I finally sorted out when I would be departing India. Susumu and I decided to see some of the vital cities for any tourist in India. This was a famous triangle: Agra, Amritsar and Jaipur.
First of all we boarded a choo choo for Agra. Within a few hours we pulled into Agra Cantt. Cantt is short for cantonment. The cantonment meant the area where the Britishers lived and it usually included a barracks.
Susumu and I stayed in some retiring rooms at the station. Upstairs there were beds in a dorm and we lodged there. We walked out to a restaurant. Agra is a fairly large city but there was a lot of open green space. That night as the insects sang we strolled to a charming little restaurant. We ate outdoors. I thought the meal was satisfactory. Susumu ate chicken as he usually did. He always pronounced it ”Shikn”. Susumu was displeased with his meal. When the bill came her berated the burly Nepali looking manager. ”Your food was shit!”
The manager was almost amused. ”What you want? You want fighting?” The manager did not seem at all offended.
We paid the bill and left. Susumu told me in Japan if one is unhappy with a meal one can summon the manager and complain. The meal will then be free.
We slept decently at the retiring rooms. This was quite something because there were monkeys scampering across the roof.
Next day we headed to India’s iconic site – the Taj Mahal. It was a sweltering day so there was not such a multitude of people queueing to see the Taj. I caught sight of the Taj Mahal from quite some distance. I had seen this image countless times before. Somehow seeing it in the flesh, as it were, was not the epiphany I thought it might be.
We queued up for our tickets. The signs declared the different prices for Indians and foreigners. As bold as brass you might say. I had a certain respect for that. In India the Indians come first. The tourists who come from abroad are usually much richer than the average Indian. It is unobjectionable that foreigners like me should be charged several times more. The admission fee was not princely.
We walked along the pavement towards the mighty memorial. I knew they limited the number of people allowed in. So many hundreds of thousands visited this mausoleum that it was shaking the Taj to its foundations. That is why it was good to hike the admission ticket price.
There was a calming pond beside the walkway. Rose gardens lay on either side. I saw the bench where Princess Diana sat with her legs crossed and back to the media as she contemplated the Taj. It was seen as a poignant image of a lovelorn woman. There she sat gazing at this world renowned testament to love when she herself so emotionally deprived. I found this interpretation emetic. She was one of the most fortunate people alive and all she could do was whinge and break confidences.
At last we came to the door of the white building. There is most to admire in the handiwork. The stone is inlaid with numberless flower motifs. It is a Muslim building so there are no images of people or animals. At the door two British teenage girls stood chatting. Some Indian men took photos of them. These girls shrugged it off. They were used to a lot of unwanted male attention. This is a common experienced for Occidental females in the Subcontinent.
I half remember having to take my shoes off. What no one tells you is that as you are at the door to the Tak if you look to the right there is an army base just over the fence. You are not allowed to take photos of that.
Into the Taj itself. It is cavernous and echoes despite people trying to reduce their voices to a susurration. The place was somehow soothing. There below floor level was the tomb itself. It was rectangle the size of a person. That was where she lay. Mumtaz Mahal, favourite wife the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, is interred there.
We spent a few minutes wandering around gawping at the opulence of the place.
The view behind it is almost as spectacular. There was a very wide expanse of a dry river bed. The river was but the tiniest trickle in the middle. I saw a heard boy with his goats wander by in the distance. It was a strange contrast to use in there – tourists from the far side of the globe with our costly cameras.
Shah Jahan had wanted to build a reflection of the Taj in black on the far bank of the river. The cost of the Taj was exorbitant. His high spending ways were too much for many of his family and the courtiers. A palace coup was arranged. This romantic spent the rest of his days locked up composing Urdu elegies to his dead wife.
The other famous site in this city is the fort which is not far away. I think we might even have walked. It is just along the bank of the river.
We paid our rupees and in we went. Though the place is in good nick there are few items exhibited. It was somewhat interesting to take a look round. It was like many Indian forts – mostly a red-brown colour. There were wide walls one could walk on and many battlements. The rooms were not many but they were roomy. I overheard an Indian guide tell a tourist that there was an underground tunnel from the fort to the Taj so that the emperor could go and pray at his wife’s graves. I had my doubts about that one. There was a deep moat and this same guide say that lions and tigers had patrolled it. That might have been true. It would also have been a good place to keep such a big cat menagerie.
We saw a hugely fat Canadian woman waddle towards us. How do I know her nationality? She wore something with the maple leaf on it. So it is a reasonable supposition that she was a Canuck. Canadians seem to wear their flag more than any other nationality. ”Not American – the other one” seems to be the message. The unfortunate woman was morbidly obese.
Susumu remarked that she must have been molested as a child. This is why she subconsciously decided to render herself very unappealing to men by eating gross amounts of food. I was not convinced by his explanation.
After only about 24 hours we caught the train back to Delhi.