Lovely Agra!!!

Trip Start Aug 28, 2004
Trip End Aug 2005

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Thursday, December 2, 2004

After a seemingly normal and relaxed experience in Orchaa we were thrown into a whirlwind of madness on our arrival to Agra the city of tourism and the "Dipvali Festival" (festival of lights). Although in India's case it is more like world war three has just erupted, as there is more sound to the fireworks than light! The houses and buildings are decorated fully in fairy lights etc and the streets were literally full of people (more males than females) lighting fireworks and in some cases, loads of bangers, firecrackers being piled up and set alight!!! India clearly has no idea fully of the dangers involved in throwing lighted fireworks at people, as there was plenty of it going on in the euphoria of the celebrations. We had a great meal (no tummy upsets) on our first night, if you've ever read the Agra section in the Lonely Planet you'll know why (food poisoning), and much interest from a group of local guys who were keen to talk to us about all kinds of stuff.

We took a Ric shaw driver called "Babu", who refused to discuss any money talk and asked us to decide what to pay him for the day? .This is a ploy used all over Asia ,why quote a rate when you know that tourists will always pay much more as we haven't a clue how little they earn. We went to see the "Taj Mahal", which is quite simply stunning and anyone who refuses to see it on the principle that it costs too much is mad, it costs 750Ru for visitors and 25Ru for the Indian people, but the money goes into the upkeep and the restoration of it as pollution has really affected the exterior. It truly is a masterpiece of architectural design and craftsmanship, over 20,000 people assisted in creating this wonder of the world. From here we went onto the Red Fort which was really interesting both to see the fort and to people watch, as many Indian people travel from all over to see these places too. There were lots of Muslims visiting the Mosques within the fort and they really stood out as their very black (women) and white (men) clothing contrasted against the pale marble carving of the we got a great view of the taj from the riverside too.

The baby Taj which is also on the same side of the river is a cute version of the big Taj, but far more decorative in both it's inner and exterior decoration. You can see the influence of the craftsmanship here in the marble carvings of the tables etc on the shopping trails thro' out the city. On our way back we succumbed to the inevitable carpet shop experience, and went to a factory just by the Taj. It was quite interesting as we were taken thro' the whole process, from the flat design, colour selection to the actual weaving of the carpet and trimming it down to it's final state. We spent a good couple of hours drinking Chai and viewing many carpets, and were very tempted. But we left and decided to maybe look in Rajhastan, later on in our journey. We went back to the shop the following day and selected one and bargained the final price, it's winging it's way back to the UK as we speak!!!

As a quick in between trip we visited both Mathura and Vandrivan, two smaller cities northwest of Argra as there were a few interesting Temples of Hindu and hari Krishanea origins. We met some interesting folk along the way including a second generation Tibetan, born in India but worked up in Manali in the summer months and came to Mathura in the winter. Manali is one of the places I visited when I first came to India with a school group doing their World Challenge expedition and they really enjoyed it there. Funny how you cross paths with people......Martin managed to find a very Bollywood style shirt from a guy on the street markets, 100% quality polyester/nylon garment......nice!!!( it was 80p wadda you want?)
Whilst in Mathura, I made a very unwise decision to get my hair cut, yes I should have seen the signs, as he was a small time Barber, with posters of very dodgy hairstyles on the wall (Martin may have tried to warn me!!). But I was hot and very desperate to have the thatch thinned out!!! Ten minutes into the cut and with my fringe now very close to my hairline I decided to stop him before any further damage was done, Martin the git!! Took a photo of the crime in progress, not nice!!!
(I was crying with laughter and confused the barber by giving him a tip. Another tip is never get your hair cut by anybody wearing a hat)
We then went on to investigate the Ghats and Temples by the riverside (me now wearing a headscarf to disguise the damage), and before we knew it we were swept into the celebrations by a very large man who daubed us with the red Tikka on the forehead took our money as an offering to the temple and asked us to sit in front of the shrine!! With Dipvalli in full swing, the whole place was swarming with teems of people, not for the fainthearted at all, you do have to be quite assertive and take a stance in these circumstances.(in other words" I'm afraid I'm not superstitious old chap",I mean come on a god who is half man half elephant!) On our return home we passed the butcher, I mean Barbers and he was grinning from ear to ear as he waved when we passed by!!!
Our experience of the Krishna Temple was a slightly more tame affair in comparison, and although the temple has a very striking black and white carved marble frontage it was fairly mediocre inside, but decorated with some really colourful mural paintings of Lord Krishna depicting the stories of his life, the Indian people are very talented artists it has to be said.(Also many westerners singing and happy clapping inside, my first thought was to shout "Get a life" but then I guess they have if you like orange and listening to the same George Harrison song over and over again After a varied experience of both the people and their surroundings we returned to Agra in order to move onto our next destination, "Faitpur Sikhri", we want to visit the Islam Mosque which is meant to be a replica of " Mecca".
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