Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Incredible India: To Temples and Tombs

The importance of the Taj Mahal
The few times I have channel-hopped to CNN to catch their slant of developing news, I have been regaled with the adverts of Incredible India.
On one of those days, without having ways or means, I promised myself that I would soon visit India and the Taj Mahal is one place I would visit.
When opportunity came to plan the trip to India just about 6 weeks ago, my European disposition was to go to the coast and that was Goa, but after reviewing all my options, I knew the Taj Mahal was to India as the Pyramids of Giza were to Egypt or the more recent Eiffel Tower to Paris.
It had to be done and that meant changing to New Delhi with its constant fog and smog, pollution hanging in the air that any 10 minutes spent near traffic with result with throat to oesophageal irritation.
Headless planning
As soon as I could I booked myself on the next Taj Mahal trip organised by Koenig Solutions for the trainees. I believe I did persuade a few people to consider making that trip – a trip of a lifetime.
We were to receive an email with regards to the plans for the visit, but that did not arrive, albeit, I was up at 4:30AM on Sunday thinking the bus will arrive at 5:00AM. I even consulted the inn staff because I was worried the whole deal might fall through.
Eventually at 6:47AM the van arrived to pick me up; I was last of 10. I say van rather than bus because the vehicle is quite suitable for city driving but for journeys that could last 4 hours or more, the backs of the seats should have been higher to give neck support for those who fall asleep during the journey.
Every morning we drive past a statue of the monkey god (10m) and I thought that was huge until I saw another that dwarfed it by storeys; that requires a specific visit.
The organised chaotic driving
Soon we were in traffic redolent of India, driving that made you want to cover your eyes and the honking hardly ever stopped. We passed through a number of toll gates and at one stopover we saw performing monkeys and even a snake being handled; the handlers aggressively demanded cash of tourists that made the mistake of taking pictures especially at a state border post where we had to stop to pay taxes.
The roads were essentially two-lane dual-carriageways that had road users ply them as if we had many more and that did not account for those who drove against the traffic on out left – India drives on the left. Yes, trucks and tractors drove against the traffic not only with impunity but as if they had right-of-way in some cases, the vehicles laden until the tyres belched; some with sand, others with hay but when it came to people – if you could grab a hold, you were on it.
I cannot say the road to Agra passed through rural countryside, whilst there were farms and factories, villages and towns, they were all bustling with life and with my co-passengers there was never a dull moment.
People from Afghanistan, Angola, Nigeria, France, Rwanda and Mauritius (they were polyglots). {I learnt Hindi and Urdu were literally the same spoken language but written differently, the former is in Sanskrit and the latter using Arabic script.}
[I am better advised on the matter of Hindi and Urdu by my trainer – Hindi is based on Devanagari from which Sanskrit is derived and Urdu derives from Persian and Arabic script.]
Temples and tombs
Well into our journey, I noticed a road to the left which was sign-posted for 4 great temples within the next 10 kilometres, it was then that we caught a glimpse through the haze, a huge statue of Durga – the size of it did have an effect on me; I guess I am yet to see real statues of Hindu gods up close.
So, we were driving through Sikandra, where lies the tomb of Akbar the Great, the grandfather of Shah Jahan who built the Taj Mahal. Agra was the seat of the Mughal Empire and there are historical monuments of antiquity that surround the city including the amazingly huge Agra Fort which is also listed as a world heritage site.
As we entered the city of Agra, we caught a glimpse of our intended destination, I could not help but notice that the path as it were to the Taj Mahal was not necessarily a straight road, one should really consider doing this trip by express train from New Delhi – it is done within 90 minutes and there is more time to explore other notable sites.

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