Friday, 16 April 2010

How 'bout that marble dome?

It’s really impossible to say anything about this experience without saying something that hasn’t already been said a thousand times before……but I’d be a fool not to at least try…….I think I owe you guys that much! What else could I possibly be referring to, but our visit to none other than that oh so infamous wonder of the world, the Taj Mafreakinhal…..well I bet it’s never been called that before!

I do actually now consider myself to be an utterly spoilt brat of the backpack brigade because, for me, this was actually a repeat performance, having visited the Taj on my first foray in India many years ago. But fortunately for me, for all my travel companions this was the day to pop their Taj Mahal cherries and so off we went with a bounce in our rickshaw ride and a spring in our flip-flopped step to have an encounter with the sublime. I say fortunate for me, because I got such a kick out of watching them all, (especially my step-mum) stride out in calculated haste, with such eagerness to get to the ticket booth and dispense with the formalities, so that they could hurry up and catch a glimpse. Just like a child on Christmas morning that hasn’t yet learned that Santa is just a tale made up by the adults, Diane had that excited gleam in her eye and was raring to go. It made the second time around for me that much more sensational to be sharing it with them all.

But, how does one describe the indescribable? Of course we can go with the basics…..milky white marble,

spectacular inlaid stone work,

simple water features and manicured lawns, perfect symmetry, bladdy, bladdy blah. But the essence? The magic? How do you capture that? And a photograph doesn’t even do it justice.

There really is no substitute for actually being in a place like that.

We had decided to arrive around mid afternoon so that we would have plenty of time to explore every corner of the grounds and just soak it all up before the golden hour arrived,

and the setting sun would begin to set the dome alight, but somehow it still didn’t feel like enough time.

The sheer scale of this gargantuan monument is of course a huge factor in adding to it’s wonderousness and impressive presence, but I think that what fundamentally clinches the peak of its impressibility is the fact that this incredible piece of architecture was built solely for the purpose of celebrating a life. Shah Jahan, the ruler who commissioned this colossal structure was basically building a shrine for his dead wife, Mumtaz Mahal to commemorate her life……now that’s a pretty serious display of adoration. He also planned to build an identical structure out of Black Onyx on the other side of the river for his own interment, whenever that day came, but he never managed to pull that project off, thanks to a little issue with his son, who, being afraid that his father was going to spend all of his inheritance, locked him up,

in the Agra Fort for the last remaining years of his life and took over as ruler and lord, before daddy dear had managed to get that project off the ground.

As the sun slowly began it’s descent across the hazy sky we watched with admiration, observing the subtle changes taking place in the colors and hues reflected back from the marble of that majestic iconic dome. Magnificent, magical, mystical, momentous, marvelous and that’s just the ‘m’ adjectives that spring to mind. It truly was one of those days that will remain etched in my memory banks forever. Now that’s “Incredible India”!

But if you do ever find yourself with a couple of free days in Agra, I would like to point out that there’s definitely more to Agra than just the Taj Mahal.

There are actually several other, almost as equally impressive, monuments and mausoleums to be seen. For the price of just a bagel and a juice back home we were able to see the rest of Agra’s highlights in a day, by way of our very own chauffeur driven rickshaw, with the reliable and rambunctious, Haneef, who fortunately (for us and him) found us looking for a means of locomotion from A-B as we set out for our day. You see, most of the rickshaw drivers in the big cities of India spend their day touting for business, napping and occasionally picking up the odd 10 or 15 rupee fare for an Indian family that will only pay ‘local price’.

So the rickshaw drivers are usually quite excited to find a few tourists who want to hire them for the day and pay the equivalent of a king’s ransom (to them) for the privilege.

We visited the Agra fort,

The Baby Taj

and Akbar’s Mausoleum and never tired of playing tourist,

constantly surrounded by the spectacular relics and reminders of ancient times.

But the highlight of our second day of sightseeing in Agra was undoubtedly the way we decided to finish it off. It’s not often in a lifetime that one gets the chance to view one of the wonders of the world and so we all agreed that it was only sensible to get a second look at the Taj Mahal – but this time from afar.

By backpacker standards our digs in Agra weren’t half bad – but for the regular tourist one might say that we were kind of slummin’ it (well that’s certainly what the look on my step-mum’s face said when she first opened the door to her ‘suite’ and discovered, much to her dismay, that there wasn’t even a wardrobe inside the room! – but props to her – she managed it all without a single word of complaint – just as one would expect from a lovely gentile English lady), so we felt perfectly justified in feeling that we’d earned the right to a little luxury. Our final stop that day would be the ‘Oberoi Grand’, please Haneef. Thankfully, our trusty guidebook had mentioned that one could stop by the Oberoi in the afternoon for a ‘sundowner’ without actually being one of the privileged few guests residing at these luxury accommodations. It had been a long day of taking in the sights, our feet were tired and we were very, very thirsty. So – with the help of daddy dearest’s wallet we took refreshments in the Oberoi hotel bar that must surely claim to have one of the top ten views in the world. As we sipped on our cocktails, in the pleasant cool of the air-conditioned lounge, we gazed out of the glass patio doors, to a distant, but perfect view of the softly glowing domes of the Taj Mahal, and marveled that we practically had the place to ourselves!

Phew – what a view, what a day!

our second yummy cocktail it was decided that this actually wouldn’t be a half bad joint to have a spot of dinner, and so we dined in style that night. Thankfully the restaurant didn’t seem to impose a dress-code because I’m pretty sure my dusty flip-flops would not have made it through the ordeal, and to be sure we did feel just a little out of place, since we hadn’t even had time to stop back at our digs for a shower – but oh well – the food was delicious and for Darko and me, it was a wonderful little reminder of what life in the real world was like. Not a dread-locked hippy, or pot smoking Israeli in sight and all the waiters spoke perfect English, and catered to our every need with the care and attention that one might expect from the finest hotel in the city…..ahhhhh!

With Agra ticked off the list we spent a day at the nearby Fatephur Sikri before it was time to head off to the land of forts and palaces in the state of Rajasthan, and for that we were going to need a little extra help. In the weeks preceding my father’s arrival I had put together a grueling itinerary that would have us covering an immense amount of ground in a relatively short space of time and so we had decided that the best way for us to get from A-B was to actually have our own car and driver, instead of relying on bus and train – now while this may sound a tad extravagant, in actual fact in India, it is far from it. Firstly – since everything here is so much cheaper than in the west, the price was still less than you might pay for a hire car alone in Europe but secondly and most importantly, unless you have a serious death wish, there is absolutely no way in hell that you would want to drive yourself on the roads of India. Besides the regular rules of the road that no one actually follows, there are clearly a whole series of unwritten rules in India, which all the Indians are thoroughly familiar with and follow to the letter, but as a foreigner – it’s pretty much impossible to fathom. And so our exit from Agra was made in the comfort of our very own spacious and roomy SUV, driven by the amicable and affable, Krishna. Now the adventure would really begin……and just a couple of hours out of Agra, our first unforeseen event: a blowout. Not to worry – we’d only just stopped half an hour before to fix the spare – so with a nifty, quick wheel change we were back on the road and crossing our fingers that this would not be the shape of things to come. And if it was – well so be it – we were in ‘Incredible India’ after all, where anything can happen! And besides – we’d already seen the Taj Mafreakinhal – so did the rest even really matter…….?


  1. Great read but Santa is just a tale made up by the adults? Nooooooooooooooooooooo

  2. Awesome read Carrie...I would love to go there one day! xx

  3. From the concern information,I come to know about the mix tradition rituals and cultures of the vast India.I like all the snaps as there are vehicular mode present such as rickshaw's and pedicab's.

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