One of the big gaps in our travel handprint is the sub-continent. We are referring of course to the giant that is India. Mel’s first journey to India was in April of 1996 for business. It took him to New Delhi and Mumbai (formerly Bombay).
This being back at a time when independent travel in India was at an infancy, Mel had the privilege of getting around with the help of colleagues.
New and Old Delhi
I had flown directly from Karachi into New Delhi. Now, in those days India and Pakistan were on loggerheads. Hence this direct flight was quite a coup.
There is a very distinct difference between old and new in the capital of the world’s largest democracy (by population). Upon arriving New Delhi, I had the opportunity to visit the site of Humayun’s tomb. One of the best known Mughal emperors, this monarch was a humble man who was known to have loved books. Located within the city itself, the tomb was quite near the home of Mel’s Delhi office GM. The Humayun’s crypt inside the tomb is a replica.
The new on the other hand is more influenced by the former colonial master. Mel stands on the road that leads to the gateway to India, which houses of Parliament in Delhi’s administrative center.
But who can come to Delhi and not get out to Agra?
So it was a very early departure from the city. After what seemed like a bumpy ride for ages, we arrived at Agra. The Taj Mahal is such a sight to see. Built by Shah Jahan for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, it was once resplendent with precious stones.
The marble used in the construction had to be carted hundreds of kilometers to this location. According to Wikipedia, the white marble was brought from Makrana, Rajasthan, the jasper from Punjab, jade and crystal from China. The turquoise was from Tibet and the Lapis lazuli from Afghanistan, while the sapphire came from Sri Lanka and the carnelian from Arabia. In all, it was said that 28 types of precious and semi-precious stones were inlaid into the white marble.
Thus you see Taj Mahal is a tomb – of monumental proportions. He loved his wife so much that on her death he built a mausoleum on 42 acre of land acquired from a local Maharajah in exchange for a palace in Agra city. As a UNESCO world heritage site (yes this is Mel’s first!), it is visited by millions each year. Today it is one of the 7 new wonders of the world.
Influenced by Persians, there are serrated patterns of the mosaic on the walls of the tomb and the calligraphy are all inspired by Persian artistic influence.
One of the best views is that of the reflecting pool that leads to the tomb. It is usual that after the May monsoon rains, the fountains would run and the pools would be full of water, quite a different sight. But I had been here a little early and it’s dry, this being evident as the nearby river was not quite up to its usual watermark during the wetter months.
Shah Jahan had meant to built his own tomb across the Yamuna river to gaze upon the Taj Mahal. However, before he could do that, his son Aurangzeb usurped power and locked him up at Agra fort. That’s is a really romantic yet tragic end to the story of love.
Obviously I did not do enough to get about in this commercial centre of the country. But I did recall that the office was next to India’s largest slum city. And even when I did get through the city from Pune from a more recent trip (2012), did not get out much. However, I did take away one thing – that is the vintage Padmini taxis are still plying the roads. Though it has been legislated recently that those more than 20 years old will have to be taken off the road. Another icon will soon pass away into the annals of history…
No, I did do something else here. I shopped and bought a nice dress for Suan. Being a country where tailoring is also a specialty, it was obvious that making a suit came naturally and rather affordably too considering the fabric I chose.
Indeed if opportunity permit, I’d really like to re-explore Delhi. And where possible, perhaps to the cities of the ‘Rajputs’, where the princes of Rajasthan built fabulous palaces and fortresses that today are home to fine resorts and hotels.