Agra seems a lot more subtle than Delhi and Varanasi, of course arriving early in the morning, straight off a sleeper train is a poor indicator of the insanity that the following hours can give way to.
This is our fifth destination in India and as of yet I’ve struggled to put ‘India’ into words. It is everything the guide books say and yet oh so much more. Although right now 3 seems more than enough to get your India tastebuds going!
Most tourists fly into the open
horns arms of Delhi, as she hits you full force in a mix of overwhelming culture shock, noise and yet more squat toilets. We didn’t stick here long but managed to find a reprieve in Tandoori Momo’s (thanks brown sugar), vegetarian cafes and £2.50 pedicures, you know to take the edge off…
I must admit after a month in Nepal I winced a little at my delight in seeing a Costa Coffee at the airport. Momentarily transported to pre-established/post-lunch Costa trips at the LGI, missing my home comforts and the chaos of trauma theatre shift work at the hospital before being brought back to my new reality of Rickshaw drivers and hectic transport systems.
The Delhi metro system offers another new delight for me though, in the form of a ladies carriage. Oh yes the joys at not being pressed boob to chest with some glarey male stranger creeping you out, while simultaneously trying to sell you some clothes, take you to his mums, friends, cousins guest house and con you into a guided tour. A reprieve from her insanity.
Then there are the winding streets of Varanasi, weaving their ways to the elusive Ganges and secreting away little gems such as the blue lassi, modestly serving up any number of concoctions of this national treasure, bragging the tagline of ‘the best lassi in India’, when asked what made it so great he simply responded “you try it and you tell me”, see modest all over. It seems too that this gem isn’t too secret (lonely planet) but provides a great social hub for meeting new people and watch the whole life cycle pass you by, from woman holding small infant to family carrying their loved ones to their final resting place.
The Ganges provides the heart of this city as day long she gives way to more traditions, welcomes in yet another cremated body from the notorious cremation ghat, lights up for the aarti festival every evening and booms into life each morning with the sunrise. Every Hindu must visit this site at least once in their life… believe me it feels like they all choose the same day you do… to bathe in it’s questionable yet holy waters.
Each night it comes alive with Aarti’s holding peoples wishes towards the horizon as the ceremony echoes across the riverside, ablaze of lights and songs praising the mother Ganges. We had a perfect little spot on the red carpet just by the side of the local families and I think had just the same amount of photos taken as the ceremony.
The city swallowed me whole, I had not expected to find beauty in these dusty streets, I had expected to find awe in the tradition and significance in the city that holds people’s heart so tightly but not e be overcome with emotion at watching the sunrise from our private sanctuary on the river.
Here’s where it gets hard. Agra. What do you really say about Agra?
People come and go from Agra the second (it seems) they’ve done with the Taj Mahal, honestly I can’t blame them. While the beauty in the fort and Taj Mahal is undeniable the rest of the city unfortunately left me a little lack luster, but lets face it the Taj is enough!
Early morning alarms, equalled in brutality by early morning Taj guide offers we made our way to the west gate and the still closed ticket counter. Fast forward the queues and the bit where I complain about impatient pushy tourists and I’m stood in front of the culminations of one of my favourite love stories. The building herself a dream.
If the beauty and love for Shah Jahans’ second wife is to be believed it has clearly seeped into every inch of this Mausoleum, although now bustling with excited visitors the elegance of this building is just as staggering close up as it is viewed above the rooftops from a cafe, as it is from Agra fort where the imprisoned emperor gazed longingly out towards it in his 8 year imprisonment.
Honestly, just go see it. Really.
The afternoon left me wondering whether or not I could top the mornings antics and the girls I’m travelling with didn’t fancy a trip to Agra Fort so, I put on my big solo traveller girl pants on and headed of in a rickshaw by myself and had the best time ever.
Not only did I find comfort in my own company but I loved every second of the enchanting Agra fort and it’s maze of corridors and rooms, I only wished the gates on winding stairways were removed so I could further entwine myself in this feat of Mughal history. Graffiti lined once majestic rooms and claustrophobic corridors opened into detailed marble halls and I must of walked around it all mouth open at snail pace, because WOW.
As a female traveller you are often warned about India but apart from the occasional lingering stare that turned a little creepy or over enthusiastic guy wanting to take selfies with you (or stalker trying to get your picture as you walk) I’ve been fine so far. There was that one guy up north but I’ll talk about him at a later date.
There’s a lot to be said for keeping your wits about you and just having common sense, us girls are a lot hardier than we look and we can survive in this world just as well as men. Parents will worry and friends will care but don’t let the horror stories put you off, everyone has horror stories. Not everyone has amazing stories of how they conquered their fear factor.
I hope you do.