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May 28, 2020 / catherinebwrites

18. VARANASI

Varanasi is considered the most sacred and holy place in India. If you want to see religious ceremonies and Sadhus this is the place to come to. If you die here, it is said, you will go straight to heaven. And if you are cremated here, on the banks of the Ganges, you too will go directly to paradise.

We walked through the quiet back streets to get a sense of direction and came across this tree shrine beside a pond dedicated to Lord Rama. In the middle of the lake there were statues of Lord Rama his wife Sita and his brother Lakshman.

Another view of the pond and the shrine.

We sat and enjoyed the quiet. Several curious schoolchildren came to chat to us.

“Where you from?”they asked.

“Ireland.”

“Beautiful country” they said.

I suspect they hadn’t the faintest notion about Ireland, but Indians are unfailingly polite. Their Mammies would have been proud of them. A nearby temple bell started clanging and the air was filled with chanting.

We moved on, zig-zagging through streets and alleys until we stepped into a tornado of noise and people and traffic. We were on the main street leading down to the Ganges.

Indians are good in crowds but we had to watch where we were going. I kept getting distracted by glitter and gleam. The shops were filled with bright saris, vermilion, crimson, cerise, sunfower yellow, spring green, midnight blue, crocus purple, dawn pink, all bordered with silver or gold, spangled with sequins, and embroidered with beads. There were wedding suits for men in gorgeous brocades and jewelled turbans, elegantly draped silk scarves and two-toned shoes. Indian men have no problem with colour and pattern and riotous shine.

Wedding party
Main street

It was thrilling, exciting and exhausting. Eventually we made our way back to our Homestay to have lunch and recover. We’d be facing the chaos again on our way to a boat trip on the Ganges.

Our first sight of the Ganges

We set off in late afternoon with our guide and arrived at Dashashwamedh Ghat. The Ghats are sets of steps down to the river. Dashashwamedh Ghat, according to legend, was created by Brahma to welcome Shiva. And Brahma sacrificed ten horses here during Ashvamedhaan – an ancient ceremony, long out of use, performed by a victorious king

Dashashwamedh Gha

The Ganges was wide and smooth with boats scattered over the waters and a sandbar on the opposite shore. It was January and the river was low because mountain snows in the far-away Himalayas had not yet melted. We stepped from the bustle of the ghat into a row boat and floated on to the calm of the river.

The Ghats from the calm of the river


We rowed down river and back viewing the Ghats. There are 88 of them. Many have temples devoted to Hindu deities. Some have palaces built by Maharajahs who wanted be close to the spiritual power of the Ganges.

Everyone has heard of the Burning Ghats where the dead are cremated – I’ll write more about them in the next blog. There are only two Burning Ghats so, while they’re the most famous, they are a small part of the complex. Most of the Ghats are used for puja, religious rituals, for prayers and for bathing. Dhobi Ghat, is for the those who do laundry.

Boat full of sadhus
Us on the Ganges
Our lovely guide
Boats on the Ganges

The boat trip was quiet, relaxed, peaceful and calm. The river was dove-grey and silken. As we came to the end of our trip the sky flushed from pale to gauzy pink to gold as the sun sank.

But every so often the calm was disturbed by an outboard engine zooming past and, as the time for the evening Fire Ceremony came closer, there were large motor boats, crammed with tourists, pulling up parallel to the ghats.

Traditional boatmen resent these intrusions for several reasons. They disturb the peace. They pollute the waters. And they’re putting local boatmen out of business. Hopefully, the city authorities will recognise the damage they’re doing and ban them.

As we came ashore for Ganga Arti, the Fire Ceremony, a young girl sold us small containers with flowers and a candle. Offerings for the Goddess Ganga. We lit the candles and sent them floating down the river.

Ganga Arti began. It is a devotional ritual performed every evening, using fire as an offering. The Pandits, Hindu priests, face the river and are accompanied by songs in praise of Mother Ganga. It is colourful and dramatic and, although we did not fully understand the ceremony, we found it very moving. There was a palpable sense of something spiritual happening and a feeling of being blessed. Words do not describe it well. Take a look at this video and you’ll get some sense of it.

Afterwards we climbed the steps to the street where beggars were lined on either side. All were were poor, many were disabled but none of them badgered us. It was one of those occasions when I found myself thinking that when we in Ireland complain about social and medical services we have no idea how the other half lives nor how very fortunate we really are.

We got back to dinner in our Homestay but more of that later.

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May 16, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 17. VARANASI

The Burning Ghats

Where else are you going?” my friend asked. He’d traveled in India a lot.

“Varanasi.” I replied.

“Gird the loins,” he warned, “it’s an experience.”

He was right.

We set out from the main station in Delhi in the dark. We reckoned the train journey would give us a chance to see the Indian countryside.

Main train station Delhi

Because the journey was 8 hours long, we decided to treat ourselves to first class. The seats were comfortable, there was plenty of legroom and considering it included meals, snacks, drinks and newspapers, the cost was reasonable.

We set out in the dark and waited impatiently for the sun to rise and show us India. The sun did rise but all it displayed was a curtain of fog so thick and so grey that all we glimpsed were ghostly shadows, a tree, a building, the heft of a station.

“The sun will soon burn it off.” we consoled one another.

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First class travel

It didn’t. We spent six hours in the thickest fog I have ever experienced. When, finally, we emerged into daylight the train gathered speed. We watched swathes of bright yellow mustard flash by, boys driving goats, women squatting to work in fields of green corn, hamlets of mud-coloured houses,clusters of trees. But not a hill or a mountain in sight. It seemed as though all of India was one great plain. I rose to go to the toilet.

The toilets in all our hotels had been fabulous and as we were travelling first class expectations were high. I opened the door and found a hole in the floor. Oh… The problem was… how can I put this delicately? When a train is racketing along, lurching from side to side, accurate aim is next to impossible. I stepped gingerly on to the low, foot-shaped pedestals and discovered that a lurching train also makes it hard to stay balanced. I vowed not to visit again.

We reached Varanasi in the late afternoon, two and a half hours late. And stepped into mayhem.

Try finding Wally here!

Our Homestay promised to send someone to meet us. We stood in a tsunami of people wondering how could they possibly find us? We were sure we’d be stuck on this platform forever or else we’d be crushed to death.

Every tourist who’s been to India returns with tales of the crowds and the chaos. What they never tell you is that Indians know how to do crowds. We, impatient westerners, push and shove in a crowd. Indian’s don’t. They flow around one another like water round rocks.

The train is enormously long, hundreds were getting off, hundreds more getting on. People were greeting family and friends, or saying good byes. Parents were guiding children and carrying babies. Men were unloading packages, others loading on goods , some were wrestling with suitcases, some lifting plastic-wrapped bundles on to their heads. Boys sidled around selling water or snacks. But no one was crushed. We found that, if we moved slowly and sideways, we could weave our way through the melee.

We searched about for someone holding a sign with our names. We couldn’t see anyone. Should we head for the entrance? Should we stay where we were? Then it dawned on us, we were the only westerns in sight. They wouldn’t miss us. Suddenly two young men emerged smiling and waving large sheet of paper with our names on it.

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Street in Varanasi

They guided us out into the street where a different chaos reigned. A chaos of tuk-tuks and bicycles, cars, taxis, carts, cows and miscellaneous traffic all tangled together. They got us into a tuk-tuk. Off we careened, beeping and swerving along rough-surfaced streets, through a welter of traffic that made rush hour in Delhi look staid. I had to remind myself of the lesson I’d learned on our first days in India. They definitely know what they’re doing. We’re probably safe.

Quiet street in Varanasi

At last we turned into some quieter streets and pulled up outside a gate. Inside there was a calm garden courtyard and a man there to welcome us. He was Harish, owner of our Homestay. He showed us our room and told us what time dinner would be.

We lay on our bed and recovered.

May 4, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 16 DEEPAK SHYALAKOTI

DEEPAK SHYALAKOTI

Deepak arrived at our hotel looking very dapper and off we went through the mad Delhi traffic. He was the driver taking us on our tour of the Golden Triangle (see blogs INDIA 10-15) .

Despite the mayhem of horses and carts, tuk-tuks, lorries, wandering cows, bicycles, motorcars, pedestrians, motorbikes, scooters, vans and monkeys, it was soon clear that we were in safe hands (See INDIA 2). Deepak was a good driver, experienced and skilled. We sat back and relaxed.

As we got into chat, we realised that Deepak wasn’t just a driver, he was an intelligent man, interested in a wide range of subjects. Over the next days our conversations ranged over history, philosophy, society, politics and religion. Never discuss politics or religion they say, but we’re Irish. Any half decent conversation that doesn’t include religion and politics is hardly worth having! Deepak was curious about us and our culture, we were curious about him and his.

It was soon obvious that Deepak knew as much about the sights we visited as the guides allotted to us. Often he know a lot more. Because of his range of knowledge we assumed he must came from the educated middle class. We were so very wrong! He was born in poor family in a poor village in the mountains. When he was a boy, a villager who lived and worked in Delhi returned to visit. This sparked an ambition in Deepak. The man was dressed to the nines and the boy wanted, one day, to be able to dress as smart as that. At the age of fourteen he ran away from his village and came to Delhi. He had no money, no education, no skills, knew nobody and had nowhere to stay. All he had were brains and ambition.

He slept on the streets, suffered attacks, saw all kinds of degradation and poverty, scams, violence, “things you wouldn’t believe”. But slowly, gradually, he found jobs, found help, worked his way up and educated himself on the way. Now he drives for Noble Tours but also, he runs his own tour agency OMINDIA TRAVELS* ( contact info below)

One day he surprised us.

“Thank you for respecting me.” he said.

What on earth did he mean?

He meant that we were polite and we had conversations with him. Hey… we were spending four days together, what else would we do? But, apparently, many tourists treat their drivers like their personal slaves and never speak to them except to give orders. Well more fool they!

Deepak and us outside Hawa Mahal (Palace of Winds) Jaipur

This was something we heard a lot from people in service jobs in India. They all had similar stories to Deepak. Realising the kind of difficulties they had to overcome gave us huge respect for them. So many people in India, like Deepak, build lives for themselves against overwhelming odds. Congratulations Deepak. Congratulations all of you. You have more than our respect, you have our admiration.

DEEPAK SHYALAKOTI www.omindiatravels.com

MOB:++919654387235

April 27, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 15 SAMODE

We left Jaipur for Samode and saw the Aravalli Mountains. At last some hills after all the flat land we’d traveled through. The town of Samode was poor and straggley but not overcrowded like the cities we’d seen. We drove up the main street, steering round a couple of goats, the inevitable cow. We saw men sitting outside their shops, a woman carrying a bundle on her head, another peeling vegetables outside her door. We passed a high stone wall, made a sharp turn, drove through a gate, up a ramp and walked into this.

Samode Palace

Samode Palace. I thought it was sight to visit but no, it was our hotel. Those stripes on the pavement are made of flower petals, preparations for a wedding.

The palace, was built by the ‘Maha Rawal’ , the local lord and it is still owned and run by the family. It was totally spectacular. Once again we had expected a modest hotel but, take a look at our bedroom.

Our bed

Those drapes are silk and brocade.

The day bed for watching T.V.
The balcony with a view
The pool
The bathroom.
A nice place to sit.

Wall painting

The place was so big that you’d need a map,compass and the handy sherpa guide to find your way around all the courtyards, terraces, hallways, corridors and sitting rooms.

That afternoon we were taken on a “safari”. Well, not so much a safari as a drive to Samode Bagh, the hotel’s other property, a garden with tent accommodation, very luxurious tent accommodation. In the past, the noble ladies and gentlemen used to retire to these gardens to relax and enjoy themselves. Now it’s hired out for business conferences and weddings.

On the way we passed a farm worker’s house where a wedding was getting under way. The guide insisted that we should gate-crash. We felt uncomfortable. There were very few men about, just a few boys who were staying well away from the women and a couple of young men who seemed to be setting up a sound system. Presumably the groom hadn’t yet arrived.

The lads

It turned out that there were two brides, both secluded inside the house with other women. They were first cousins. Neither of them looked more than fourteen and neither looked happy at the prospect of marriage, more resigned . But maybe that’s just my assumption.

One of the brides
The kids

Outside a crowd of women were gathered. They were outside were having a grand old time, laughing and talking, eating and drinking. They all seemed highly amused at these foreign interlopers taking photos. Everyone wanted me to take their photo.

,

The ladies
The grannies.
The young ladies.

Samode Bagh, is an enclosed or garden, with a water channel and a row of fountains fed by springs and wells. We had tea on the tea house terrace and watched a huge variety of birds flit about and come to the table for crumbs.

On the way back, we drove through Samode village and, inevitably, we were brought to see local crafts. This time it was a jeweller who instantly started his sales pitch. The display of the jewels glistening at my feet made me want to throw common sense to the winds and buy handfuls of them. But I restricted myself to a modest silver and amethyst silver ring.

When we got back to the Palace it was gearing up for a very different wedding from the one we had just seen. This one must have cost serious serious money.

Note the camels standing on each side of the steps. And the women on the steps ready to paint your forehead.

Later we went to dinner in the magnificent dining room… and got Delhi belly!

April 20, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 14 – RICH AND POOR

Jal Mahal – the Water Palace.

On the way back to Jaipur we stopped at Man Sagar Lake to view Jal Mahal, the Water Palace . This is where the Maharajaha used to bring his pals to go duck hunting. When the lake is at its fullest, four stories of the palace has are under water. But that’s not a problem. That’s how it was designed to be.

Some time ago they did some repairs using modern materials. But the modern materials didn’t work. They had to redo the repairs using the traditional materials which had kept it dry for hundreds of years.

Now it’s being converted into a luxury hotel.  Imagine sleeping in a room where you could watch fish swim past the window! Well, whenever it’s ready you could… for a mere thousand dollars or so a night!

Outer courtyard of the Maharajah’s palace Jaipur

The Mahaarahah’s family still live in the palace in the center of Jaipur. It gets 20 million visitors a year. If each visitor paid 1 euro to see it that would be 20 million Euro a year. Not too shabby.

Foreigners pay 16 euro just to see the public part of the palace. If you want to see some of the private rooms, you pay 60 Euro. Indians pay less, which is only right, but still, they’re raking in a pretty decent annual income!

The peacock door
Facade in one of the courtyards

We saw rooms full of magnificent clothes, jewelled swords, engraved daggers, guns that looked like works of art. And this enormous Water Jar, called Gangajelies made from melted down silver coins. One of the Maharajahs had it filled with the holy water of the River Ganga and brought it with him in 1901 on a visit to England because, he believed, drinking foreign water was sinful. It’s in the Guinness Book of World Records as the World’s largest silver vessel.

Gangajelies – the water jar filled with water from the Ganges river.
Some of the decoration

The Maharajah’s family also own private schools and clinics and several local businesses. Outside their walls, people are living on the street, barely scraping enough money to eat. They’re not begging, they’re working as hard as they can. We asked whether any of the family’s schools and clinics offered help to the poor. No, we were told, the family does nothing to help the poor.

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April 9, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 13. THE AMER FORT

There it is behind us, The Amer Fort. This is the spot where all the tours stop to show you a view the Fort. Note the snake charmer to our right.

Snake charmers are the stereotypical image of India. Magical, mystical, the sweet notes of the pipe luring the snake from its basket, the creature so charmed by the music that, instead of attacking, it spreads its hood and sways to the rhythm.

Sadly it’s not like that at all. The snake is de-fanged and as soon as a tourist appears it’s owner opens the basket and flicks the unfortunate snake with his finger until it comes out. Then he plays the pipe. I know little about snakes but, to me, it looked unhappy and rather moth eaten. I had to keep reminding myself to stop making judgements. These are very poor people doing the best they can to feed their families.

The Amber Fort was built by Rajah Man Singh in the 1500s. He was the right hand man of Akbar the Great and successfully led Akbar’s armies in several battles.

Rajah Man Singh – Ashmolean Museum
Akbar and Man Singh playing “Kushti” on top of a slave.[3]

Kushti is an Indian wrestling game. But why you would play it on top of a slave? However, if you’re playing it with the Emperor you must be pretty important.

Clearly Rajah Man Singh had a few bob because this fort was by far the snazziest of all the forts we’d seen. And, at 3 km long and 1 km wide, it was by far the biggest.

The previous day, Deepak (our driver) asked if we wanted to ride an elephant at the Fort. I loved the idea of riding an elephant. Maybe if it were in the forest… but if it’s just India’s version of donkey rides on the beach… maybe not.

I was glad I’d made that choice. When we got into the Fort, the elephants were lined up in one of the courtyards. Tourists got on, the elephants followed one another in a circuit down a stone ramp, round a bit of the fort and back again. The tourists got off, more tourists got on and, off the elephants went again, and again, and again. I thought they looked depressed and unwell. Quite unlike the sprightly elephants we’d seen in the forest in Bandhavghar .

Elephants walking in circles all day

The setting of Amer Fort is spectacular and the buildings awesome.

The setting
The decoration behind us is mirror mosaic
Ganesh Gate

Ganesh Gate is the entrance to the private parts of the palace. It was built to honour the Mughal Emperors. Although the Emperors were Muslim. there is an image of Ganesh the elephant-headed Hindu god above the door. The entire fort is a mix of Mughul / Muslim and Rajput / Hindu architecture.

The lake below the fort and the garden where the ladies went to entertain themselves
Decoration detail
Decoration detail
Mirrored cieling
The Zenana or wives’ quarters

The Zenana or wives’ quarters were interesting. Apparently one of the Rajahs had twelve wives. They they each had identical quarters with a small, private patio built round a communal courtyard. The Rajah had access to his the women via a secret staircase and passageway, built so that he could visit the woman he fancied that day in secret. But he could also keep an eye on what they were all up to in their patios and the courtyard from the windows above. Big Daddy is watching you!

Prince visiting the zenana or women’s quarters

Beautiful, and all as it is I’m SO glad I didn’t live there. I don’t think I’d have coped with the life-style. But I am judging it from a European standpoint and by to-day’s standards. Perhaps, at the time, the Zenana was a great place to live.

April 2, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 12. THE PINK CITY

As we got close to Jaipur we thought we saw birds in the sky. They turned out to be kites. It was Jan 14th, the end of winter, the day when the Sun begins to move northwards again, bringing with it good health and wealth. Here in Jaipur people celebrate this by flying kites from their rooftops.

Andrea Moroni, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
ANDREA MORONI, FLICKR // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Palace of the Winds

Jaipur is the “Pink City,” because, they say, when the British Prince Albert Edward came to visit, the Maharajah asked him what was his favourite colour.

“Pink” replied the prince.

“Right-oh.” said the Maharajah and he ordered the whole city to be painted pink.

That’s one version. The other is that, because in India, pink is the colour of hospitality, the Maharajah had the town painted to impress the Prince. Either way, in 1877 he made it illegal to paint buildings any other colour. Even, to day, “Jaipur pink.” is the only colour you can paint your house if you live within the nine gates of the city.

We landed at the Hotel Alisar Haveli. We’d been expecting a pleasant mid- range hotel, but this was something else. Courtyards, balconies, fountains flower-painted ceilings, rooms decorated in mirror mosaic and inset ivory, staff dressed up to the nines. This Haveli, was the place where merchants travelling the Silk Road used to stay when selling their goods to the Maharajah.

A nice place to sit while having a drink
One of the courtyards
A sitting room – note the mirror mosaic and ivory pattern on the door

We went up to the roof to find two young men flying kites. All around you could see kites, kites flying high, kites cutting the strings of other kites, kites caught in the trees and a cacophony of shouts , cheers and music coming from the roofs of all the buildings around.

The lads flying kites
Those specks to the left are more kites

We ate in the magnificent dining room,

Dining room

but the food wasn’t great and the staff acted like they were thinking “tourist trash”.

*HOTEL ALISAR HAVELI

Sansar Chandra Road
Jaipur, Rajasthan 302001
India.

Stunningly beautiful hotel. Reception staff delightful. Dining room staff very off hand and dismissive. Food indifferent. CHICKEN WAS NOT PROPERLY COOKED! When we pointed this out they agreed not to charge us for it… BIG DEAL!

Diningroom
March 26, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 11. FATEPUR SIKRI

We left Agra for Jaipur. Fields of yellow flowers lined the roads. A relief from grey suburbs and ugly grey factories.

meradeshmerekhet.blogspot.com

“Mustard flower” Deepak tells us.

Deepak is our driver and he’s turning out to be a mine of information. The sun is shining and that too is a relief from the fog and the smog. After several miles we drive into a car park, are assigned a guide and herded onto a bus. There’s another fort to visit.

Do I really want to see another fort?

On the way in we are assailed by men and boys selling beads and bangles, postcards and key rings. They are hard to shake off.

“My sister she make this.” they say “I sell for my sister. I buy food for family”

“Just ignore them.” says the guide.

“No thank you.” I say, steadfastly not looking at either the man or his goods. In India, the merest glance makes every seller assume that you want to buy.

“Please, M’am,” says one guy, “you look my face and tell me.”

It’s the least I can do, human to human. I look him straight in the eye.

“No thank you.”

He moves on to sombody else. Oh God I feel guilty.

This fort seems even grander than the others we’ve seen but, maybe that’s because it was founded by Akbar the Great. Akbar was the Emperor who, in the late 1500’s, through sensible rule, diplomacy and encouraging trade, extended the Moghul Empire to cover almost all of the land north of the Godavari river. He made Fatepur Sikri his capital city.

images.fineartamerica.com Akbar with his cavalry

It has all the usual courtyards, mosques, meeting halls, private and public audience halls, wives’ quarters and also the white marble tomb of the Sufi saint, Salim Chisti. You have to take off your shoes to go in and cover your head. Inside there’s the tomb itself and you walk around it to see the fabulous lattice work window screens. Each one is carved in a different pattern. Then somebody asks you for a donation.

Tomb of Sufi saint, Salim Chisti
5308 Fatepur Sikri, India
Laticework in the tomb of the Sufi Saint

The Emperor went to the Saint to ask for a son and heir. The Saint gave his blessing and afterwards Akbar had three sons.

Here we are in one of the rooms

Back in the main part of the fort, one of the courtyards is marked out for a game, our guide said it was a version of Chess, but I heard another guide say it was a version of Ludo. In the center there is a stone dais where the players sat. Servants, dressed in the relevant costumes, acted as board pieces, and stood in place until told where to move by the players .

Here we are without any servants to play with!

Another courtyard called Anup Talao, was devoted to entertainments. There’s a place for the emperor and his guests to sit, a place for officials and windows above where the Emperor’s wives and ladies of the court could watch the entertainments without being seen by the men.

Anup Talao

Musicians sat in the middle and, to ensure that the sound carried to the dancers, entertainers and all of the audience, they poured oil on the water and the sound reflected off this.

We left imagining the wonders and the splendour of the Moghul courts, amazed by their technical know how. Then we came across these lovely pigs.

And somehow the pigs, rootling around in the mud, brought us right down to earth once again.

March 25, 2020 / catherinebwrites

INDIA 10. THE TAJ MAHAL

They say you haven’t seen India until you’ve seen the Taj Mahal. I took that with a large grain of salt.

“Seen the pictures.” I thought. “Seen the documentary. Seen the photos of Diana sitting outside looking lonely. Tourist trap.”

How wrong can you be?

We drove from Delhi in a comfortable car provided by Nobel Tours. Agra is 400 km away. We were looking forward to seeing a bit of the Indian countryside. A smog-laden fog veiled Delhi in grey. Never-ending grey suburbs morphed into miles and miles of grey factories. It’s not a picturesque journey.

Our hotel in Agra was the modern, multi-story Hotel Crystal Sarovar*, very swish, lots of bowing and Namaste-ing. A young man showed us up to our room and announced that we had a view of the Taj Mahal from our window. He swooshed back the curtains to reveal a panoramic view of smog-laden fog.

Then we were swooped off to the Agra Fort. Like the Red Fort in Delhi, this is another city within a city. Red sandstone fortifications surround gardens, fountains and white marble pavillions. Also the Hauz-i-Jehangir, a fine, sandstone bath where the Moghul Shahs could bathe.

Hauz-i-Jehangir – a bath tub.

Then it was off to the Taj Mahal. Us and several hundred other tourists, most of them Indian.

Our first glimpse was through the a red sandstone arch. It looked tiny but, that’s an optical illusion, once you go through the arch it looks big. And with that first glimpse of the real thing you forget about the other tourists milling about. It looks ethereal. Like it’s floating on air. It brought tears to my eyes.

No photograph does it justice

And the closer you get to more lovely it becomes. Up close you see the pietra dura, the marble latticework, the minarets, the Arabic calligraphy, all exquisite… trying to describe it can never do it justice. It’s one of those things that you have to see for yourself .

Pietra dura

interior decoration

It’s also a place that made me feel wistful and sad. It was, after all, built as a tomb by Shah Jahan for his favourite wife. The guides make jokes to the women about their husbands doing something equally fabulous for them. And they joke that the husbands would need to be fabulously wealthy to live up to the standard set by the Shah.

Shah Jahan
https://www.pinterest.ie/awaisaq/

There’s something about it that puts me in mind of Bollywood movie romances where dashingly handsome young men declare love to stunningly beautiful women. They sing in fields studded with flowers, they dance in splendid palaces, they flirt against backgrounds of beautiful scenery. But that’s not how it is for women in India. The lives of Indian women are very restricted. At best they are seen as second-class citizens.

Mumtaz was Shah Jahan’s favourite wife. That means there were more. In death she inspired him to build the Taj Mahal. I hope he treated her well when she was alive.

* AGRA  HOTEL CRYSTAL SAROVAR 
https://www.sarovarhotels.com/crystal-sar
ovar-premiere-agra/

I’d recommend this hotel. The rooms would have great views on a clear day. service excellent if a hint formal for my taste. Food was excellent.

March 16, 2020 / catherinebwrites

9. INDIA – THE RED FORT

It looks pretty daunting. It’s a military fort built by the Mughal Emperors. Did I really want to visit a military fort? They say it’s one of the things you must do in Delhi, so, what the heck.

There’s a long walk to the ticket office where there is one queue for men, one for ladies, one for the disabled and one for foreigners. Foreigners pay more to get in but that’s okay. Then there’s a long walk back to the entrance.

As we walked up the ramp to the main gate I saw a guide gathering his group,

“This was the first defence.” he said, “the moat had water and it was filled with snakes and crocodiles.”

I decided to earwig and here’s what I learned.

The second line of defense:

If an enemy succeeded in getting ladders across the crocodile and snake filled moat and started to climb, the Emperor’s army poured oil through the row of openings and set the oil on fire.

The third line of defense:

The Emperor’s archers shot a deluge of arrows on you through the openings at the next level. If you still got through, fair dues.

Fourth line of defense:

You found yourself in a corridor populated by lions, tigers and leopards. That worked a treat till the British arrived and blasted their way in with canon… the rest is the story of Empire.

Once through the main gate there was an avenue of shops full of colourful jewelry, paintings, pashminas, carvings and all the shiny fecky-las that attract tourists. Outside each shop stood a watchful man, waiting to catch your curious eye and invite you inside to buy.

“Very cheap, fixed price.” they smiled.

Beyond the shops I was expecting a barracks and flagstone squares designed for soldiers to march and practise drills. Instead we discovered lawns, avenues of trees, gardens, fountains, pavilions, a harem, a mosque and several small museums. And the area covered was enormous. There were military quarters somewhere but what we saw was obviously the place where Mughal emperors, their wives, families and courtiers lived, ruled and entertained in the grandest of style.

One of the buildings had a museum of portraits of upper class Indians of the past, wearing the most fabulous gear.

Most of the visitors we saw were Indian families out for the day. Many of them also wearing fabulous gear. Not draped in jewels and gold like the Maharajahs in the portraits but equally colourful.

Even the babies wore make up and dazzling colour!

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