We might travel many places throughout our lives, but there are only a few journeys which leave a lasting impression on our minds. I also experienced such an unforgettable journey when I visited Agra- the city where Shah Jahan built the beautiful Taj Mahal for his wife Mumtaz Mahal. I was eager to see the seventh wonder of the world for the first time.
Early in the morning (approximately 8’o clock) we set out in a hired private car and a driver. I knew the journey would be long, but what I didn’t know was that it would be so pleasurable. The novel which I had kept along wasn’t even opened. After traveling for about an hour when finally the city areas vanished, I was elated at the beautiful landscape along the long winding roads. Mustard fields swaying in the wind, the widespread endless sky (something not visible in crowded, polluted Delhi) and tiny humble huts in the midst of the fields- this scene was straight from the Bollywood movies. Our car was speeding along the road and the rush of air in my ears was the best music I’ve had heard in years! The trees standing tall alongside the road seemed to witness our presence silently. We stopped in the way at a roadside dhaba (though going by the rates it didn’t seem to be one!), the menu was simple but the food was great.
It was a pastoral dream come true which ended when we reached the border of the city we were heading to.
After being stranded for about 45 minutes at the toll gates due to heavy traffic, we finally entered Agra. Although it was late noon, the sun was still hot (though it was December). We felt it more now (even in the car) in the busy crowded streets of Agra. It was hot and dusty, and we were roaming trying to find our way to the hotel where we had booked a room. I was a little startled but there was more to come. After haggling for our way for some time, we finally reached the hotel. It was about 4 in the evening. We rested for a while in our room which was nicely furnished- replete with archaic pieces and sceneries which seemed unreal. I peeped out of the back window hoping to see something like in that scenery, but all I saw was a dirty lane and rooftops.
At 5 we headed for Taj Mahal “darshan”. I, inquisitive and dreamy as ever, was already anticipating the magnificent aura of that wonderful monument. I had read and heard so much about the Taj Mahal (like every Indian) that I was already imagining a royal and majestic welcome. And that proved to be true (for some time), when we got down at the parking. There were no vehicles to be allowed in the near vicinity of the Taj. We were (actually all visitors) were to hire either a tonga (a majestic one driven by horses) or a mini auto kind of vehicle ( run by the Taj authorities) to get to the Taj. The roads near the taj were all clean, green and wide. It was twilight and beautiful yellow lamps alongside the driveway made it all the more lovely.
We hitched the auto ride ( much to my disappointment ) as the tonga ride was way too expensive and only the ‘firangis’ (all wrapped in Indian jaipuris and lucknowi kurtis) were hitching them. As we neared the monument, I was stunned to see the vicinity areas of the taj. They had an old Lucknow feel…fine…but apart from the culture and archaic look they were also crowded and not very neat. It was a busy market place, especially when we got out after the sight seeing from the backside. It reminded me of Chandni Chowk. Not surprising, since Chandni Chowk has been designed by Shah Jahan’s beloved daughter, Jahanara.
Oh and how can I forget the imploring guides outside the Taj. As it was already twilight by then, we had decided to do just a quick round of the monument and come again the next day. So we didn’t hire any guide that day.