The chaotic Delhi traffic had somewhat subsided as we drove across town to the railway station in New Delhi. It was 5am though. We seemed to be in a reasonably high class of carriage for the two and a half hour journey to Agra. I didn’t notice people dangling from the windows or travelling on the train roof. According to tour guide Ajay, that sort of thing is from a bygone era! We were served a cup of tea, a breakfast consisting of curried veg and a chapati, a bottle of water and a newspaper. The view from the window was somewhat tempered by a mist. Even the infamous Indian Railways toilets were reasonably palatable, at least the western-style option that I tested.
Guide books often note that modern-day Agra is perhaps not the prettiest of cities. To be fair, Agra’s golden age was in the days of the Mughal Empire during the 1500s and 1600s. Mughals must have been great builders as many of their iconic buildings are still standing in Agra today. The throngs of tourists are largely attracted by the Taj Mahal. Prior to visiting the Taj this afternoon, we went for a look at Akbar’s Mausoleum. Akbar was perhaps the greatest Mughal emperor and his marble tomb is the centrepiece of a lovely complex of temples, gates and gardens.
Our next stop in Agra was at a weaving factory that produced rugs (or carpets as the person who showed us around called them). Apparently during the 1980s it became noticeable that industrial emissions were causing the marble on the Taj Mahal to become discoloured. Therefore any factories producing such emissions were immediately shut down. One of the replacement industries to provide employment for people who had lost heir jobs was weaving. The place that we visited today was one such business. It supposedly took 3 people six months to make some of the larger intricate designs and to be fair the detail of the products was amazing. When I heard what price they were being sold for it was a bit sad to think what the people are being paid. Afterwards we dropped our bags off at the hotel. As well as the customary Indian welcome drink of Pepsi/7-Up, we were given one of those flower necklaces, as though we’d just stepped onto Hawaii.
The Taj Mahal was constructed during the 17th century as a memorial to the wife of one of the Mughal emperors of the day. Seeing it with your own eyes is much more impressive than any photo. The scale of the solid marble structure is amazing and the slight haze in the air this afternoon enhanced the majestic feel. There’s quite a bit to look at in the grounds of the complex, with several other beautiful buildings, reflecting pools and lovely gardens. Many people will visit the Taj Mahal once in their lives and treat the trip as a pilgrimage. Lots of visitors certainly get dressed up for the occasion. I saw more than one family bring a professional photographer with them. The team photo that they lined up for in front of the Taj will almost certainly be adoring their mantlepiece. Despite the Taj Mahal itself being a mausoleum and religious temples located across the site, this didn’t deter the hordes of selfie stickers and iPad photographers. It seemed a bit disrespectful and lacking in awareness of where they actually where to give it the, “look at me and where I am,” photo to their mates on Instagram.
Tonight I enjoyed another excellent curry. While alcohol is available to a reasonable extent, it doesn’t seem as prevalent as in some parts of the world. It’s also relatively expensive too. The restaurant tonight didn’t have any alcoholic drinks advertised on the menu but for about £2.50 you could purchase a can of Kingfisher. You were also provided with a mug to drink it from. As in the sort of mug that a cup of tea would usually be consumed from. £2.50 may not sound particularly expensive but bear in mind that the curry costs little more than this in Agra. I’ve also established that unless you fancy you’re head being blown off, don’t request a hot curry. Mild is mild and hot is off the scale. Asking for a medium spiced meal should get something equivalent in temperature to a UK Madras.
Some observations of India today included that English, at least at a basic level, is more widely spoken than I’d have expected. Official signs are in both Hindi and English. A fair amount of advertising is also in English and there seem to be quite a few English-language newspapers operating. Apparently most school children also learn English from a young age. I also noticed the occasional McDonald’s in Delhi. I rarely venture in these restaurants at home but when abroad I like to have a look at some of the local variations. This would be especially true in India where the vast majority of people are Hindu and would therefore refuse to eat any beef due to the sacred cow. Not having chance to go inside, I asked Ajay what Indian McDonald’s sold. It’s mostly chicken and vegetarian stuff was the reply. While there are stray dogs everywhere I’ve hardly noticed any cats so far in India. This probably isn’t necessarily a bad thing in an environment where they’d undoubtedly be something like a third-class citizen. Not only would they be chased by dogs but I’m sure the monkeys wouldn’t treat cats particularly well and monkeys can also climb trees.