OR MORE GOODIES AND THE RED FORT OF AGRA.
I decided on a car to drive me door to door from my Delhi hotel to my one in Agra in honour of the great bucket list Taj Mahal. I wanted to do a Princess Diana and sit on a bench alone and forlorn with the great testament to a mans love for a woman behind me.Would an old bird travelling alone make people wonder about my story? What had happened to me that I was there on my lonesome? Something tragic must have befallen me and so I had travelled alone to honour some plan of a vanished lover or indeed a dead one. At least the drama queen in me wanted to believe that people would give a shit, as you know I have an extensive imagination and I think that’s mostly due to my solo travelling. I love all that shit!
Always arriving early I got to my hotel before my room was ready so was ushered onto a glorious roof terrace by the manager himself. I think the the hotel must have called ahead from Delhi so I was greeted like royalty. Old birds love this kind of star treatment. As I sat by the pool there in an already murderous heat I pondered the bucket list favourite that I could see in the distance from by the pool whilst supping an icy beer.
The Sheraton there is really lovely mostly due to this pool roof and bar where you can chill after hot hot trips to this mausoleum most adored and chill at cocktail time. I basically was like a pig in shit there.
Got my motor then off I shot, as usual heart beating too fast, on my first outing in a brand new place. The plan was Red fort and sunset at the back of the Taj. As I would find this view is actually more emotional than the actual visit.
Anyhoo. The drive through the city had a huge number of cows wandering all over apparently doing cow business, and wandering down pavements heading no doubt to very important cow meetings. As you probably know they are revered in India so people will respectfully wait for them to cross a road without honking their horns unlike the poor human counterparts who will be shown none of this kindness. They wander all over and indeed when I got to Varanasi there are bulls who will suddenly charge down the tiny alleyways and you must hop into one of the filthy annexes on the side of narrow alleyways to escape their sudden and violent hurry. The cow thing preoccupied me throughout India. By rule of thumb more rural more healthy and clean, and ones in more central town areas, more grubby and likely to be eating frayed scraps of the many posters on walls that had peeled away, and going through rubbish bags. It was another aspect that made you feel dreadfully sad. Here are some of them.
ALERT: Agra was a bit if a shock. My first foray outside of Delhi and the poverty, on the way to my hotel from the airport, stunned. I knew that I wanted a good hotel in all of these stops as there was no need to economise as top hotels in India are very cheap. However you can’t mask that trip from any airport to get a glimpse behind the polished screen created for the tourist industry and here it was brutal. I would later go to Varanasi and would describe how I wanted to take my eyeballs out and scrub them after the filth there but I must say Agra was pretty bad too, just more spread out. I am alerting you to this fact as it can be very upsetting and alarming. I certainly had to readjust expectations of reality in this great, but poverty struck country.
Agras Red Fort.
‘Near the gardens of the Taj Mahal stands the important 16th-century Mughal monument known as the Red Fort of Agra. This powerful fortress of red sandstone encompasses, within its 2.5-km-long enclosure walls, the imperial city of the Mughal rulers. It comprises many fairy-tale palaces, such as the Jahangir Palace and the Khas Mahal, built by Shah Jahan; audience halls, such as the Diwan-i-Khas; and two very beautiful mosques.’
I liked this fort more than the Delhi one. Now I’m not a big fort girl but I do love a palace. Here my memory was mostly the entrance and curved walls and less people which is always a huge bonus. Sadly this residential fort had a lot of it’s old buildings removed to turn it into, well, a fort at the time the Brits were around. However what is left is beautiful.
Now the reason I sound dismissive was because of a very naughty macaque who had stolen a tourists bag and appeared to be counting out a wad of notes from his ill gotten gains. Distracted from my task of looking at the architecture I gazed on along with a couple of other people at this charming rogue. appalled but fascinated by his very human behaviour and avarice. Although much loved they are a persistent nuisance all over Asia, and although seem amusing or ‘cute’ they can be dangerous and at the very least a pain in the arse when they nick stuff from you. Keep your hands high along with your possessions or they’ll mob you. This high way robber didn’t give a monkeys….
Into an Orchard and over to the River Yamuna for a Spectacular View of the Taj.
My excellent driver was excited for me for my next stop, the somewhat secret back view of the mausoleum. We went down some twisty back-roads and past frankly a rough little patch until suddenly we turned a corner and voila, an amazing close up and personal encounter. The car driver smiled smugly and so he should he was giving me a secret experience. He shooed me out of the car and told me to take as long as I wanted. I’m sure this has changed now as they obviously were creating new resplendent Mughal gardens while I was there, so this may be a tourist hotspot now but when I was there it just had a very old beaten up sign about renovations which you can read below.
I walked across the field first ignoring, a perfectly good path. I hadn’t checked with the driver if there were snakes, I looked back but he smiled benignly, and waved me on. I got to the walled bank of the river and stood, mouth open, amazed to be in close proximity to the monument. Brightly coloured clothed ants walked around the base and apart from one other visitor, I was alone.
I spent an hour there perusing and wondering and the only other person there, kindly took a photo for me for posterity. As it got closer to sunset a few more intrepid travellers wandered down the path and so, not to spoil the magic I had experienced, I returned to my car, the astonished driver asked me did I not want to wait for the sunset and I replied I have already experienced my magic.
TOP TIP: Much like returning to a place where you experienced a wonderful time, (It’s never the same magic second time around) you should know also know when to leave. It would have been a shame to spoil this memory by hanging around and maybe have a sudden crowd of people turn up. I had felt as if I was thrown back in time by the silence in the gardens and softly flowing river, no loud tourists or cars betrayed my actual reality. It was so beautiful and I had been lucky. So don’t overstay and have memories sullied. This has worked for me the world over and I’m glad I learned how to identify the moment.
To be honest I was in two minds to go for my sunrise trip the following day after my fabulous river view that afternoon, I just didn’t want to kill my buzz. Of course I’m glad I did, more from the one eyed tiny man who raced me around so I wouldn’t miss the light from various viewpoints, than anything else. For the moment though I was ready for a swim to cool down.
With a brilliant view and some wonderful cocktails, I was a very content old bird when I finally toddled off to my soft bed because in the morning, I was going to be off at silly o’clock to catch the sunrise at the Taj