Agra is of course most famous for the Taj Mahal. But Aidan, being an architect, insisted that he’d write a post specially dedicated to it. So here’s just a short post on the other stuff we’ve been up to…
We stayed in Taj Ganj, so our rooftop restaurant offered great views of the Taj Mahal. And some strange foods.
We spent one day walking around town. The white marble Taj Mahal is suffering from discolouration due to air pollution so nothing with an exhaust belching engine is allowed in the streets around it. Tourists are ferried around in electric tuk tuks and carts drawn by either camels or horses. Instead of a tire wallah by the roadside, you get a horse shoe wallah.
This city being part of the “Golden Triangle” of tourism, touting is rife and everyone starts shouting hello and listing their wares. If you didn’t know any English, you could just walk around and learn the words for things. “Cold drinks, water, Limca, Pepsi, cigarettes!” “Bananas!” “Marble, painting, Buddha, gift”…. The tuk tuks almost run you over trying to coax you into one, “where you go, sir?”
All this can get a bit annoying. So Hatti and I grabbed the little horn Aidan gave me for Christmas and honked it in their face. “Rickshaw? Sir, rick…” “HONK! HONK!” The surprised look on their face was priceless! And then everyone around burst out laughing. 🙂
Two kids came over begging. One started tugging at my arm “HONK!” The boy leaped about three feet backwards! Then they fell over each other in stitches. The rupees completely forgotten, they giggled endlessly about the silly honking blue elephant. We had loads of fun!
Like most towns and cities in Uttar Pradesh, Agra has its own slum of course. Unlike those in Mumbai where you can go on a guided tour (Guy Martin goes on one of those in ‘Our Guy in India’), these aren’t little huts made from bricks or corrugated iron. These are the tent kind. Old tarps, plastic sacks and cloth have been draped over wooden poles to form a small triangular tent for the whole family to live in. They have been there so long, the dirt and dust and rain have amalgamated the colours into a greyish brown the same as the ground. The sewerage stench confirms the lack of toilets or any kind of sanitation.
Kinari Bazaar wasn’t as pretty as the guidebook had made it out to be. Just the usual endless cloth, sari and clothes shops interrupted by the odd one selling shoes, bags or even some plastic wares. A tiny space was left where some stairs led up to the Jama Masjid. Beggars sat on the steps, holding out hands as we took our shoes off and I loosely wrapped a scarf over my head. A guy had introduced himself as the caretaker of the place, but he was actually just trying to earn a fee for a guided tour.
Not that one is necessary really. In the centre of the big walled square is the pool to wash yourself in. Drinking water is offered in big round water pots and on the other side is a small school consisting of a few benches. As in so many places in India, people feed the pigeons in the courtyard and so the entire open mosque is covered in pigeon shit, which we tried to avoid as best we could with our bare feet.
The entire place seems a little dilapidated and doesn’t have a very reverent feel. But Muslims still come to pray at the marbled alcove marking the direction of Mecca.
Blankets lie in heaps in the corners. Any visitor is free to help themselves and go for a snooze, as people often do during the heat of the early afternoon or to stay the night. I found a heap of old books and scripts in another corner.
A room on one side had a small clay bowl of oil with a short wick burning in it surrounded by a very Indian offering of rose petals and colour powder. Colourful pieces of plastic were tied to the marble lattice wall behind it, letting in a dim light from the outside. Mud hand prints line the wall. I have no idea what all these things mean, so this little room had a strange feeling of ritual and mystery to it.
Agra is of course also famous for its red sand stone fort. But next to the beauty of the Taj Mahal, this bulky giant somehow didn’t tempt us to endure the tourist masses for a look around.
The Shilpgram arts and crafts market was just opening up as we arrived. Since the bar was still closed, we had a nosy around the stalls that were open already. Some stuff was different to the things we’d seen on our travels, though most was the same and none really caught our eye. Voices came from behind the tarps hiding the still closed stalls. Most likely the owners had slept there and were busy clearing away breakfast. One thing did warrant a closer look though: a bunch of modified Enfields.
My favourite was the cafe racer style one.
And we had a good giggle over the Mod version. Anyone who has driven in India at night, knows that the concept of dipped beam does not exist (even if most trucks have “Use dipper at night” pained underneath the “Horn Please” on their back). You are blinded by the oncoming traffic and cannot see where you are going. Though maybe they should have put hundreds of horns instead of lights?
We spent a few days relaxing in Agra, since we were only a few hundred kilometres from Delhi, where our round trip would end. Eventually it was time to go though and we set off, exited that we would soon be reaching the next stage of our adventure and sad at the same time, that this would be the last ride with Nila and Khiimori. The road was big and busy, the entire area to the capital being built up. So this wasn’t exactly the nicest last ride and we were craving the stunning emptiness and fun twisties of the Himalayas.
We decided to make the best of it and enjoy one last super yummy lunch at a real dhaba where truckers wash themselves and their clothes before tucking into the cheap curry and chapatti.