Sunday, 17 February 2013

2013 Travel Update III - Agra


And here I am, as promised in Agra, probably the most touristy city in India... no, DEFINITELY the most touristy city in India. I mean, for the first time since arriving here I've come across coach parties, elderly Swedes, Americans and Japanese and a whole class of tourists who, unlike moi, don't feel the need to wear stupid headgear and seek spirituality.

So, if they're not after the sacred, then what do they want? The answer is simple and it lies on the edge of the city, built out of shimmering white marble, that most famous of all buildings, the Taj Mahal.

The Taj Mahal was built 1632 and 1653 by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan as a tomb for his wife, Mumtaz who died giving birth to their fourteenth child and whom he loved above all else. I'd never heard of him before I must admit, but I knew all about her of course since she took her name from a popular brand of mango lassi which I often bulk buy from the local Asian supermarket.

The Taj Mahal: Inspired by mango lassi?

But I digress and the Taj Mahal is not until later. First up, there's the journey to Agra which was not pleasant. It started with an overnight train to Delhi in the hard sleeper class which is a bit of a misnomer since whilst I'll agree that it is hard, sleeping on it is not so easy. For starters they don't provide you with blankets or pillows. Thankfully I'd nicked the blanket provided kindly by Etihad Airways on the way over, (contrary to the common expression, crime can pay), but sadly I'd not thought of filching a pillow as well so my rather lumpy bag had to do, (note to steal pillows whenever proffered in the future). However, even provided with coverings it would always be difficult due to chatty sleepers on lower bunks who wished to know whether New Zealand is a good place to emigrate too, bumps and jolts, rain battering the roof and midnight ticket checks. Add into the equation that I was still feeling decidedly dodgy from my Amritsar food poisoning and you get the picture.

Indian sleeping cars

But anyway, I got to Delhi and booked a ticket for the next train on to Agra, two hours later so, after parking my bag in the left luggage, I headed to a place that I've long wanted to see, the shrine of the Sufi saint Nizamuddin. Sufis are Islamic mystics and I'll be writing more about them later, but they are a strand of spirituality that I'm much attracted to. This shrine was excellent and I wished I could have stayed longer but my train was departing so I hurried back to the station to encounter a nasty surprise.

Unwittingly, instead of a seat, I'd booked Unreserved Class for the 3 hour trip to Agra. And in India Unreserved means cram as many as you can into a carriage. Getting a seat was but a far of dream, it was standing room only. I only just managed to get through the door, (and no, that's nothing to do with my impressive girth; in the vestibule at the end of the coach there were no less than 15 people and my baggage. I sat on the latter and read and suffered along with India's underclass for the entire trip.

But once in Agra, it got better. I found a good hotel, dropped off my stuff and then took a taxi out to Emperor Akbar's Tomb, a monument to the greatest of all the Mughals and a contender for best-ever Indian along with Gandhi. Want to know more about him, watch the Bollywood blockbuster Jodhaa Akbar which is all about his marriage to his Hindu Rajput wife Jodhaa. Don't care about knowing more about him? Watch it anyway since it stars Aishwarya Rai and she is unbelievably hot.

Aishawarya Rai: A-k-bar-y beautiful lady

Not so hot: My V-log from Akbar's Tomb

That was that and after I slept, a full fifteen hours but today all was good and I headed to that greatest of all monuments to love, no, not the really classy Princess Diana and Dod Al-Fayed memorial in Harrods, but the 'Teardrop on the face of the world' that is the Taj. Still, that too has Diana connections since she visited the place once and if I received a fiver for every time I was told to have my photo taken where our old Queen of Hearts had hers spread out on a bench in front of the old marble masterpiece, then I'd be able to actually buy something from Harrods, (whilst admiring her memorial). Sadly though, it was an impossibility since the bench ain't there, they only wheel it out for VIPs and despite receiving 1,000s of hits a month on his blog and having had a conversation once with darts legend Phil Taylor, clearly Uncle Travelling Matt isn't VIP material yet, so I had to stand instead.

A VIP (Very Impressive Potter) at the Taj Mahal

After the Taj it was Agra Fort where Jodhaa Akbar was filmed and from where Akbar ruled. Now that was incredible and indeed, if I wasn't sure of the fact, I was told time after time by touts welconing me to Incredible India. Hmm...

V-log from Agra Fort

Well, that was Agra, next up the Pink City, no, I'm not off to Gayton with its Mardi Gras, but Jaipur where the buildings are, apparently, pinkish.

Keep travelling!

Uncle Travelling Matt

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