the visitor the overall impression that the city has more opulence
other than its 2 chief attractions. Onto the final leg of the final phase of the Indian episode then, and New Delhi may be the nation's capital, but goes down on record as being the nation's third largest city, clocking in just below Mumbai and Kolkata. Kudos must surely be awarded though to the city planners of New Delhi, who have established a metro system in the city which alleviates a fair portion of the insane traffic which can blight Delhi at any time of day, to the tune of no apparent system when it comes to occupying a space of a piece of tarmac. Also, for my money, Delhi has far and away India's greatest crop of individual tourist sights contained within the confines of just one city, among which rank the glorious ruins of Qutub Minar, Humayun's tomb, the Lotus Temple, Lodhi garden, Chhatarpur Temple, India gate, and far, far more besides. Feeling inspired by the visuals one is about to encounter, the best advice would be to hire a driver for two whole days, and choose a route carefully, prioritizing the city's most attractive spots from your own perspective, as attempting to do this in just one
day made it so apparent that I was skimming the surface here a little too much. New Delhi seems to excel at distinct areas of note which appear to have their own character, and for a night market experience, for instance, you'll be fairly hard-pushed to topple Karol Bagh, a busy commuter junction which gives way to night market extraordinaire when evening descends, and the hawkers, browsers and shoppers mill around in a clustered zone full of colour, light, background buzz and commercial activity. Elsewhere, and certainly no less captivating, even by day, is the electronics district in Chadni Chowk, adjacent to the entrance of Lal Qila (Red Fort), where a network of narrow interconnecting passageways is a joy to behold especially when considering the fact that the bargain-basement nature and variety of electronic goods is omnipresent, and the scope for browsing is at very least as alluring as shopping and bartering, the latter being so engrained into Indian commerce that you'll no doubt soon tire of the endless negotiations for a deal which you seem to think represents value for money. A couple more cups of Indian Masala Chai tea, another casually magnificent Indian curry or three, and the entire package came to a juddering halt with fond memories of cows, goats, squirrels and wild monkeys crossing your path in the midst of development, squalor, traffic noise, photogenic buildings and structures, and the zillionth hawker asking you where you are from. This was India as I had quickly come to recognize it by, and the overall assessment appears to be that the year in travel would clearly have been a duller experience without all of the above.
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