Hotel Mumtaz Mahal
1st Sept. 1985
Agra – the Taj Mahal, Fort and I’timād-ud-Daulah. India is not just the Taj runs the advertising.
Just a day trip on the Taj Express train from Delhi, every tourist comes here. I expected therefore to be ultra blasé. After all, I’m just a sightseer, toting my Pentax like everyone else. Yet I’m forced, without too much pressure, to admit that I like the place and am pleased to be here.
There is a symmetry and grace within the Taj which few, if any, other buildings can display. Unlike so much of India, The Taj was constructed with love, care and attention to detail, and a lot of money.
And more so I thought, but cheaper, the I’timād-ud-Daulah which is a mini-Taj on the opposite bank of the river. The mausoleum was commissioned by Nūr Jahān, the wife of Jahangir, for her father Mirzā Ghiyās Beg, originally a Persian Amir in exile, who had been given the title of I’timād-ud-Daulah (pillar of the state). Mirzā Ghiyās Beg was also the grandfather of Mumtāz Mahāl (originally named Arjūmand Bāno, daughter of Asaf Khān), the wife of the emperor Shāh Jahān, responsible for the construction of the Tāj Mahal. (fr. Wikipedia)
Smaller in scale than the Taj Mahal, built from red sandstone and marble with delicate and intricate inlay work, it has for me a more human charm, perhaps because it is less cluttered, with the bonus of fewer tourists here to photograph themselves. Another bonus is that there is more wildlife: eagles soaring overhead and monkeys playing amongst the sari’d ladies hand mowing the lawns.
Outside there are the expected attempts to extract baksheesh: the shoe guardians, postcards sellers and tenders of the tombs.
Mercifully these touts are absent from the Taj Mahal, and once again my timing has been impeccable. Much as I wanted to visit Agra for the full moon, I dallied at Pushkar. Here in Agra the remnants of the monsoon linger to dampen everything each afternoon. What’s more, there are continuing fears of terrorism so those of us who wanted the romantic or mystical experience of a night at the Taj would not have had it anyway.
It’s been pleasant to be a tourist, and that’s a statement I shall make rarely.
With so many other free-spending westerners, each approach can be easily dismissed and, for me, there are many other travellers to shelter amongst. This quarter of Agra is one of those crossroads where our needs are catered for: cheap accommodation, a range of reasonable eating eating places which provide a supply of comestibles geared to western tastes. Here too plans can be made for onward travel based on advice and hints garnered from the experiences of others. It’s good also to share in those frustrating, even frightening, moments which in the telling take on a humorous tinge.
This coming week I leave the well-trodden trails. India will empty of those students who need to return to university. In some ways I am envious, but not so much of their youthful enthusiasm or their hopeful futures based on a coming career. I will need to gear up my mental energies to protect my own innocence as I face the renewed rigours of travel on new paths.
Bombay to Hyderbad, then down to Kerala where, if lucky, I’ll find a new season starting with the end of the monsoon.