Tuesday, January 25, 2011

After The Taj..

..and continue seeing with your own eyes...
We stayed at Taj Mahal for close to 3 hours. After taking some final snaps from different angles (you know between the trees, from the corners, etc ) we exited. Stefan spent quite some time to take photos of camels, monkeys, horses and squirrels on the way out.

Even though, Stefan did not say it, but we guessed that he was pretty hungry. I had asked the guide before leaving, where can we find Pizza Hut. (Tried and tested for Stefan..we thought). Luckily, it wasn't that far away. After about 20 mins, we were sitting in the confines of a Pizza Hut(Loud music, shouting small children and quiet foreigners). Both me and my friend are veggies. I told Stefan to have what he wants, but he refrained from eating non-veg and asked us to order pizzas, as we deem fit. Me and chidi ordered the starters and pizzas which were quite good and he seemed pleased too. As it turned out, it was Stefan's first time in any Pizza Hut.

We were quite full and then we decided our next destination. We had two options - Fatehpur Sikri or Agra Fort. Fatehpur Sikri is quite a long way from Agra and as it was already around 4 PM, we decided to head towards Agra Fort. Personally, my expectations were not that high. (I do not why..). Even at the entrance, it did not seem too overwhelming. But, in reality it is a magnificent structure, quite enormous in size and detail, very expansive. If you know the history, it will be obvious that there is more to this building than meets the eye. Taj Mahal looks small (but still stunningly beautiful) from here. It felt odd when I realised that I am walking the same streets, ascending the same stairs and touching the same marbles of a fort which was once inhabited by Akbar, Jahangir, Shah Jahan and perhaps Aurangzeb. (Not the first one to feel that way...by any stretch). Agra fort is a massive structure and we soon found out that it would be impossible to see it completely, as it would close around 6 PM. I have just two words for Agra Fort - Immensely Impressive.

As we moved out, we were once again flogged by people trying to sell articles like souvenirs, post cards, key rings etc. Despite trying hard, it does get irritating when they keep coming, even after you have said a firm No. I have nothing against them as they are trying to make a living but, can not we find a more peaceful and meaningful approach? Anyway, we somehow got out of it and I could clearly see that they have irritated Stefan a bit.

Once we were back on the road, we asked the driver to stop at a place where we can buy 'Agra ka petha'. He assured us that he knows an authentic place for this. After about 15 mins, he stopped at a place, where we bought 5 kgs of 'petha'. (2 for me, 2 for my friend, 1 for Stefan). After that, it was the long way back from we started....

The trip was fantastic and enjoyable. But, it was tiring, especially for Stefan who had started his day at 6:00 AM and reached his hotel around midnight. For me, it was all worth it. Some of the things, of course, which dampened my spirit were bad roads, small children and half clad women knocking on your car windows, no traffic rules. We do not mind them much and accept it as 'yahan to aisa hi hai'. But, sitting beside a foreigner makes you realize it all...this bitter truth. I am not insensitive towards them, but I am definitely not in a position to bring a permanent smile on their faces. Atleast Not yet...If we only we could control this, it would make travelling and visiting so much pleasant. These are small things which affected me...things..jaise daant mein kuch phas gaya ho...they wont take your life, but wont let you sleep either.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Waah Taj..Maan Gaye!!

As I boarded the train at Gaya on my way to Delhi, I got a call from a friend-colleague from Switzerland, if I can take Stefan (swiss friend from the same project) to Agra. Stefan was very eager to see the Taj Mahal and had only one weekend to accomplish it and no one else was there from the office to accompany him. My train was running late and I calculated that, at best, I could be in Delhi by Saturday 10 AM and since a match (yeah..that match) was coming in the evening which will go till 2 AM, Saturday was absolutely ruled out. I did not commit right away on the phone and said ', I will try'. However, there were no second thoughts as to what I was going to do. Since, I had never been to Agra before, the decision was rather easy.

I reached home around 11:30 AM, and after freshening up, called Stefan at his hotel, that I would be coming with him to Agra. I worked fast to get a cab booked, but it was only around 5 PM, that I finally got a cab after negotiating over the rates and type of car. I also invited a friend of mine (I had to tell him that it is free journey for him as my company would bear the cost of travelling..ooye tere ko 2000 rs dena hai...!!). So, three people started their maiden journey to Agra around 6:30 AM. The morning was beautiful as the fog was still there, but Stefan found the camels roaming on the roads more interesting. Probably, he had never seen camels before and was quite impressed. It was just a beginning of his 'first times'. This includes meeting monkeys and apes on the road sides, seeing buffaloes being carried away on trucks, cows staring at us on the highway, little children performing on signals, overloaded autos, bus without windows or doors, rampant disobeying of traffic signals, crushing a mutilated body of a dead dog (probably his soul died a little more). Neither of us had breakfast while starting, so we decided to stop at some place after covering a few kilometers. Finding this 'some place' can be a tricky business, if you are with a foreigner. You have to take care of many things - decent building, good seating arrangement etc etc.(Dhaba's food is a strict no no for the non-experimantal types). Stefan's experiment with Indian food was limited to dosas and utthapams, which he described as non-spicy and tasty. So, we stopped at a handsome looking South Indian restaurant, where we indulged in some delicacies. Satisfied, we continued ahead towards the 'city of the Taj'.

Three different pick up points, pot holes in the road and crazy traffic all played its part, as we reached Agra around noon time. We made straight to the Taj Mahal. We were greeted by exciting group of tourist guides who claimed that they will help us get tickets easy citing the fact that the queue is huge and there is so much to know about Taj Mahal that only a guide can help us in appreciating its complete beauty. Much to our chagrin, the behavior and attitude of some of the guides left much to be desired. (Sometimes, they even resorted to insults. Fortunately, they were in hindi - out of the guessing zone of Stefan). We ignored them and went ahead to the ticket counter. Here, I do not understand the reason of having different prices for Indians and foreigners.(20 against 750). I have not seen this anywhere else so far. Anyway, buying a ticket, we also hired a guide, who looked polite enough, to take us around. After a brief wait to go past the security check, we were welcomed by the grand entry door. We could see the Taj, some far away. Not in its entirety, but good enough to tell us, that something truly special awaits us on the other side. As we entered, and here I can not say for my other companions, but my heart lifted a little from its place. The sight of the Taj Mahal, its reflection in the long rectangular water body, its minarets, perfectly lined two columns of greenery, is a sight that I can not describe. For few seconds, Taj Mahal took the air out of my lungs and filled it with awe. I have seen Eiffel Tower and Leaning tower of Pisa before, and its not the same feeling. Taj Mahal in Agra, felt like my personal triumph. River Yamuna on the one side, and two symmetrical structures on east and west side (mosque on the east side and a guest house used by Shah Jahan on the west) completes the structure perfectly. I do not remember much of what the guide explained us while taking around - different types of stones, architecture, dimensions of the Taj Mahal and the minarets. We spent about two and a half hours and I was still not over it. Even multitude of photos were not enough to capture its essence in all its grandeur. It was one of those times, when you know that its better to put the camera down and just watch it...and continue watching it with your own eyes...

To be Continued...Soon