Agra culture

Trip Start Aug 18, 2006
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of India  ,
Thursday, April 12, 2007

From Jaipur to Agra was two days of highway riding, with very little of interest to divert me. India's nothern plains before the rains are not one of the worlds most inspiring landscapes, and the riding was a hard slog through the baking heat and oppressive atmosphere of truck fumes and blasting airhorns. After the first day, however, I finally excorised my last camping gremlin. I found a patch of woodland well away from the main road, below a hill with a temple at the top, and prepared to camp, in the wild, alone. With monkeys for company and still nervous about being discovered, I waited a while before pitching my tent. No-one appeared after 45minutes, so I started to make camp. Barely had I put my baggage inside my tent when I heard twigs snapping about twenty metres away. Peeking over the bank behind which I'd sheltered myself I saw some children collecting firewood, and they saw me. They scarpered as fast as they could, and all I could do was sit and wait for them to return, reinforced.

About 30minutes later the kids returned with a middle aged woman who I took to be their mother, an older man and a collection of brothers, sisters and cousins. None of the assembled spoke any english, so I resurrected my mime skills to explain that I was harmless, alone and simply intending to sleep for one night. The first and last of these facts were easily understood, but the idea that I was alone seemed to cause a great deal of confusion. The mother kept holding up two fingers and pointing at me, and I would shake my head and hold up one finger while pointing at myself. This went on for a while, with different aural emphases, some of which seemed to be suggesting 'two' rather than asking- a prospect I didn't want to consider. What was on their mind was made explicit when two young men appeared a little later, one of whom spoke a little english, and asked outright:
-you are sex?
-erm. No. Sleeping.
The sun was setting by this point and Indian villagers don't much like being out in the wilds at night. After gently refusing the offer to move to the village, and assuring the young men that neither the monkeys, forest dwelling criminals nor tigers were likely to disturb me, I was finally left in peace.

An early morning and a long ride got me to Agra, 150km further on. I stayed two days, visiting the Taj Mahal on the first day, which looked very much like the photos. It is very impressive, there's no denying. A lot like a giant cake.

There's also a very fine fort. It was largely built by Shah Jahan, who built the Taj, so you can be sure it was built with taste, monolithic scale and a lot of white marble and red sandstone. The fort was later his prison when he was usurped by his son Aurangzeb; out of, under the circumstances, somewhat dubious or misplaced kindness, Aurangzeb allowed his father to live in the quarters which had a perfect view of the Taj. Mind you, governing was hard work, by the sounds of it, so perhaps that was all he really wanted.

Between the fort and the Taj was a park, which somehow was kept clear of hawkers and beggars. It was a pleasant surprise to be able to walk from the Taj to the red fort in beatiful green surrounds with only parakeets disturbing the peace.
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