Day 9 - 15th May 2017
soaking in India
Six o'clock in the morning. Time to go and visit Agra Fort.
The air is fresh - comparing to the rest of the day, that is. Temperatures here range between some 30 degrees at night and about 43 to 45 during the day. Everyone keeps on telling us "very hot, very hot ma'am". We're just overflowing with Gratitude so we make nothing of the heat. It's part and parcel with the whole bundle of the Golden Triangle.
As soon as we get out of the Hotel a Tuc Tuc is passing by. It has to be the cleanest, neatest Tuc Tuc we've come across so far. And there's an incense stick burning in the front. We bargain a little and finally settle the price. When we get to Agra Fort and pay this young man he blesses the money, receiving it with deep gratitude.
We ask for the honour of a pic in this spick and span Tuc, which is conceded with great pleasure by its exemplary driver. Thank you!
Agra Fort stands before us, magestically built with huge red rock bricks.
We read somewhere that it is the only fort to have been inhabited by all of the Mongol Emperors in India. Impressive.
At the entrance we read the timetable: opens at sunrise and closes at sundown. Isn't that absolutely organic?
As we enter once again we feel that aura of Peace we felt at the Taj, though of a different nature, but no less blessed.
It also has marble constructions inlaid with precious stones and a special unique beauty. And it is massive.
Since we have a lot of time on our hands we take it in slowly, enjoying it at our own leisure. Ahhh and the Taj shows up on the horizon, graceful and precious.
We talk, stop, breathe, appreciate... and find a place to once again lie on the white marble and soak it all in. A small mosque where there is no one. We feel blessed.
Where we stopped to lay down and breathe...
Funny thing that we happen to be talking about how women and men in general have a different vision around sexuality and how that can lead a woman to feel like an object of abuse rather than a beautiful pool of creative inspiration, sooner or later making her shut herself down, no longer appreciating her body or showing her grace. I share with Ula that this can be transformed by learning how to respect ourselves, how to love ourselves and how to communicate our boundaries in a clear way rahter than blaming others for not respecting us, letting go of the need for recognition and the need to be the "good girl" who says yes to everyone's whim just out of an inner emptiness that needs to be filled with outer gratification. And it is funny to be sharing all of this here, where each Emperor had hundreds of wives but none of them get involved with any other man, being given the chance to live in a palace, though in confinement. A golden prison, I would say. A seductive illusion indeed.
Adding to this detail, we are sharing wisdom about love, overlooking the Taj, a symbol of love, loss and boundless creativity, materialised in the most preciously lavish way. It speaks of the love we have inside, which no man can ever completely illustrate in physical form just because the power of love is massively infinite, but that the Emperor Shah Jahan tried to give shape to as best he could. He had meant to build a replica of this mausoleum on the opposite margin of the Yamuna river, in black marble, but was killed by one of his sons before he could do so, possibly for fear he would delapidate their entire fortune - totally consumed by this passion to create a physical remembrance of the love he had shared with his late favourite wife Aryumand Banu Begam.
A few times throughout our leisurely visit to the fort we are asked to be taken photos of, together with either Indian women or men. Apparently it's a great thing to take a photo with a foreginer ;) So we play along with this, just for the fun of the experience.
We head back to the Hotel, fulfilled and ready for breakfast, but first we stop at the shop right in front of the Hotel. Seems to have some nice stuff. The shop owner shouts out in glee: "welcome, welcome, first customers of the day. You know, in Indian culture first customer is God!" So we chose a few things and did not need to haggle much because "first customer special treatment, not argue prices, you choose how much, you take". How's that for our first shopping incursion? ;)
We cross the street and wow! What a hefty breakfast! Wasn't expecting something like this. Wasn't expecting at all actually, but one way or another this was super abundant.
I had asked Jagdeep, the person from the Travel Pals India agency who kindly prepared my package, to please call reception and ask for a late checkout. As late as possible. Ula had been to reception the night before asking about what we needed to do to stay on later and they had told her we had to pay 1000 rupees and could stay all afternoon. I told her not to worry about that. I was surely not about to pay 1000 rupees more. So when we were happily satisfying our taste buds the receptionist came up to me with a phone saying there was someone to talk to me. It was Jagdeep. He had already negotiated late checkout until 2.30 pm. God bless. That left us time to enjoy the pool and rest in our rooms for a while as well.
As soon as we get to reception the receptionist gives me a bag: "a gift for you with compliments from The Retreat". Tow packets of mango juice and two bars of chocolate. Was so thankful! I ask whether they have a book where I could write my impression on the Hotel because I have really loved it and the gentleman immediately opens Trip Advisor on the computer for me to fill in, which I gladly do. I ask how much we should expect to pay for a Tuc Tuc to Agra Fort station: "100 rupees" he says. Fair enough.
We decide to go out and look for a light meal. The lady at reception warns us against the heat. We go anyway and since everyone is making such a fuss about the heat we don't find it that hot.
We find a nice place and have a nice Indian meal for about 2€. When we step out a man with an electric Tuc Tuc comes along and wants to take us for a 1 hour ride around for just 20 rupees. We can't go because it's already time to head back to the Hotel and to the station, but I ask him whether he would take us to our hotel, which is just around the corner and to the station for the 20 rupees.
"No, for that 50 rupees". Good deal:) After all it's half the expected price.
We are not only paying less but also travelling green. Win win I would say. Here in India one soon gets used to haggling, though at the beginning it felt a little bit strange to me, now I am enjoying it. When in Rome do as the Romans - so in India we do as the Indians and it is once again, completely organic.
On our way we notice how the cows, dogs, donkeys, goats are well taken care of. If there is such a thing as happy stray dogs it is in India. Even the monkeys are allowed to roam the city at will and are fed by people on the streets who share the little they've got.
As we get to the station and go in we take a seat. Platform 1 is right at the entrance. After just 5 minutes the train rolls into the station, 50 minutes ahead of time. Our carriage is C2. Luck would have it that C2 stops right in front of us!
Ours is an airconditioned carriage with super comfortable chairs and they even serve a meal on the way.
We roll out of the station right on time: 5.40 pm. A pageant of shabby unfinished buildings files by and soon vast extenses of cultivated land substitute the rubbish heaps of town with green and gold.
On the train each one listens to their own tunes, out loud. There are not many rules around here. It is all an organic system where people do not wait for their turn but no one gets angry, where people sit or lie anywhere and even in the presence of chairs prefer the floor.
Now I understand why the loudspeaker on the underground on my first day across Delhi insistently repeated that sitting on the floor was not allowed and neither was eating or drinking. Women are expected to jump lines and men are expected to give them their seats, especially if they are the special lady seats. In fact men are not allowed on the last all ladies carriage in Delhi's underground network.
One feels comfortable amongst the people of India for their lack of judgement, that kind of Western judgement we are so used to in Europe. There is a natural sense of sharing and as soon as people meet you and like you they invite you come and stay over at their houses. It is an openness we are not accustomed to. Men hold hands in the street or put their arm over each other's shoulders in a sign of togetherness westerners find hard to relate to. A blend of religions are practiced fervorously but in total acceptance of each other.
Maybe it is the diversity of religions and within the religions themselves that accounts for the overall sense that something just keeps this whole disorganised system harmonious, this deeply ingrained spirituality that pervades the country... Mother India has an infinite heart, indeed.
The train ride from Agra to Jaipur was excellent! The train even arrived slightly ahead of schedule.
They served so much food I couldn't believe it. First time over they brought a bottle of water, a sandwich, biscuits, tea and a patti and I thought that was the meal that was included in the fare. But later on they brought some tomato soup and appetizers and I was thinking to myself "oh well, maybe it's just to complement the other light meal they brought". Nevertheless, a few minutes later the waiter comes with a whole meal, including dessert! So much abundance!
Upon arrival an escort was waiting for us and just as well. The station was huge and super crowded. Apparently Jaipur, being the capital of Rhajasthan has 3 million inhabitants, an international airport and underground system. As soon as we got out a car with air conditioning was waiting. It was so safe and comfortable, especially considering the confusion all around us.
We are offered a welcome drink as we go into the fresh atrium and arrange to be met at 7.30 tomorrow morning for our visit to the Amber Fort.
See you tomorrow...
See you tomorrow...