‘Your morning call sir’ said the voice on the end of the phone, what time is it and what had happened to the alarm? Set for tomorrow by mistake! We busied ourselves in the pre morning, leaving one of our suitcases with the hotel and got to our car at the arranged time of 6:00am, it was still dark. The bright red sun came up as we were on the outskirts of Delhi heading to Agra.
Mention you are going to Delhi and the conversation will soon come round to the Taj Mahal, some people talk of one of the finest buildings in the world, others advise it is simply not worth the effort. We decided to go to Agra and decide for ourselves, somehow that trip stretched to include Jaipur. The triangle between Delhi, Agra and Jaipur is called the Golden Triangle on account of the large number of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in that area. The most famous of these and the one we were to visit first, is the Taj Mahal.
There is nothing on can say about the Taj that has not already been said, but I will try and convey our experience. Once the tickets are bought and they have gone through the metal detector, and being frisked tourists enter via the southern gate, this in itself is a stunning piece of architecture with many fine carvings of verses from the Quran, but to see the Taj framed in this gate is truly stunning, the impression is that the Taj is levitating. This is achieved by its placement on the banks of the River Yamuna, so there seems to be nothing behind it, whilst in front is a row of rectangular ponds leading the eye to the edifice in a very powerful way. The 4 minarets give the Mausoleum gravitas; they aparently lean slightly outward, so in the event of an earthquake they will not topple onto the main building. The most stunning aspect is the translucent properties of the marble it is constructed from, in the morning sunlight it looks like it is emitting its own light. On getting closer the intricacy of the semi precious stone inlays that creates the patterns betrays the incredible craftsmanship and time taken to complete the work. It is said that Shah Jahan had the right hand of the master craftsman amputated to ensure he could never make something that rivaled the Taj’s beauty again, a bit harsh really. At the end of the day you will have to visit the Taj yourself to appreciate the full impact of the place, because words or pictures cannot convey its ethereal beauty. But if you are lucky enough to do that make it as early in the day as possible because by the afternoon it is just too full of visitors, and you may become one of the ‘it’s not worth the effort’ brigade. There is a very real fear that the pollution will damage the marble, in an attempt to address this authorities have introduced a 500 metre exclusion zone for vehicles with engines. As well as the opportunity to travel by camel there are also electric cycle-rickshaws to get tourists back to the carpark. We jumped in one and a fight erupted between our rider and one who thought he should get us as a fare, after a couple of ripped buttons and swear words I thankfully could not understand we were on our way.
Heading from Agra to Jaipur we stopped at another wonder of the Moghul Empire, the ill fated fortified city of Fatehpur Sikri. This was the Mughal Emperor’s capital from 1571 to 1585. After 14 short years the well ran dry so they moved the capital to nearby Agra. It is not only famous for its fate, but also for its blend of Persian and Hindu architecture, built in the local red stone. It certainly is a stunning sight and beautiful place to walk around. On our visit the gardens were the best we had seen in India, ironic for somewhere with such a shortage of water. The city consists of beautiful palaces, reception rooms, halls, and mosques, all centered around a large water feature, now looking very green. There is some remediation work going on, but like everywhere in India it lacks love and attention.
The city of elephants would be a good name for Jaipur rather than the accepted Pink City tag most people give it. It was painted a mock sandstone colour for the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1876, and looks like it has never had a recoat. Whilst there are camels, elephants are the normal beast of burden, from carrying tourists up the steep road to the City Palace, or carrying building materials across town. Jaipur is the capital of Rajasthan state.
There is a traveler’s dilemma, especially when one is in an interesting place for too short a time; do you try and work it out for yourself, or do you go with a guide? We had a guide to Jaipur included in the package so we went with that. We met him at our hotel in the morning and I said of all the things to offer in Jaipur I wanted to see Jantar Mantar. This is an observatory constructed by Jai Singh starting in 1728, it contains large structures for astronomical observations. I find ancient scientific observations very interesting, alas our guide thought there were better places to see, including workshops and sales outlets. We did see some things that are not on all tourist itinerates, including a Mausoleum, a Temple and an interesting well with many steps to save time cueing when collecting water. There were places on the tourist route like the water Palace, however I left Jaipur feeling a loss at not experiencing Jantar Mantar. I do like to ne in charge of my own destiny.
Our itinerary was built around commitments in Fremantle and meeting up with my brother, BUT, 2 days in Delhi and 2 Days in Rajasthan is obviously totally inadequate, I do need to return with more time.