Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Travel Tales: India, Day 2 in Agra

We are ready to meet the car and driver at 7am. He is there before us. Green eyed and hook-nosed, he has the typical Rajasthani look. And a big smile. The kids immediately name him 'Prabhu' as they are in the middle of reading Shantaram. Over the next few days we find that he is all of 23 years old, married to a now 17 year old for nearly 2 years!! Female emancipation doesn't seem to have arrived yet in his village, a scant 1 hr from Delhi. The young woman is not allowed to speak in front of his father or elder brother. She has to keep her face covered as well. But they do allow her to go to school. We hear his stories with interest, a peep into a world much different to ours.

The travel agency has upgraded us to a better car for free. I take back my mutterings of yesterday. We leave behind a suitcase with yesterday's shopping at the hotel. The car is roomy, a Toyota Innova, and proves to be very comfortable. The road to Agra is quite decent but crowded. We make good time to our hotel, Clarks Chiraz, reaching by 11:30 am. Check in takes much too long. The hotel is decent enough in a sanitized, soulless kind of way. As we are checking in, the travel agency's local contact comes and greets us. How did he know we are we, I wonder. He tells us that the guide will meet us in the afternoon.

The driver takes us to a nearby "Only Restaurant" for lunch. We are not impressed.

The guide meets us after lunch. We leave soon for the Taj. He tells a good story, this man, and his English is excellent. The kids are wide eyed as we step forward to our first sight of the Taj. It is unbelievably beautiful, almost unreal. As we walk forward Nushk tells me that he never realised how big it was. I have been here innumerable times but it still takes my breath away. Is it, I wonder, the marble which attracts me? The beauty of the lines of the minarets? The undulating and sinuous Persian script? The delicacy of the jali work? The perfection of the inlaid artwork? It is beautiful, undeniably so. Neither photographs nor words can describe the feeling of awe one experiences. I am a seasoned traveller, and this my nth visit, but I am still awestruck.

We spend more time that we expected exploring the Taj. Nushk sits down to sketch it for his art book. I am pleased to feel so pleased. We head then to the Agra fort. It is an interesting monument, but we are running close to closing time, so it is a hurried visit. Unfortunately there is too much smog to see the Taj at a distance but I remember it from my childhood. You Indian readers out there will appreciate my remembering the film Mughal-e-Azam and Madhubala's dance in the Hall of Mirrors. My memories and reality merge, as always, and I am unable to distinguish one from the other.

We are tired and glad to get back to the hotel. My man decides to go for a sauna and an Ayurvedic massage, both of which he enjoys very much. I lie in bed half reading my travel book, lost in thoughts of the stories of the Taj...the romantic story of a much loved wife and a king who went grey overnight with grief on the day he lost her. I remember Rabindranath Tagore's description of the tomb as "one solitary tear hanging on the cheek of time". Why, I wonder, were the Mughals, who were capable of constructing such a masterpiece, were also capable of the mutilation and the death of the architects who created it? Can such artistry and cruelty co-exist?

We drive out later in the evening looking for a nice place to eat dinner. I realise that Agra is the pits. Dirty, polluted and very unattractive. We find a place to eat, but it is quite terrible. We should have just eaten at our hotel (we don't normally like to do that...its usually fun to discover local haunts). When we come back, a noisy wedding celebration at the hotel keeps us awake for a long time.

1 comment:

IndyHazle said...

There is no greater sight on earth than the Taj Mahal