First you always get to see a huge imposing gate and then you get to see the magnificence within and then you get to wander around and see all the fabulous little details.
Being naturally perverse, I’ve done it in the opposite order, perhaps because I remember the little details with some relief as we usually got to keep in the shade while wandering around : ) Regrettably, I remember very little of the extensive talks we got from various guides about which Mughul Emperor built what for which reason and when. This was partly due to the heat and partly due to being at the back of the group and looking around instead of paying attention. I could have done with a crib sheet for each AFT really : )
The Jama Maschid is the biggest mosque in Delhi and it’s in daily use for worship. We got our first taste of bare feet on hot tiles and also all got draped with special brightly coloured and polka dotted robes to cover up our irreverant arms and shoulders. The blokes in shorts got to have a kind of towel knotted round their waists to cover up their legs : ) Thus all the local people could tell we were tourists a mile away : )
Ghandi-Ji’s last resting place. Suitably simple and modern and (apart from Val getting her purse nicked) a nce peaceful place.
This was just a big monumental gate thingie as far as I was concerned. I am sorry that we were unkind to the Indian regiments and glad that they are remembered but Lutyens’ modern architecture leaves me cold. That’s the Rashtrapati Bhavan (President House) in the distance. I think it was originally designed by Lutyens as the Viceroy’s Palace.
Humayan’s Tomb was a lovely quiet place.
The Qutab complex in Delhi includes a lot of rather nice ruins, fantastically carved in red sandstone. there’s a lot of reconstruction going on and when(if) it ever gets finished it’ll rival some of the most impressive places in India. The iron pillar dates from the 4th century and has never rusted although completely exposed to the elements. If you stand with your back against it and can circle it with your arms it’s said that you can have a wish granted. Unfortunately it’s now surrounded by a fence so we couldn’t try this out!
And the Qutab Minar is quite fabulous. It’s the tallest brick built tower in the world and is carved up it’s complete height with writings from the Quran and it’s history.
The Red fort in Agra. There was nowhere you could get a complete picture of this place. It’s huge. This is a bit of the entrance gate. And it has two moats – one was water-filled and inhabited by crocodiles and the other was dry and full of lions and tigers. I guess they got regularly fed with undesirable visitors! Now the only dangers are monkeys, after your snacks and hawkers, after your money!
Itmad-Ud-Dauleh is called the Baby Taj because it was the fore-runner of the wonderful marble and inlay work that makes the Taj so beautiful. And because it’s such a dainty little tomb compared to most of the famous ones. It’s really charming. Another place where we went barefoot but to save the marble tiles rather than for religious reasons.
And that’s a gate that overlooks the Yamuna River.
In case you don’t know the story, the Taj was built by Akbar, one of the most succesful and powerful Mughal Emporers, as a tomb to commemorate his love for Mumtaz, his favourite wife, when she died. There is a story, almost certainly apocryphal, that when the Taj was finished, he had the architect blinded so he could never build another one. Unlikely anyway because he had planned to have a matching, black Taj built here in the Moon Gardens to mirror Mumtaz’s tomb. He died before he got round to it though.
(As we saw more and more AFTs, a conviction gradually grew in me that the Mughul Emperors were all boob men not leg men. And that Mumtaz must have been most particularly well endowed)
We had to queue for nearly half an hour to get into the Taj, by which time the sun was well up. The plan (getting up at 5.30 in hopes of seeing the sun rise over the Taj) didn’t quite work. I think we should have got up at 5 – it would have been worth it. Still, the cloudless, pre-haze sky was very beautiful. Agra was incredibly polluted and it’s amazing how the skies were the most gorgeous robin’s-egg blue.
I’m sure this puddle was regularly refreshed so that the gardeners could direct tourists with cameras to the exact spot for this shot. Which involved getting down on hands and knees (if you didn’t actually lie down in the dust) and balancing the camera over the water. The gardeners were keen to make sure that it was done exactly right and in some cases, insisted on doing it for the tourists – who naturally were expected to provide renumeration. Well, these blokes certainly had the experience. They probably knew more about our cameras than we did. I’m afraid I insisted on taking my own, lopsided picture 🙂
Big entrance, small people. Akbar wanted everyone to know that he loved the lady a lot.
After leaving the taj, we set off for Fatephur Sikri, a huge, deserted palace in the wilderness. I don’t exactly remember why but one of the emperors moved his whole court out to this place, built himself a palace and then abandoned it and went back to either Agra or Delhi. Or maybe he died and the succeeding emperor moved out.
And after Fatephur Sikri, we went on to Ranthambore in the Rajasthan desert and I shall stop for a while as I’m not up to date with photos after that.
Also, here at home, it’s a gorgeous day. I hope you are enjoying it too.
Once, the palaces had curtains across the doors but now they are all open to the breezes. There are more archways and screens and doorways than you could imagine all revealing tantalising tiny views of greater things beyond.
I shall tantalise : ) (hopefully)
The Jama Maschid Mosque in Delhi
Jama Maschid – one of the people’s entrances (as opposed to the tourists entrance : )
Humayan’s Tomb in Delhi
The gardens of humayan’s Tomb
Um, what was it called? Oh yes, The Taj Mahal (as if you didn’t know : )
One of the bits at the side of the Taj looking at the gardens
Fatephur Sikri – the ruined city (I think)
The Amber fort at Jaipur. Screens for the ladies of the Harem to look out through.
More Amber fort. A view into the mirror worked inner sanctum for the harem.
Looking out through the Ladies screens at the Amber Fort
Humayans tomb again (it got out of place when I uploaded : )
I haven’t worked through all the photos of the actual AFTs – there were many! And probably more glimpses too but I get distracted by other pics as I’m wandering through the memories. It’s a constant amazement. We saw so many AFTs I forgot half of them and thank heavens I kept some sort of diary or I’d have no idea which of these was which!
Barney came blithely back from the pub this evening to inform me that when our friend Mr M came back from Mexico with Montezuma’s Revenge (local variant of Delhi Belly), it went on for two months and then left him with a dislike of the full english breakfast! Well I could become a very slender and extremely grumpy bunny over the next month or so if that’s what happens to me!
Meanwhile I am experimenting with food that sounds as though it ought to be light, binding, full of liquid and laced with healthy and antiseptic things. Such as raw garlic, fresh ginger, dill leaves and a bit of salt and sugar. Not necessarily all at once or in that order. Also soup, yoghurt and plain boiled rice and potatoes. Toast. boiled eggs. Noodles (though I’m not sure about their healthiness credentials). Freshly squeezed orange juice – I know fruit is generally considered loosening rather than binding but on the other hand it’ s a very nice way to replenish fluids. Oh and ginger and lemongrass tea – very cleansing : ) And I brought back a taste for Marsala tea (which is sometimes called chai). It’s dead easy to make and is a rather comforting drink. You put tea leaves, hot water, milk, sugar and a cardomon and a bit of cinnamon bark in a saucepan and bring it to nearly boiling then you strain and serve. There are recipes that also include a whole lot more spices like pepper and cloves and stuff but I don’t fancy all that. And you can have it without sugar I know because at least once I was asked if I wanted sugar or not.
So here be wild and tame things that roam the streets and hills and plains and jungles of India.
Cute camels with babies
Goodness! lots and lots of camels. they are driven in great herds from North West Rajasthan to the East when the feed and water dry up. Later in the year after the monsoon, they travel back again.
I’m not sure if these are wild or domestic. Anyhow they rooted around the villages and one hopes, got fed occasionally.
Ooh, wouldn’t want to get too close to him!
In a temple doorway : )
So much more impressive than in parks and places in England.
Oh and I nearly forgot. Mashli, at 13 and 1/2, the oldest tiger in Ranthambore reserve. apparently she’s famous too – if you google her you can find out all about her.
It was almost time to leave the reserve and at least one of us* was about to burst into tears. No tigers to be seen. the truck trundled round a corner and who should come padding along the track but this gorgeous lady. Not only did she appear, she walked right past us. (Only on the wrong side of the truck – it’s really hard to get a good shot through a forest of waving cameras and elbows! but I saw her. and Barney being taller, got some video of her : )
*No, not me.
It’s got my one tiger photo on it : )
Busy working through the pics : )
Before leaving for India I read a book called ‘The White Tiger’ and on the plane going home I watched ‘Slumdog Millionaire’. Thirty years ago after my last visit to India I read the Raj Quartet and Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Books and other novels of Kipling’s were constant companions when I was very young. Very different views of a country which is rich in contrasts and extremes.
It’s so big. And so full. So utterly unlike the West and so completely itself. We are accustomed to thinking of India as a place of extreme poverty but it is also a place of enormous wealth. It has a pretty solid economy I think, though the way it runs is not the way we run things.
It has great spirituality and vitality together with great callousness and apathy. But all of these are rooted a faith in reincarnation which is inextricably woven into the daily life of a large part of the population. Fatalism and a will to move on go hand in hand and injustice is both accepted as a kind of karma and fought against with courage and conviction.
We have our ideas about India’s religions and institutions but without some understanding of how deeply they are a part of the culture it’s like saying we have ideas about the laws of a diffferent universe.
320,000,000 gods for 1 147 995 904 people. How can you or I understand that?
1 doctor for every 10,000 people. How can we understand that!*
As always when we go on tours in foreign countries, we have spent a good deal of our time with people who are educated and relatively well off. Raju, the tour guide earns a reasonable living and supports a wife and family in his village in Rajasthan. Ashok, the coach driver and Lalit, the boy who looks after us, have a regular wage and accommodation thrown in (the coach is where they sleep). Raju, however was over the moon that he got to see Shimla and stay in the Wildflower Hall hotel.
Because we travelled big distances from city to city and each departure and arrival involved the counting, in and out, of 37 people, (this also had to be done at each and every monument, temple and tomb) we had the barest patchwork of interactions with the real people. Hawkers (who dangled assorted wares in our faces – very in our faces – between every alighting from the coach to the gates of every place we stopped), waiters, hotel staff, maintenance staff, beggars at every window on the road, people we passed in the villages, security staff, policemen, artisans (in the one or two specially chosen ‘government sponsored’ shops we were escorted through).
So many people, so little time to assess, discuss, relate, consider. We had two words of Hindu (?) Namaste and Shukriya. Hello** and thankyou. People mostly seemed to like that. It was late in the season so, except at the Taj, we were often the only Western tourists to be seen. The coach was waved at, smiled at and stared at and us within our cool cocoon knew little of what those people really felt. Rich looking Indian fellow hotel guests were often impressively rude and I felt they were simply making sure we knew they were high up some ladder involving caste and wealth and social standing.
Oh and on the subject of caste! Of course the system sounds wrong and unjust to us who believe ourselves to be enlightened and liberal (Hmm). Myself I feel that most systems designed between priests, Kings and governments to manage large numbers of other people are inevitably unjust. Raju (a member of the (highest) Brahmin, priestly caste, assured us that there are members of the caste once called ‘untouchable’ in government in the highest official positions and that people of the Dahlli (edit: Dallit) caste (is that the right word?) can be, and are doctors, scientists, university lecturers – anything they want to be. That there is nothing to stop them. But there is still a movement throughout the country to fight the injustices they claim they still struggle against.
Ah well. It’s a very big place and I am only a small fat person with the runs and I am struggling to assimilate, never mind understand, a tenth of what I’ve seen. Speaking of which, I made no less than three trips to the surgery this morning. To make an appointment, to keep it and then to deliver an unpleasantness in a sample bottle. And now I think it’s getting better!
*Have I really remembered that correctly?
**Actually, namaste means rather more than that, being a kind of blanket, respectful, ‘good morning, good evening, goodbye and fare you well’ expression.
For instance, obsessions: At each new hotel, how big is the complementary water bottle? enough for tooth brushing as well as drinking and making tea? Will they give us more for free (It’s not cheap).
How many teabags and little milk sachets. Can we have a cup of tea before breakfast and before going to bed – Ooh and perhaps even when we get back from another round of AFTs : )
How many loo rolls? (Only 2?!! Oh dear – how soon before we get refills?)
Do the plug adaptors fit the plugs here? Will the mini hard disc charge up enough to download todays camera card and will there be time to charge the video batteries?
Where are we allowed to smoke? In our room? Will the window open? Is there a smoking area near the restaurant or bar?
How many immodium pills have we got left? How many heartburn pills? Is there anything we could find that would work better? Should we still be taking these pills or would it be better to let nature take it’s course? In fact do any of these damn pills make the slightest difference?
What should we eat? Shall we go for broke (and run) and enjoy curries and patties and dhals and flavoured rices and even salads and veg and meat and fun looking samosas and pakoras. Or should we stick to yoghurt, lassi and soup? with an ocasional morsel of toast? Perhaps an egg? (we did all that and the results were predictable and swift and remorseless and quite unrelated to what we actually did choose)
How hot is it here? If I wash my knickers, will they be dry before morning? This was a particularly important obsession as, on Day One I made a discovery which was all of shocking, unusual, astonishing and embarrassing. I forgot to pack my knickers! Now you might think, Oh well there will be laundry services at all these posh hotels. And you’d be right but would you want to risk your only pair of knickers not being returned before it’s time to set off (probably at the crack of dawn) for the next trip or even for the next hotel? Further, would you really want to hand your aged, tattered, bulgy M&S knickers to the immaculately smart, slim, beautiful, gorgeously liveried hotel staff and say” just wash these for me before 6 am tomorrow would you?” Hmm?
Ok, there must be knicker shops. Mustn’t there? I could ask the tour manager (delightful Gill) and she’d ask the local tour guide (shy, reserved Raju, the Brahmin, who doesn’t eat with untouchables and has a separate set of eating utensils for when he’s visited by his untouchable friends so they can eat in another area without ever touching anything he touches) and he’d no doubt send sweet Lalit (who provides water for us and waits at the coach door with a gloved hand to help us old ladies down – is that glove for our protection or his?) And what are the chances that any pair of Indian knickers, designed for the skinny to slim Indian population, would be big enough for my enormous bum!
Interludes then; like the morning when I declined to go and look at painted Havelis (mansions) in the village in the midle of the desert nowhere of Rajasthan and instead, wandered around the astonishing Alsisar Mahal. Once a King’s palace, now an Arabian Night’s fantasy hotel. Once an important trading post on the silk road and now an oasis of peace and cool white towers and balconies and courtyards in a tiny poverty stricken village. If the road that brought us from the railway station went anywhere else it was impossible to guess where, most of the views from the roof top courtyards showed nothing but miles of desert, patchworked with thorn lined dunes.
It was this morning that Sharm, one of the waiters said “Madame, I would like to have my picture taken with you. Please?” So I handed my camera to one of his colleagues and have two photos of us standing side by side – he looking very neat and upright with his hands folded and me looking extremely baggy and blousy and hot with my funny hat all flopped over (in sharp contrast to his neatly contained turban). I have promised to send him a copy at the hotel. I’m not sure if it was the hat he liked or the fact that my husband was invisible for the morning, laid low with the Delhi belly : )
Whatever. When Barney reappeared he at once became the star of all the waiters and staff by reason of his moustache which Indians all over the country absolutely loved. This happens wherever we go, Peru, Egypt, Kenya, the local men all flock to admire and often to be photographed with him. So far I haven’t seen any of the local women showing the same interest which is good, I feel : )
Another interlude in the gorgeous, gardened mountaintop Wildflower Hall hotel in Shimla where we had a whole free morning and afternoon to wander the blooming gardens and look at the Himalayas arrayed snowily above the mountains of Himachal Pradesh.
And another wondrous momentary interlude when we arrived at the Cecil Oberoi and looking out at Shimla, bejewelled with lights as darkness fell, saw a particularly brilliant light on the skyline which turned into the huge rising moon, illuminating the mountains beyond the city. Oddly enough, that would be happening just about now in Shimla : )
Right. That’ll do for now. I have to run. (I will just mention that I’m downloading the last camera card. soon, I’ll be able to answer the question everyone kept asking me – how many photos have you taken?)
Which is to say Another Famous Tomb : ) According to Raju, our local guide, this was the response he got from two American lady tourists. When he told us this tale, we were on our fifith AFT and we knew exactly what those ladies really meant. And I think Raju knew too in spite of being a Brahmin and a well brought up young man.
Well there are a lot of monuments and tombs in India, as well there might be what with Kings or Maharajahs in every state and 320 million gods. And a good few years of history.
We saw Humayan’s tomb and while we were there an older tomb off to the side. We saw the Qutab Minar which is the tallest brick built minaret in India. There was a half a sundog over the top of it – the first one I’ve ever seen!
We passed the Red Fort in Delhi and drove round the pompous and out of place Parliament buildings of New Delhi (designed by Lutyens for the British Raj) and pased the empty canopy where there used to be a statue of King George (?) the ?th wich was removed when India became independant. We saw the Jama Maschid Mosque where we were given brightly coloured overgarments to cover our infidel arms and a couple of the blokes in shorts got sort of towels to tie round their waists. Shoes left at the door and we walked on hot stones as we wandered round marvelling a bit. It’s a very big and polular place of worship. We saw the Raj Ghat, where Ghandi Ji’s eternal flame burns. I think it was here that Barney said he thought stuff wouldn’t get stolen as it was a holy place. It was definitely here that Val’s purse was pickpocketed by a group of prettily dressed young women.
On our second day after seeing some of the above mentioned, we set off for Agra Where we saw the other Red Fort which is absolutely huge and immensely complicated and wonderfully ornate. All built in stunning red sandstone. And the Itmad-Ud-Dauleh which was tiny (relatively) and built in marble and delicately carved and patterned. Then, after a short break for showers and cups of tea and not unpacking very much, we went to the moonlight Gardens across the Yamuna River to watch the Sun set over the Taj Mahal across the river. As you’ll have guessed, we didn’t go there in the moonlight (wisely as apparently, after sunset, the gardens become dangerous). Also we would have been locked in at 6pm. And we wouldn’t have liked that as we were all imagining cold beers and showers by then. On the far bank of the river there were cremations being performed and we could see flames and smoke but litle else.
Next morning we were up at 5 to leave at 6 to see the sun rise over the Taj. Which we duly did and then wandered around for an hour or two. Well you’ve seen the glossy photos. It’s better than any of them though we didn’t have a particularly spectacular sunrise so my photos will just look like tourist snaps.
After that we had breakfast and drove on to Fatephur Sikri. I’ve written in my diary that it was stunning but I don’t remember it at all. it was all geting a bit AFT by then! Hopefully, I took photos. As far as I can tell, we’d now done 8 AFTs in 2 and a half days (which included the six hour drive to Agra and a certain amount of eating and sleeping and getting the runs). That’s a lot!
Well we had lunch at the Laxmi Niwas Indian Heritage Palace which I do remember as it was beautifully painted and colonnaded and marble tiled and cool! and then caught a train to Ranthambore. Thankfully we didn’t get the full Indian train experience; our carriage was first class which means we had seats and it was air conditioned and comfortable. This was bliss and a good chance to catch up on sleep.
As I write, photos are downloading. I’m still hoping that the card with photos from Ranthambore where we saw the tiger are going to appear magically on the hard drive even though the hard drive and the card appeared to have destroyed each others’ interfaces.
Meanwhile, dinners are needed (he’s having steak, being in a more robust condition tnan me and I’m having noodles cos they’re light) and I have to go and run a bit. So I’ll pause in my whirlwind tour of monuments.
Trying to think of the overwhelming impressions of the place, I have to say the Orange Coach came near the top! It was air conditioned, and at regular intervals Lalit, the sort of gopher/helpful boy handed out chilled bottles of water, each lovingly wrapped in a bit of tissue. We spent a lot of time in the coach and close behind (or mostly beside and out of the window), miles upon mile of flat, dusty, sandy fields, defined with thorn bushes, reed clumps and wheat straw. Brick kilns rising like pencils out of clay fields. Occasional muddy rivers and dry irrigation channels (waiting for the monsoon to bring them to life). The skies alive with crows.
Small villages bursting with sudden swarms of tuk-tuks and sacred cow carts and herds of goats and people and children and dogs. And among them, sleeping men on rattan and wooden beds under a few huge old banyan trees or in the shade of a tin roof. The rows of tiny, square shop and house fronts, brick or mud built and plastered and painted blue and white and green and dirty. Shops exploding into the street with sweets and clothes and packets and pouches and boxes and bits of cars and rickshaws and tuk tuks and tyres and vegetables and fruit and water bottles (used, refilled somewhere unspeakable and resealed) drinks, snacks, breads. Anything you can think of.
Groups of men sitting in the streets in their neat white shirts and dark trousers or in stained and worn robes, talking and drinking (probably lassi and coke, not alcohol). Groups of children, brown and busy at the water pump or just running. In every village, stares and waves and smiles. In every village, women and children holding hand to mouth at the coach window and wearing a mournful hungry look. Sometimes, holding babies and often puppeteering the babies hands to mimic the hand to mouth gesture.
And everywhere, in the fields, the villages, by the roads, the brilliant glowing colours of the women’s saris. Walking singly or in groups along the roads and fields, crouching by the wheat stands, cutting with scythes and gathering bundles for the harvest. Sitting in groups under the trees, which dotted the view, perhaps for a quick lunch in between harvesting. Talking, talking everywhere.
Each village had a compound, roughly surrounded by mud walls or bundled thorn hedges where straw and reed and grain were stored in marvellously woven huts and ricks and mounds made of reed. Each village had wonderfully built heaps of round dung patties, drying for fuel, by the side of the road or down the alleys. Immense industriousness and fabulous idleness living side by side and interwoven with shouts and horns hooting and sudden music blaring. Each village also had several remarkably bumpy, suspension destroying sleeping policeman lumps across our path so that the moments when the bus slowed down enough to take photos were also the moments where the most blurry shots got taken! And there were smells. Of cooking, of diesel, of other less pleasant things, of spices and perfumes.
And then out into the dust and heat and miles again.
And at the end of each journey, a cool, marble tiled, shiny lobby, garlands of marigolds and increasingly worrying cold drinks on trays. Rooms with ridiculously large, shiny bathrooms and masses of glass and polish and HUGE beds! All snowy linen and neatly turned and tucked several times a day. Hordes of polite, welcoming smiles and endless readiness to cater for whatever you could possibly want, before you had time to think what that might be. Swarming hotel liveries and namastes and good evenings and can I help yous. Every turn and twist of every corridor stationed with a lift attendant or a room cleaner or a just helpful person – and quite a few security uniforms.
Well we travelled around 6000 kilometres we think, overall. By road and rail. So the journeys and their endings did make a strong impression : )
Very exciting place India. I’m knackered and it’ll take a few days to download all the photos never mind sort through the blurry throughthecoachwindow ones and the blurry throughthetrainwindow ones and the oopsImissedit ones. But when they’re done I’ll post them. We’re just home and back in India it’s around 4.30 in the morning (unless I’ve worked it out the wrong way round in which case it’s about 6.30 in the evening). Whereas here, it’s just bed time. After a few quick visits to the loo and the luxury of brushing teeth with tap water instead of hoarding bottled and the other luxury of using as much loo roll as you like without wondering if it’s possible to make do with what’s left before yelling for room service to bring several more. And the delight of proper English tea with regular milk and aha! Tap water again! (I don’t even mention the coffee)
We have so much water here!
But it’s cold!
But if it wasn’t cold you could leave the window open without worrying about the monkey menace and the mozzies.
I hope Barney’s done hotwater bottles 🙂
Yawn 🙂 ‘Night