From Goa it was a turbulent plane journey to Delhi and then straight on to Agra, courtesy of our personal driver who would be taking us through the whole of Rajasthan. Backpacking at its finest.
After a slight delay due to a problem with our hotel's room service (Godd) we were on our way to what is commonly considered the jewel in India's resplendent crown: The Taj Mahal. Before we arrived, one of Dilip's many surprises was revealed to us in the form of a tour guide.
Unlike with Anthony in Mumbai, we did not take to this man at all. Perhaps because it felt like an extremely rehearsed tour. Not so much in terms of the historical and architectural details, which would obviously be understandable. Rather, it was in the supposedly off the cuff conversation between sights. According to the guide his favourite singer was Britney Spears and favourite actor was Tom Cruise. He also liked rap. It was like he'd picked up and memorised a 15 year old American gossip magazine in order to please his Western audience. All very well but it didn't appear to come from a genuine desire to engage and converse but rather a lazy attempt to increase his tip. Indeed, when pushed he couldnt name a Tom Cruise film other than Mission Impossible and he didn't know any rappers other than Pitbull. Really sir.
The guide did prove useful in navigating the queues though, pointing out how we as tourists with more expensive tickets could skip to the front. Imagine the scenes at Thorpe Park if that kind of thing was to go down there. It would be bedlam. As it was, we were very happy to avoid the packed two hour lines which stood in the scorching heat. To suffer that, I'm quite sure, would have been unbelievably agravating….
My reaction to the Taj Mahal was one of initial anticipation followed by slight disappointment. In truth, I had expected it to be wider and therefore more overwhelmingly impressive from afar. I think perhaps the palace in Aladdin had somehow skewed my expectations. The picture in my head had become too agrandised….
It was however much more impressive on closer inspection as you were able to take in the level of detail and expense that had gone into the building, as well as the amount of time and man power. 22 years and over 20,000 labourers we were reliably informed. Not too shabby as far as presents go, especially considering it was for the King's third wife. Wives number one and two must have been upppset when they opened up their own presents to find nothing but a few jewels and fine silks inside. What an awkward evening meal that must have been. ‘Aw, that's a pretty ring! Ooh and check out those silks. He does spoil you doesn't he, what a babe. Anyway, bye ladies,just gunna go chill in my new palace. Love ya'.
To be honest, I preferred Agra Fort, which stood nearby and actually overlooked the Taj Mahal. With its large, colourful and well kept gardens, its spacious, open planned rooms and tastefully decorated walls, the Fort exuded a different type of majesty. One that was unimposing and therefore more inviting. It had the aura of a place that had once been lived in. You could envision the King's life there, splendid as it was. There was a realness to it. It felt like a home, not a postcard.
After the Fort we hoped to lose our tour guide as we were under the impression that he stayed with us in order to increase his tip. Our wishes went unrealised but it actually proved worthwhile. For our final stop was a marble shop where workers, all related but 34 generations on from the originals, restored the Taj Mahal building. It was interesting to watch them at work but tso most captivating moment was observing the finished articles. They were both grand and intricately detailed, bursting with colours that changed with different lighting. Whilst it became clear these items were being presented as potential purchases, they were so far out of our price range we didn't even need to worry about haggling. Our interest would not be harvested.I'm sure the workers were disappointed, especially as they came from a region that once prided itself on its expert agracultural...abilities.
Next stop Jaipur.