Arriving in Agra I didn’t know what to expect from this city but I knew the one place I wanted to visit was the Taj Mahal. Agra represents a golden era of the Mughal Empire and the rich traditions over centuries and other historical sites include the Agra Fort, the Itmad-ud-Daulah’s Tomb, Akbar’s Tomb, Jama Masjid, Fatehpur Sikri and Sikandra Fort. On the day I visited the Taj Mahal it was quite foggy and it was difficult to get a decent photo. It was a wonderful experience walking around the gardens and in the buildings of the Taj Mahal. When you hear the story of why the Taj was built it is even more amazing.
The story of the Taj Mahal is considered a great example of eternal love. It dates back to the 17th century. Back in the day Shah Jahal spotted Mumtaz Mahal at a bazaar and fell instantly in love with her. They married and later he became Emperor. Although he had other wives he always professed his undying love for Mumtaz. In 1631 when Mumtaz was giving birth to their 14th child she died due to complications. On her deathbed Shah promised her that he would not remarry and he would build the richest mausoleum over her grave. He ordered the court into mourning for two years and sometime after commenced building what is today known as the Taj Mahal. It took 22 years and 22,000 workers to contruct the great building and when he died his body was placed in a tomb next to her tomb.
Walking around Fatehpur Sikri I saw one of the best preserved collections of Indian Mughal architecture in India. Fatehpur Sikri was the first planned city of the Mughals marked by magnificent administrative, residential and religious buildings comprised of palaces, public buildings, mosques, living areas for the court, the army, the servants of the king and an entire city. It was constructed between 1571 and 1573. It is quite a peaceful place and very pleasant to wander.
I had read about various scams that were operating in the city and consider myself a fairly aware type of person, however, one scam was tried on me. I was in the underground pedestrian cross over at Connaught Place and it was quite busy and crowded. I was moving quickly but ‘they’ managed to deposit some, I will call it, dung on my shoe. A man urgently pointed it out and offered to clean my shoe. Of course, the scam is that you are then charged for the cleaning service. However, I said to the man that there was no problem and that I liked it on my shoe (crazy I know!) and tried to surface out on the street as soon as possible. But the man was following me and the quicker I walked (with said poo on my shoe) the more urgent his pleas became. Finally I was getting so flustered that I darted into a restaurant where I made my way to the toilets to clean my shoe. Although I foiled their attempt at extracting money from me I found the episode more than a mild hindrance.
I stayed in a homestay because I was on a teacher exchange trip. The family I stayed with were lovely. Sushma is a Sitar teacher and it was fascinating watching her hands glide gracefully across the strings. Also living in the house was Sushma’s husband, daughter and in laws.
They were very surprised that I was a vegetarian as they had assumed that most westerners ate meat. If you are a vegetarian you will be in seventh heaven in India. I noticed that menus at restaurants categorised the food as vegetarian and non-vegetarian – now that’s my style of place! I visited Sushma’s school which was quite posh. They had their own horses and riding area, a Baskins Robbins Ice Cream outlet, a fleet of buses and everything a child needs for learning (of course).
I watched Sushma teach the Sitar to some students and took a tour of the school. It was very impressive.
After the first day at school back at Sushma’s house she informed me that it might be a public holiday the next day and therefore no school. I was a little disappointed but also confused as to why she didn’t know whether it would be a holiday or not. She told me that they had to check the moon that night and if it was a full moon then it would be a Muslim holiday and therefore a public holiday. As it turns out it was a holiday and so I didn’t go to the school for a second day. Instead we visited some attractions around Delhi and braved the Delhi traffic!
The Red Fort was the residence of the Mughal Emperor for nearly 200 years. It is named for the massive red sandstone that is used in some of the building and is located right in the middle of Delhi so it was not too hard to get to. The architecture is stunning and it was certainly worth a visit.
As I already mentioned I had one very interesting experience in Connaught Place with an attempted scam. However, don’t let this put you off visiting this very busy and exciting area. It is based on a circle with streets diverging from it. It is down one of these streets that we attended a Hindi film screening. I attended with two other Australian teachers and we were in for a treat. The cinema which looked to be an historical building was full to the brim. We took our seats with all the Delhiites and waited for the lights to go down and the film to begin. And it shortly did. Of course it was in Hindi which we did not understand but were able to get the gist of the storyline anyway. It was a song and dance, love story, tear jerker all rolled into one. People around were sniffing and wiping tears away during the sad parts and in the next minute laughing at comedic sections of the film. We didn’t realise how long these films were and at the 3 hour point decided that we’d had enough. Although I couldn’t understand the dialogue of the film I still enjoyed the ‘Grease’ like song and dance scenes and was glad that we took the time to experience this cultural event.
The India Gate is a war memorial
located on either side of the Rajpath,
on the eastern edge of the ‘ceremonial
axis’ of Delhi formerly called
Kingsway. India gate is a
memorial to 82,000 soldiers
of the undivided Indian
Army who died in the period
1914–21 in the 1st World War, in France, East Africa, Persia, Mesopatamia, Flanders, Gallipoli and elsewhere in the Near and the Far East.
Raj Ghat is a memorial to Mahatma Gandhi. The black marble platform marks the location of Gandhi’s cremation, which took place one day after his assassination on 31st January 1948. An eternal flame burns at this location and the platform is usually decorated with flowers. I had to remove my shoes before entering the Raj Ghat as it is required for all visitors.
On our final night in Delhi and India we went out for dinner at a local restaurant. There was entertainment provided and as I am a dance teacher I was ‘volunteered’ to get up and dance with the Indian troupe. I’m not sure what they thought of my skills but I had a lot of fun ‘having a go’.
It was time to say goodbye to India. I had loved every minute of it. What a fascinating country! What a fascinating culture! If you ever want to experience a way of life quite different to your own India is the place to visit. I would like to go back one day and visit Rajasthan, Kashmir, Goa, Mumbai, the Ganges, Amritsar and so on. As you can see there is so much to see in India! Until we meet again you shall stay in my memory….