December 11, 2007

Agra's jewel

What a way to spend my birthday. I am still in a daze after having finally seen the Taj Mahal. Poets, singers, and professional travel writers have all tried to do it justice over the centuries - and failed - so I will not even try. All I can say is that no matter how many pictures you have seen, no matter how many movies it has appeared in, or how many times you've seen a plastic replica sitting on your uncle's coffee table, you will still, most probably, be amazed when you see if for the first time.

These moghuls sure knew how to build a good tomb. But you really have to pity poor Humayan. He built a superb tomb well before Shah Jehan started dreaming of the Taj Mahal, only to have Shah Jehan turn around and stick a couple of close replicas on the SIDES of the Taj Mahal, to make the centerpiece look even better!

Should you come to Agra, a few words of advice:

1. Don't bother to go into the fort if you've seen the one in Delhi. Apparently, it is a more ramshackle, rundown version of its red sister.
2. Go to the "Baby Taj" and go there BEFORE you hit the main attraction. The Baby Taj is actually quite beautiful and has very few tourists at it.
3. Get a rickshaw driver to take you across the river to see the back of the Taj Mahal. And when you get there, don't pay to go in the garden, just walk about 100m further and there's a beach where you can get perfect, unimpeded views of the Taj Mahal... with NO tourists in them!
4. Budget more time than you expected at the main attraction. It's stunning and it's huge. Go into the mosques on the side for some pictures that will be absent any tourists. It's a little known fact (apparently) that the Taj Mahal is perfectly symmetrical and no one bothers to go around the sides.
5. The place is crawling with Indian Tourists. And they're curious. And pushy. And quite happy to take pictures of foreigners, especially those that look just like them but wear very different clothing.

Yesterday, our last day in Delhi, was a lazy day. We spent the morning in a french coffee shop (Cafe Turtle in Khan market) enjoying delicious cappucinos with the other ex-pats, then headed to Connaught Place to wander around. We finally decided to escape the noise, pollution, and traffic by ducking into the Imperial Hotel, where we were greeted with a whiff of Jasmine flowers and a cold Kingfisher in their atrium. I made it through the first quarter of William Dalwinkle's City of Djinns, which I highly recommend.

We are off to the Amir villas (apparently Agra's best luxury resort) for a birthday toast.


Blogger mjanmohamed said...

Arif, HAPPY BIRTHDAY to you. Mawla toji nek umed puri kare. Anji jodi(!) salamat rekhe. Ameen.
Enjoy and be happy

10:29 AM  
Blogger Matty Matt said...


Happy birthday buddy and enjoy your honeymoon! I look forward to reading all about it.


12:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Arif - May the year bring you joy, happiness and good health. Enjoy your day - we missed phoning you on your birthday, but let me assure you we did think aboutyou! We hope you are enjoying the "Indian" way of living, including their parathas - you will be able to relate to us now.
Have fun!

The Hassanalis

11:39 PM  
Anonymous RK said...

Many Happy Returns Arif.
Wish you much joy on your special day and always. Happy Birthday.
Have a safe trip....& Enjoy.
Rafique/Mehroon Family

12:07 PM  

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